Dog funerals, evictions, and coochie cracks — this season is starting off with a mildly irritating, annoying bang, like your neighbor dragging their garbage cans out to the curb at 6 a.m. and waking up the neighborhood instead of just bringing them out the night before like a civilized person.
Before we delve into this story of woe, let me introduce myself. My name is Danielle. I write a blog called Feminist Ryan Gosling, which was turned into a book earlier this year. I’m a graduate student and part-time instructor, and I’ve been a professionally African-American for 35 years. I also write for Rookie Magazine, and I’m in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs. I literally have every reason to be doing some kind of homework any moment my eyes are open, but I do not consider myself a functioning human unless I can watch TV that makes me feel better about my life.
Let’s start by pouring one out for Sheree, who is no longer part of the cast. While rumors have her destitute and sleeping on air mattresses while her cars are being repossessed, I’m choosing to believe that Sheree has left the show in order to dedicate more time to her She by Sheree line of (ill-fitting) clothing and (terrible) athletic shoes, none of which will ever see the light of day or go into production, of course, but you live your dream, sister. LIVE YOUR DREAM. I’m sad to see her go, mostly because we’ll never know if she ever learns how to talk to someone without threatening to punch them in the face or fully pronounce the letter R.
Season five starts as it should, with Nene … and Gregg, her maybe not-so-ex-husband. When we left them last season they were in the process of initiating a divorce (we get a quick flashback to Gregg saying on national radio that Nene squandered $300,000 of his money and turned into a cold-hearted B-word), but continued to share their house, probably because they have a young son and no desire to be the first one to leave. I don’t know anything about divorce personally, but I think when a couple shares a mortgage at the time of filing they either have to make a pact to fight over who gets to stay, à la Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War of the Roses, or stare each other down at the kitchen counter to see who dies of starvation first. Either way, one of them has to die, right?
Our first clue that things may be on the up and up between the two is when Gregg goes to the door to get the mail, only to come back creeping over Nene’s shoulder asking her to give “the mailman” a kiss. Nene looks around to see if Karl Malone has come out of retirement, then turns her face away and laughs while opening an envelope from Donald Trump asking her if she’s ever actually seen Barack Obama at any of our annual I’m Really a Black Person meet-ups, and can he come to the next one to be sure? Just kidding, she’s probably just opening a check worth more than my entire life. Nene is rocking a casual T-shirt with shoulder cutouts and a white doughnut-print bandana with her new Prince Valiant–style blonde wig, causing major Hulk Hogan–in-the-eighties vibes. I love how Nene does casual; it’s just this side of “Disney character who will one day be told she’s actually a princess” with a pinch of “I could buy and sell you” realness.
Gregg continues his Parade of Misplaced Affection by saying the skeeviest thing I’ve heard since that Brian McKnight song about teaching us how to enjoy our collective vaginas: “You got a beautiful back but I need to see … your front.” Gregg. GREGG. Is this how you woo the mother of your child, the love of your life? It was like watching your parents flirt in an effort to rekindle their long dormant romance; you just want to throw some fuzzy handcuffs and a vibrator at them, and send them to a hotel a few states away with instructions not to call you until they are back to reading the newspaper over coffee in silence. Nene is now a bona fide “very rich, bitch” Hollywood star, having appeared on Celebrity Apprentice and been sucked into the world of Ryan Murphy with a recurring role on Glee and a supporting role in The New Normal, so she deflects Gregg’s plea by starting a discussion about her potential move to Los Angeles. Gregg confirms that it’s up to him to put the family back together no matter what she chooses to do and then hits us with a series of platitudes: “We gave out but never gave up” and “What do I need to do to get a key?” A key to what? “To your heart.” Nene responds by pirouetting out of the room with her glass of wine, which is the only normal response to this onslaught of attention. Despite all of this, I really like them as a couple and hope they make it.
