Each iteration of The Real Housewives franchise has their own designation among the bunch. Orange County are the originals, New York City has all the old alcoholics, Atlanta is where the most spectacular disasters happen, Beverly Hills is the legit wealthiest one. With only five seasons under its belt, The Real Housewives of Potomac is a relative upstart in the Housewives universe, and up until recently its reputation was as the least talked-about but most entrancing Housewives show of the bunch, thanks to the antics of grande dame Karen Huger, word-on-the-street slinger Gizelle Bryant, endlessly messy Ashley Darby, and cool yet chronically late Robyn Dixon.
Then season five happened. Anchored by an incredibly ugly physical altercation between the show's two youngest cast members, Monique Samuels and Candiace Dillard, and coupled with yet another set of accusations of infidelity and indiscretion towards Ashley's husband, Michael, the season seemed beset by dark clouds. Even the reliably self-aware shit-stirring Gizelle had her light dimmed by her rekindled relationship with her ex, Jamal, something that each housewife, viewer, and even her own kids knew was a bad idea. This all culminated in a reunion where Monique brought a binder of "receipts" intent on destroying Candiace and Gizelle in particular, followed by Monique getting fired from the show shortly thereafter.
So entering season six, the unspoken mission statement is to put the ugliness of last year behind us. Sometimes it's not even unspoken, as in the opening moments of the season, when we hear the voices of producers asking the various housewives to describe last year in a word. Gizelle hits the nail on the head when she says "toxic."
Of course the path of a Real Housewives season is never smooth, and so the cold-open words of second-season housewife Wendy Osefo should probably be heeded when she notes "You never know who might be plotting behind your back." Wendy's going to be an interesting character to watch this season. Year two housewives often find themselves at an inflection point. They've got their sea legs, but more importantly they've seen what all the other women have been saying behind their back in confessionals. Year two is when a housewife either fully pops off or — if they were too popular in their first season — when the other women decide to take them down a peg. If the season premiere is anything to go by, Wendy seems to be working hard to make it the former. She organizes the season's first social occasion, a party at her place called "The Nude Interlude," which she advertises with a video invitation, as has become the Potomac custom. The intention of Wendy's suggestively named soiree is kept secret from the other women — all the better for a dramatic reveal later on — but suffice it to say it has to do with Wendy's between-season enhancements.
But dark clouds are gathering over Wendy's sophomore glow-up. The supertease that follows the opening episode hints at possible troubles in her previously highly functional marriage to her husband, Eddie. How much of that is real versus rumor mongering is what The Real Housewives exists for, but more pertinently, it appears that Gizelle starts communicating the word on the street about Wendy, which doesn't bode well for the two of them as friends (or even, as they were last year, anti-Karen allies).
Speaking of Gizelle and Karen, it looks like these leading ladies will once again be in opposition to each other. The frenemy-ship between these two women has been one of the most rewarding in Housewives history, producing high drama and high camp in near-equal parts (remember when they carried out a full scale argument while both attempting to ignore a sidewalk mime behind them?). While both women seem to revel in their animosity towards one another, they also go very far back and have an unbreakable kinship that keeps them bonded despite all the theatrical sniping. They're like two Broadway divas who've despise each other for decades but never for a second entertained the notion of being apart.
This season, though … that dynamic might change. Gizelle's relationship with Jamal has robbed her of the carefree way she used to deal in gossip and cattiness. Gizelle is someone who can take the business of being a Housewife (i.e. talking behind your friends' backs and provoking drama) and turn it into something artful. But her feet seem a bit stuck in the cement now she's got something of her own that she needs to defend. And that means that when Karen comes sniping with comments or rumors about Jamal's infidelity, Gizelle fights back not with antics (like when she wore a "Free Uncle Ben" shirt to Karen's pseudo-press-conference about her and her husband's tax scandal) but with the nuclear launch codes. Which is what she promises to deliver to Karen in this week's episode. "There's no friendship left to salvage," Gizelle says at one point, declaring her intention to open her vault and air all sorts of formerly verboten truths that Karen doesn't want revealed. And if Candiace's half-gleeful, half-terrified reaction to Gizelle's intentions are anything to go by, Gizelle isn't playing around.
Elsewhere, the season premiere is a bit more typical in checking back in with the women. Ashley is pregnant again, dashing the hopes of anyone who might have entertained the notion that she might ditch Michael for good this time. Candiace is learning how to be a good stepmom to her husband Chris's camera-shy kids. Robyn and Juan's second marriage seems to be chugging along, although Juan seems more and more intolerant of Robyn's sleep-til-noon ethic. Robyn's lax attitude has always been a funny throughline on the series, but this season it feels like Juan is genuinely annoyed by it (welcome to the back end of a quarantine year!), and sadly it does feel like some ugliness is waiting down the road for Potomac's objectively best couple.
And then there's Mia, the new cast member, a chiropractor friend of Karen's. As with any new housewife, we can expect some hazing to come, and if she's being introduced as Karen's friend, we can expect that Karen's frenemies (Gizelle, Candiace, and sometimes Wendy and Robyn) will find ways to peck away at her. She already gets a moment in the premiere where she fumbles some math regarding the age discrepancy between her and her husband, and with a newbie sometimes that's all it takes. If the shot of her throwing salad (seemingly at Candiace) in the supertease is anything to go by, her initiation rites are just around the corner.
Still, despite the Gizelle/Karen warfare and whatever else is going to happen to Wendy and/or Mia, season six is a reason to celebrate because … well, it pretty much has to be a better year than last year. Not to put it all on Monique, but … Monique is gone. A new day — and a nude interlude — has dawned. And Robyn's gonna sleep in for a few more hours.
The Real Housewives of Potomac kicks off its sixth season on Bravo Sunday, July 11th at 8:00 PM ET.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer 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.