The cold open to Sunday night's Season 2 premiere of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City should feel familiar if you're a fan of the Real Housewives franchise: a dramatic flash forward to an incident that's been much buzzed-about in the media, with viewers left feeling slightly disoriented at being thrown into the middle of such high dramatics. And then, just as things are getting really interesting, we're thrown back months earlier, ready to begin the season at the bottom of a ramp up to the big, headline-making event.
The big event in this case is Jen Shah's headline-making arrest for wire fraud and money laundering — an arrest which was reported to have occured while cameras were rolling on the show. The season premiere's opening minutes confirm as much, beginning with the wives climbing aboard a party bus ready to ferry them on some excursion or another when Jen gets a phone call that the authorities are on their way, leading her to quickly remove her mic pack and flee the scene.
Then, just like that, we're yanked two months backwards, left to await the episode where the Jen drama can begin again in earnest. With Jen's arrest, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City feels like it's officially been baptized into the Housewives family, blessed with a storyline that could potentially stack up to Vicki Gunvalson's husband's fake cancer or the current Erika Jayne legal drama on Beverly Hills. But with that blessing comes a teensy little curse, which is that every episode this season until we get to the Jen event is going to feel more than a little like treading water.
So it is with the rest of Sunday's premiere, titled "Best of Frenemies," one of those generic titles that could genuinely apply to any and all Housewives episodes. The major conflicts in the episode swirl around the lingering drama from last season's reunion, where Heather and Lisa sparred over whether Lisa falsely accused Heather of being a "good time girl" in college (yes, Heather brings it up again) and whether Jen was Twitter-bullying Meredith's son, tracksuit impresario Brooks, for making fun of Jen's vagina. (Golden Age of Television, people.) And while there is some rubbernecking value to scenes shot at Jen's brand new chalet — as with the current Erika Jayne storyline on Beverly Hills, all of her ostentatious displays of wealth now come across as evidence against her — it's hard to invest in, for example, Jen talking about problems within her marriage when we know that her whole life will soon be turned upside down.
Smartly, then, much of the conflict in the premiere episode stems Meredith and Lisa, longtime friends who've found themselves on opposing sides of a pair of proxy wars. Lisa found an ally in Jen amid her feud with Heather and Whitney, but this angers Meredith, who hates Jen. And Lisa is annoyed that Meredith is so close with Heather and Whitney. It's petty and it's childish, but that's Housewives, baby, and at least it gives us a more engaged Meredith, who at times last season seemed to be collecting a Bravo paycheck without actually participating in the business of being a Housewife (i.e. engaging in petty childishness). With the episode-ending superteaser for the season heavily implying that Meredith may have tipped off the Feds to something about Jen, she may well be stepping in the center of the ring at last.
The only conflict in this episode to top Meredith versus Lisa is Whitney versus a birthday cake, as the presentation of a cake to her stepson/peer McCade becomes a harrowing ordeal that the cake very much does not survive. We also get the introduction of new Housewife Jennie, a friend of Lisa's who has quite the backstory. A Vietnamese child refugee, she describes spending three years in a Thai prison camp (!!) before ultimately being brought to the United States by a Christian charity organization. Jennie also talks about converting to her chiropractor husband's Catholicism, another example of Salt Lake City being the Housewives iteration that deals most directly with religion. And not just Mormonism, either, although we do get plenty of that as Heather continues to recall her conservative mormon upbringing. Mary Cosby's Christian faith is also front and center of her storyline in this episode as she's started an evangelical podcast during her quarantine downtime, and — if the superteaser is to believed — may be on her way to becoming a cult leader.
Laying the groundwork is the story in the SLC season premiere, an episode that doesn't deliver the whole fireworks display just yet but lights the wick on more than a few roman candles as we wait in divine anticipation.
Bravo's Real Housewives of Salt Lake City airs its 90-minute Season 2 premiere Sunday September 12th at 9:00 PM ET.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.