the real housewives

Every First Real Housewives Episode, Ranked

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Bravo

The launch of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, the tenth show in the Bravo franchise, marks the first time in four years that viewers have been introduced to a new edition of the reality-TV stalwart. This is also the first time in four years that an episode of the series has had the unenviable task of introducing a new cast of characters, city, and social scene from scratch.

This is no easy feat, especially since Real Housewives fans, much like Vicki Gunvalson when forced to meet a new young blonde, are notoriously skeptical of new cast members. After all, many veteran housewives have earned legend status, and adding to their ranks is like carving new faces on Mount Rushmore. So a premiere episode has a lot of work to do: not only introducing a full cast of unknowns but getting an audience invested in their stories and coming back for more. Sometimes they’re off to the races, and sometimes it takes them a little longer to warm up. Here, we look back at all ten premieres, from O.C. to Salt Lake, and rank how well they delivered in a Housewifean array of categories.

10. The Real Housewives of Orange County

“Meet the Wives” (March 2006)

Photo: Bravo

This franchise has come a long way since its nearly unrecognizable origins in 2006. The debut episode focuses primarily on the home lives of each of the women in the gated community of Coto de Caza with minimal crossover and no interpersonal conflicts. The episode follows Jeana Keough waiting to see if her son makes the MLB draft, Lauri Peterson dealing with her downsized post-divorce life, and insurance maven Vicki Gunvalson throwing her daughter’s graduation party. Meanwhile, literal housewives Kimberly Bryant and Jo De La Rosa bond over stay-at-home life. It’s the premiere episode most different from what it evolved into, especially after the recent departure of 14-year-veteran Vicki, making it the only show with no original cast members remaining (much to Vicki’s dismay).

MAJOR FEUD: Ironically, the episode that started it all doesn’t have any feud or conflict between the housewives. Obviously, that didn’t last long.

ICONIC QUOTE: “I don’t wanna get old.” —Vicki Gunvalson

SIDE CHARACTER: Vicki’s daughter, Briana, not only continued to have a prominent role on the show for over a decade, she created a trope that has reverberated throughout the franchise: the sensible daughter. It recurs so often on Housewives that genealogists should study the phenomenon.

FORESHADOWING: While 24-year-old Jo lasted only two seasons, her onetime fiancé Slade Smiley had a much longer tenure, later dating two other housewives, most notably Gretchen Rossi, to whom he has been engaged for the past seven years.

9. The Real Housewives of Miami

“Paradise Cost” (February 2011)

Photo: Bravo/2012 Bravo Media, LLC.

The short-lived Florida edition had a strong start with a parade of celebrity cameos in Lea Black’s Miami store, and it featured an intriguing cast that included Larsa Pippen, wife of Scottie, and Adriana de Moura, who tells a story about learning of her ex-husband’s secret wife during Hurricane Katrina. However, the first episode doesn’t manage to showcase any deep ties between the housewives or any signs of drama to come.

MAJOR FEUD: There’s no central conflict in the first episode, and, unlike early editions that made the same mistake, as the seventh show in the franchise, RHOM should have known better.

ICONIC QUOTE: “I’m anti–plastic surgery … until it gets really really bad.” —Marysol Patton

SIDE CHARACTER: Mama Elsa, the show’s most recognizable figure and Marysol’s energy-reading mother, made waves as the eccentric matriarch and plays such a key role that Andy Cohen cited her absence in season three as a reason for the show’s decline.

FORESHADOWING: When explaining how she puts together a successful party, Lea says, “People make the party, so it’s about getting the right people … and if everything else fails, I just get them drunk.” This sentiment could double as the mantra of every casting director at Bravo. Lasting only three seasons, Miami might not have been able to crack that formula (or it just needed more mojitos).

8. The Real Housewives of D.C.

“Welcome to the District” (August 2010)

Photo: Bravo

The franchise’s sole one-season wonder, RHODC establishes right away that these wives’ currency is proximity to power. Cat Ommanney, the wife of a White House photographer, brags that President Obama was aware of her whirlwind romance; Michaele Salahi hosts a polo event for lobbyists and ambassadors; and Mary Amons talks about growing up with the Kennedys. The episode’s biggest shortcoming is its insistence on not letting politics be personal. This keeps it from engaging in more nuanced political conversations like those we’ve seen recently on RHOBH, which tackled the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, and on RHOA, which this season will cover Porsha Williams’s BLM activism.

MAJOR FEUD: The dynamics are particularly odd, being that everyone seems to have some kind of distaste for Michaele but nobody outright says why. Even more bizarrely, Cat and Stacie Scott Turner butt heads over Cat’s disdain for Tyra Banks and praise of George W. Bush.