Next we get to visit with Kandi, who is newly in love with the most adorable man on the planet, Todd. We learn that they met last year when the housewives were sent to Africa on a vacation where Todd was a production assistant. I’m glad that this worked out, as my only other memory of a cast member–production assistant relationship was David and Kira from Real World season six in Seattle, and we all know that ended with a grown-ass man scream-crying at his beloved about how much he loved her while she yelled about how much she gave up for their relationship. Kandi and Todd are in a decidedly better place and are just going out to eat at a place that serves scorpions or is called Scorpios or something. Kandi looks like a radiant goddess, and Todd is funny, sweet, and very much in love with her. After the tragedies she’s suffered, it’s good to see Kandi in such a great place this season.
They both order, take some time to dissect the intensity of their very first kiss, and then talk about moving into their new house. They’ve been together for a year and have decided to buy a new house together. I’m pretty sure that abandoning two perfectly fine homes and moving into a brand-new one is the sort of behavior that brought this country to its knees financially, but they are adorable, so I’ll let it go. We find out that they each have daughters from previous relationships and are flirting with the idea of having a baby. They like the name Cash, “since that’s how we paid for our house,” and I continue to be enamored of how unapologetic Kandi is about being loaded. Kim, however (who is pregnant during the filming of this season), has already had a baby and named it Kash Kade; hopefully that’s enough for Kandi and Todd to realize how ridiculous a name it really is, and they give him a more personal and subtle name, like, “Mymomprettymuchownsatlanta.”
Speaking of Kim, we get to see her next, rocking the same style blue shirt with cutout shoulders that Nene was wearing in the first scene. Is there only one clothing store in Atlanta, and is it Posche Boutique South? Kim and Nene hate each other so much that I’m sure they would have burned their wardrobes to the ground if either of them knew that at the time of filming that they were wearing the same thing. It’s their son KJ’s first birthday, so Kim starts opening the gifts sent by his grandparents. This is when we learn that Kim has not spoken to her parents since their (over-the-top, Liberace-style) wedding last year. Her mom and dad look like a walking Intervention episode and Sonic the Hedgehog, respectively; say completely inappropriately sexualized things about their daughter’s body; and never stop telling Kim’s husband, Kroy, how lucky they are to have such a stable person in their lives. I selfishly hope they reconcile before the season is over; ever since Roseanne went off the air, I miss this comedic level of middle-class dysfunction.
In their absence, we’re left to hear about the latest drama of Kim’s life, which is that they have to move out of the house they are currently leasing. Apparently they can’t buy the house because the wife of the owner is claiming she didn’t get paid for her interior decorating services, which, let’s face it, is just giant black-and-white naked photos of Kim holding her children in ways that cover up her reproductive parts. I feel like she has an arsenal of these on hand, framed, ready to go as hostess gifts. “Thank you for inviting me! Here’s a fifteen-by-ten of me in gold body paint praying to the sun god. Your queso is delicious.” We learn that Kim’s useless assistant Sweetie has been rehired to do God knows what, and that someone has quoted her $101,000 to move and store the belongings of her house to which she whoops and hollers about like a Baptist at Sunday service. Kroy eats dinner and is basically ready to move the entire house with a wood-paneled station wagon and a full day off from football camp or whatever it is he does with his time. Here’s my real question: Does Kroy need a booster seat? Why did that table come up to right under his neck even though he appeared to be sitting in a regular chair? And why does it look like he was drinking hot sauce? Kim debuts a new wig with bangs in her confessional, and then tells Sweetie she has to lay down from a headache that was surely brought on from four solid minutes of uninterrupted activity.
When we come back from the break, we get to catch up with Phaedra, who never fails to make me laugh. Since being an attorney who is studying to be a mortician isn’t enough to fill her day, she’s visiting an animal hospital because she wants to become the “Vera Wang of funerals.” Phaedra is an entrepreneur, and I get the feeling she will literally do anything to make money. She’s like the Ron Popeil of Atlanta. When the wide-eyed yet beleaguered veterinarian she’s meeting shows her around the place and asks why she’s there, Phaedra tells her that she’s thinking of offering a funerals for pets service as part of her undertaking business. The vet shows off her own dog, Olive, whom Phaedra then likens to a human child in an attempt to find some common ground. When that doesn’t stick, she tells a really sweet story of how she used to own dogs, too, and that they “went in for shots, and then … they just sort of died.” Whether she was referencing her own inability to properly care for an animal or some ritualistic backcountry pet cemetery scenario is uncertain, but the vet basically thanked her for her time and quickly ushered her out.
