Real Housewives neophytes might take one look at the franchise — Bravo’s 13-year-old international phenomenon and pop cultural monolith — and assume every show is the same. You’ve got a cast of 5-7 women showing off their fabulous homes, going on expensive vacations, and getting into interpersonal drama. In the most macro of senses, you wouldn’t be wrong!
But to actually get into the Real Housewives means realizing that, within this one universe, there are plenty of different genres of television represented. For every Real Housewives of New York, a sitcom with lovable characters, there’s a Real Housewives of Beverly HIlls, a lifestyle program that has been leaning more and more into being a mystery show.
For those who want to find their way into the Real Housewives world, or watch one city but are hesitant to get into others, we’ve prepared a guide to help you decide which cities are for you. Two caveats: Only currently-airing Housewives cities count (sorry, Miami), and we didn’t include any international editions — though if you can find it, Melbourne is truly excellent.
IF YOU LIKE BROAD COMEDY: The Real Housewives of New York City
Whether it’s Countess Luann de Lesseps falling into the rose bushes drunk on tequila or the wacky misadventures of Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan, RHONY is the purest sitcom of the Real Housewives franchise. Note, however, that this mostly applies to seasons 7 and beyond — earlier, it was more dramatic. For my money, season 3 remains the best New York City season, but is arguably more of a horror show than a comedy. To get maximum laughs, start when Housewife Dorinda Medley shows up on the scene.
IF YOU LIKE SAUCY SHADE: The Real Housewives of Atlanta
Atlanta is fun! With one of the most stable casts across seasons, from queen bee Nene Leakes to genteel legend Cynthia Bailey to music mogul Kandi Burruss, it’s easy to feel like you know and love most of the RHOA girls. That goes for the surprisingly robust supporting cast, too; hey, Marlo Hampton! These women read each other for filth constantly, and won’t hesitate to drag one another under ground if they deem it necessary. But the way they can bounce back from drama and become close again speaks to what a well-built cast this truly is.
IF YOU LIKE LIFESTYLE MYSTERIES: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Over its nine seasons, Beverly HIlls has drifted in and out of genres. It is the only show I would argue becomes a full-on tragedy for a season (season 2, when the cast raised allegations of abuse against Housewife Taylor Armstrong’s husband, and he subsequently killed himself). Nowadays, Beverly Hills is more of a lifestyle show, with some of the richest women and most extravagant vacations from any city. But the presence of Housewives iconoclast Lisa Vanderpump keeps the show from getting too boring; Vanderpump has been playing a game of mental chess with her fellow Housewives for years now, and her web of lies in the current season is proving to be her downfall.
IF YOU LIKE SOAP OPERAS: The Real Housewives of Orange County
Lies! Betrayal! Faked illnesses! Orange County is another show that’s been on long enough to morph into different beasts throughout the years. But ultimately, Orange County is a soap opera revolving around a couple of powerful matriarchs — OG Housewife Vicki Gunvalson among them — battling for power and to keep the young girls at bay. For maximum operatics, I recommend season 10, which saw fresh-faced Housewife Meghan King Edmonds put on her detective hat and unveil that Gunvalson’s boyfriend, Brooks Ayers, was telling a very serious lie.
IF YOU LIKE DOWN-HOME DRAMA: The Real Housewives of Dallas
Dallas is as fun as New York City, but never sacrifices plot for comedy. This is as dramatic as Housewives gets, with accusations of affairs, screaming matches between former best friends, and, um, pink dog food. Like I said, it’s fun. LeeAnne Locken is the star of this show; the former carny and forever “true Texan” is the stuff reality TV casting dreams are made of. Dallas’ first season was a little rough around the edges, but starting with season 2, it’s all gravy.
IF YOU LIKE FAMILY AFFAIRS: The Real Housewives of New Jersey
The family-heavy aspect of New Jersey has actually tamped down a bit in the last two seasons, but for the first seven or so? Hoo boy. New Jersey was a machine unlike any other, with deep-seated family rivalries driving all the drama. This hit its peak when one Housewife, Teresa Guidice, and her husband were jailed, leading to a special Teresa Checks In spinoff that encapsulated all the ways the show had become Dynasty meets Jersey Shore. Season 1 remains the absolute pinnacle, table-flip and all.
IF YOU LIKE A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING: The Real Housewives of Potomac
If you’re reading all of these and thinking, ‘Hmm, I want to try it all,’ I heartily recommend Potomac to you. Though it’s only been on for three years — its fourth season debuts on May 5 — Potomac has quickly established itself as being as shady as Atlanta, as fun as New York City, and as dramatic as Dallas. Gizelle Bryant and Karen Huger alone are worth the price of admission: these two titans and rivals bring you everything, even a mime. Potomac may be a relative newbie, but this show proves that given the right cast, there’s still plenty of life in the Real Housewives formula.
TOPICS: Bravo, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Real Housewives of Dallas, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of New York City, The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of Potomac