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‘The Real Housewives’ Chose Chaos in 2021. Can It Survive?

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty When a breathless Andy Cohen appeared on Today last month to announce the latest Real Housewives installment set in Dubai, fans on social media were less than enthusiastic.

Logistical questions arose regarding the city’s legal restrictions on certain social behaviors and whether its purportedly “no-nonsense” culture would meet the needs of Western viewers. Other Twitter users referenced the systematic exploitation of domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates and expressed discomfort in getting to know wealthy individuals from this particular region—as opposed to ones in America who treat their staff or, “servants,” as Ramona Singer would say, with the utmost dignity. Most notably, though, there was confusion over where the demand for this series was coming from. In the wake of Bravo’s most recent Housewives addition, Salt Lake City , becoming a smash hit, this news felt like a case of the network getting high off its own supply without any real input from its audience.

This thankless development shed light on a paradox regarding the Real Housewives ’ cultural dominance. In 2021, you could argue that the franchise has never been bigger. Pending legal scandals involving Beverly Hills ’ Erika Jayne Girardi (whose estranged husband, Tom Girardi, stands accused of stealing millions from his clients, including the orphans of plane-crash victims) and Salt Lake City ’s Jen Shah (who’s battling conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering charges) drew national attention and received their own 20/20 specials. Salt Lake City ’s Mary Cosby, meanwhile, has been accused by ex-Faith Temple members of running a religious cult . Real Housewives recapper for Vulture Brian Moylan and entertainment journalist Dave Quinn released behind-the-scenes, tell-all books that also commemorated the show’s footprint on television. This year also brought us Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip on Peacock, a spin-off that takes all-star housewives from different cities and puts them on a claustrophobic vacation, and the rebooted Real Housewives of Miami . And a star was born when Kathy Hilton made a long-awaited appearance on Beverly Hills , capturing America’s heart one confused facial expression at a time while propelling the Hilton name back into the spotlight.

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