Since we save the absolute worst for the middle, next we’re treated to a lovely family dinner at Cynthia and Peter’s house. The camera has been on them for 30 seconds, so of course they are already fighting. I really cannot with these two, and I loathe them both equally. Just when I’m about to turn to The Good Wife, Cynthia’s ex-boyfriend Leon comes downstairs to soothe my weary eyes. It’s not as weird as it sounds, since they have a daughter he’s visiting, but I let myself hope for a minute that he’ll actually become part of the regular cast. Leon asks them to “act as if they have company” and to stop fighting for a minute, which of course they ignore until he brings up the topic of why his daughter is being homeschooled. The fact that anyone who still hands her adult friends “do you like me check yes or no” letters is in charge of a child’s education points to a possible flaw in that entire system, but Cynthia says she’s homeschooling her daughter because she wasn’t flourishing in her old school. Peter says it’s because she used to wake up and be sad that she had to go to school, which is not out of the ordinary since the child is 12 years old. I used to wake up sad that I had to go to school when I was 12, too; at home I could watch Voltron until my eyes glazed over, but at school I had to deal with a kid named Kevin putting gum in my hair and telling me I smelled like farts. Shit happens and it’s a part of growing up, which is the point Leon is trying to make, too.
Cynthia basically says that she’s the boss and intimates that since Leon isn’t around very often, he doesn’t get much of a say in how his daughter is raised, which I find to be both shortsighted and a little mean. At this point their daughter, Noelle, comes into the kitchen, where Cynthia forces her to tell her how she feels about this whole school thing. I felt really uncomfortable watching this scene, as Cynthia was basically trying to force her kid to choose between her mother and father. The kid probably just wanted some gummi slugs or whatever they snack on these days, and instead she’s ambushed by a “him or me"–style conversation. Thankfully, when Cynthia hunches down to point wildly around the room and ask if she wants to keep being homeschooled, Noelle says she never wanted to be homeschooled and “wants to go back to school without question.” IN YOUR FACE, CYNTHIA! I may have actually pumped my fist. Since Cynthia cannot stand being told she is wrong or have any of her decisions questioned, she just starts another fight with everyone and jokingly threatens to take dinner away. She is the worst.
Finally we get to meet one of the new cast members, Kenya, former Miss USA, self-professed actor, producer, author, director, model, and hustler. She’s having lunch with makeup artist Lawrence, who I’m glad to see is still getting work even though Sheree is gone. Kenya has moved back to Atlanta from Los Angeles in attempt to have some normalcy in her life, which she proves by suggesting Lawrence should one day try caviar on a potato pancake. What you need to know about Kenya is that she ordered asparagus fries and chicken queso soup, has been engaged six times but has always lived alone, has a boyfriend named Walter who wears a flattop fade in 2012, works out six times a week to “maintain perfection,” has a mother who denies her existence and was raised by her aunt, and produces the kind of films that used to be direct-to-video and are now directly-deleted-from-your-Netflix-recommendation-list. She announced on the radio that she’s ready to have kids and walk down the aisle, so that’s normal. Also, she’s a monster and is guaranteed to bring the drama all season long.
We cut back to Kandi, who is getting ready to show Kim her new house. When Kim and Sweetie pull up, she sees that only one side of the huge wrought-iron gate opens and declares the entire operation to be “ghetto.” She talks smack about the safety of the neighborhood until Kandi opens her car door, and then says she had to “lock her doors.” What follows is Kim and Sweetie walking through in a manner I can only describe as completely, offensively racist. When shown the indoor pool, Kim says, “If I was black I’d have one inside my house, too!” and “You don’t need the sun because you’re black!” She’s clearly the kind of person who thinks she can get away with racist statements because look! I had a minority in my house one time, it’s cool! But she was really being rude and dismissive about something Kandi was really excited about. After showing them that her new house is actually TWO houses, Kandi calls Kim out on her bullshit comments in her interview, hinting to a possible (probable) jealousy since Kim is on the verge of homelessness and Sweetie is a lump with shoes. When Kim points out that she’s fine with it if her landlord wants to evict them, Kandi points out that the eviction would happen right after Kim gives birth. Kim is nonplussed and leaves to look for someone who can move her out of her house for less than the cost of a complete undergraduate Ivy League education. Kandi responded to Kim’s ridiculousness by starting another record label, collecting royalties on the multi-platinum songs she wrote for various successful artists, and buying Kim out of her lease so she could evict her personally.
