Time for some inconsequential TV drama
I may not know when my grocery store will have toilet paper again, or when I'll be able to go outside without feeling like I'm playing Russian Roulette with my health, but I am certain of one thing: If I turn on an old episode of The Real Housewives of New York City and watch Bethenny have a meltdown while on vacation and Ramona manage to insult everyone she comes in contact with, I temporarily forget about my worries.
For me, the scariest part about the coronavirus pandemic is the unknown, and my head is spinning like a carousel of fears: Am I going to get sick? Am I already infected? What about my family and friends? How hard will it hit? How bad will the economy crash? What businesses are going to survive?
By watching (and re-watching) my favorite shows on Bravo, I'm given a brief respite from the uncertainty. There's something about watching inconsequential drama that distracts you from the actual drama happening in the real world.
I'm sure it was a delightful channel to watch when it was all independent movies and Inside the Actor's Studio, but I was drawn into Bravo's web when it made the switch to truly embracing reality TV in 2006. That was the year The Real Housewives of Orange County, the OG of them all, premiered. I was in college, lived near Orange County, and watched The O.C., so it just made sense to tune in. Back then, it was more like a documentary series about the family and work lives of wealthy women in Orange County, without the forced drama that became a staple once Tamra joined the cast (I'll save that discussion for the next pandemic).
The Real Housewives franchise redefined the genre, and shaped Bravo into the network it is today (one that mostly airs reality TV shows, the occasional scripted drama, and J.Lo rom-coms on the weekend). The Housewives shows and their spin-offs mostly focus on the lives of the well-to-do, and we see these big personalities at home, at work, on vacation, and at parties, with ample shots of their fabulous houses and, most importantly, their closets. We get to see the dynamics of their relationships, with each other and their families, and witness their highs — weddings, births, product launches — and lows — fights, divorces, health battles. All of Bravo's reality shows give us these glimpses of what goes on behind closed doors, making them perfect for curious people like me who love to see how others live. You can be Margaret Mead without having to get off the couch.
Since getting hooked on The Real Housewives of Orange County, I've added so many more Bravo shows to my must-watch list. This is actually a great time to go on a Bravo binge, because new seasons are starting and there are also a few shows, like Family Karma, making their debut. Summer House is on fire, Vanderpump Rules offers familiarity, and the rotating charter guests on Below Deck Sailing Yacht bring variety.
Top Chef: All-Stars L.A. might be the best Bravo show to watch right now. There's the comfort of seeing familiar faces from past seasons, like chefs Kevin and Jen and Brian and Bryan, as well as our faithful judges: Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons. I'm also getting to know contestants from previous seasons that I didn't watch, and while of course there's a little drama to make things spicy, most of the focus is on the food and how creative and innovative each chef is in the kitchen.
Since this was filmed before our current situation, the chefs are shown doing things that now seem surreal, like gallivanting around grocery stores, the shelves and meat counters fully stocked, and wandering through the Getty Museum. In one episode, the chefs met with the owners of small restaurants plucked out of obscurity thanks to rave reviews from Jonathan Gold, the Los Angeles Times' late, revered restaurant critic. They sat elbow to elbow around tiny round tables, sharing plates and leaning in for conversation. If they'd known what we were all in for, they probably would have lingered there longer.
With filming having to stop because of the coronavirus, I'm not sure what the Bravo lineup is going to look like in the fall or winter. There are ways to get around a lack of material, and I will name my firstborn Andy Cohen if Bravo finds a way to get really creative and keep things rolling. I'd love some "Where Are They Now?" episodes, with Alex and Simon from RHONY checking in from their new home Down Under and all of the NYC Prep kids showing proof of life. Have cast members film themselves and turn their footage into The Real Housewives of Quarantine. Ask Caroline Stanbury of Ladies of London fame to host a talk show via Zoom. I would even be thrilled with something as simple as a marathon of a true one-season wonder, Princesses: Long Island.
After watching a series for so long, you feel like you really do know the cast members, and as terrible as some of these people are (two-thirds of the Vanderpump Rules crew and four-fifths of the Shahs of Sunset are monsters), I'm glad I can still invite them into my home. It's okay to take a break from being scared. We need escapism, and if that comes in the form of watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey's Teresa Giudice flip a table over 19 times on a loop, then so be it.