There’s an interstitial showing us how completely adorable Phaedra’s son, Aiden, has become, and a commercial that shows me Javier Bardem is in the new James Bond movie? And that he has blond hair? I haven’t owned a TV in a while and I spend most of my time in a library, so what else have I missed?
Next, Nene is in Los Angeles at a restaurant, meeting with Ryan Murphy. Did he call her a “tall genie”? What does that mean? He is wearing a plaid golf hat and looks like Gunther from Friends. Nene makes a point of telling us that the bag she’s putting on the ground is a Birkin, and she continues to rock the cutout shoulder look, this time in red. They’re talking about The New Normal; we already know that she gets the job, apparently because Murphy liked her on Celebrity Apprentice, but they’re talking about the possibility of bringing on Taye Diggs as her younger brother. Murphy asks what kind of guy Nene is looking for “when she gets divorced,” and she confirms that right now her focus is on Gregg. Murphy sees through the humanity and emotion surrounding the possibility of falling in love again with the man you’re supposed to be divorcing and says he wants to turn it into a story. And I’m sure he will. And I’m sure he’ll cast white people. Nene talks about how he changed her life; they laugh over eating “fancy Hollywood snails” and then try to call Tyler Perry only to get a disconnected number. They sit and talk until it’s dark, which is very charming, and I’m genuinely happy that Nene has had so much success.
But we can’t end on a high note, so let’s go back to Cynthia! Here we are at the Bailey Modeling Agency and School of Fashion and House of Doughnuts, where Cynthia is setting up a casting for JET magazine, which I am genuinely surprised to hear still exists. My grandma got a subscription to JET for a year once when I was in middle school ‚ she’s from Harlem, but we lived in the suburbs and she was worried I wasn’t being exposed to enough black culture — and I haven’t seen it since. Good for you, JET magazine! For some reason, Cynthia has invited Kenya to be part of the selection process for this shoot, which quickly and hellishly backfires on her. While talking to the casting director, both women basically offer to cast themselves, which sets a nice tone for the competition that follows. As wave after wave of bikini-clad hopefuls approaches the judging table, Kenya yells “pop that booty!” and “Why are you even here?” prompting Cynthia to ask her to calm down.
The human embodiment of foreshadowing walks in (a woman with a two-headed bull tattoo because she has “multiple personalities with vicious potential”), and Kenya decides that it’s up to her to find a decent representation of black women. She starts asking the models questions and then berating them for not looking directly at her when they are answering. She follows that up with some transphobic behavior, and I cannot remember a time when someone has shown how unlikable they are in the first episode. She’s a bully. Kenya starts talking about how much “coochie crack” some of the girls are showing, making it sound like some of the models had an earthquake situation where their vaginas should be, and then starts ripping into Cynthia’s assistants, Terrance and Carlton. First she has words with Terrance, who looks like a combination John Denver when he sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Muppets and Andre 3000 (more like Andre 1000, am I right?), and then she calls security on Carlton for asking her to maybe not tell the models they are useless. She actually brought her own security, and Cynthia has to intervene to prevent having to explain to Carlton’s family that he was snapped in half for trying to talk to another human being. At the end of the audition, after basically describing each of the models as sacks of garbage, Kenya stands up and tells them they are so brave and wonderful for showing up. Not to be outdone, Cynthia stands up and says basically the same thing, which is mostly a power play to reassert her position as owner and boss at Cynthia Bailey’s Bailey Modeling Agency and School of Fashion and House of Doughnuts. She threatens to come for Kenya if she approaches her, which I think we all know won’t end well.
Next week we get to work out with Phaedra, watch Cynthia try to stop Nene from making a new friend, and see Nene compare her hairstyle to a teenage guy while sitting in a convertible. And we still have a new housewife to meet! I can’t wait.