ICONIC QUOTE: “You should judge your leaders by their policies, not by whether or not they RSVP to a wedding.” —Stacie Scott Turner

SIDE CHARACTER: Lynda Erkiletian’s friend Paul Wharton does most of the heavy lifting in this episode, playing an awkward game of telephone between her and Michaele to relay Lynda’s concerns about Michaele’s weight.

FORESHADOWING: The entire show is fueled by an obsession with power and access, perfectly setting up the headline-making conclusion to the series: Michaele and her husband, Tareq, infamously crashing a 2009 White House state dinner.

7. The Real Housewives of New York City

“Meet the Wives” (March 2008)

Photo: Bravo/Jay Sullivan

Even though The Real Housewives of New York City is arguably one of the most reliably strong shows in the franchise, its debut episode falls short because, as in Orange County, we don’t actually get to see the women interacting. They each take turns explaining their highfalutin Upper East Side society, but none does it better than unofficial narrator Bethenny Frankel, whose outsider’s perspective is more like a boots-on-the-ground report. She can explain these “vulgar display[s] of wealth” from the inside, as we see Jill Zarin chartering a plane to send her daughter to a detox program, Alex McCord buying “wearable art” in St. Barts, and old guards Ramona Singer and Luann de Lesseps trekking out to the Hamptons with their kids.

MAJOR FEUD: Even though we don’t yet see them together, we hear about the rivalry between Jill and Ramona as they prepare for a highly competitive tennis match, and we see Jill probing Ramona’s old pro about her weak spots.

ICONIC QUOTE: “Sometimes they just get a bit too carried away, like they’ll do silly, ridiculous things that are unnecessary. They’ll just do things that are unladylike.” —Avery Singer, age 12, about her mother and her friends

SIDE CHARACTER: Speedo-clad Simon van Kempen sets the standard for the franchise’s overinvolved husbands, remaining attached at the hip to his wife, Alex, throughout the show, much to the distress of Ramona.

FORESHADOWING: In a testament to the small, incestuous world of the Upper East Side, Luann’s future second ex-husband, Tom D’Agostino, shows up in episode one’s coming attractions hitting on Ramona — eight seasons before he marries, cheats on, and divorces Luann.

6. The Real Housewives of Dallas

“Everything’s Bigger in Dallas” (April 2016)

Photo: Bravo

Centered on the charity world of Dallas, the first episode introduces us to young housewives and giggly best friends Brandi Redmond, a former Cowboys cheerleader, and Stephanie Hollman, who can fart on command. We also meet Tiffany Hendra and her Keith Urban–look-alike husband, registered-nurse first assistant Cary Deuber and her plastic-surgeon husband, and former carny kid LeeAnne Locken. The latter is the explosive breakout with a tendency to lean into the spectacle and give the camera what it wants, which works until it doesn’t (and results in her exit after season four).

MAJOR FEUD: The series begins with tension between Brandi and LeeAnne, both of whom think the other is involved with the charity scene for the wrong reasons. LeeAnne chides Brandi for “talk[ing] about farts and poop,” while Brandi suggests that LeeAnne tried to steal the spotlight from people battling HIV at a previous charity event.

ICONIC QUOTE: “Life is always a little bit more fun with Jesus Juice. Seriously, Jesus turned water into wine, and so that’s why I call it Jesus Juice. Communion is taken with Jesus Juice; you can take communion every day, any time of day.” —Brandi Redmond

SIDE CHARACTER: Much in the way that New York is the fifth character in Sex and the City, the sixth housewife of Dallas is the carnival where LeeAnne grew up.

FORESHADOWING: After hearing that Brandi does an impression of her, LeeAnne jokingly says “give me that knife” and wields a carving utensil, subtly foreshadowing the season-two moment when LeeAnne threatens Cary on a hot mic, saying, “I grew up with a lot of things in my hands, and they’re not knives, they’re just hands … but they work quite well.”

5. The Real Housewives of New Jersey

“Thicker Than Water” (May 2009)

Photo: Bravo

About 90 percent of The Real Housewives of New Jersey takes place at either a strip mall or a French château–themed kitchen island, so it has less ground to cover in introducing us to the wealthy, bubbies-filled neighborhood of Franklin Lakes. Establishing the show’s overarching theme of family, the cast includes two sisters (who are married to brothers), Dina and Caroline Manzo, and their sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita. On the non-blood side, we see Danielle Staub get stood up by her phone-sex partner of two years, “GucciModel,” whom she met on, while last-woman-standing Teresa Giudice is hard at work building her dream mansion. Familial relationships bring a new depth to the drama and alliances, with Jacqueline stuck in the middle between friend and family.

MAJOR FEUD: Considering this is one of the more volatile shows, there isn’t much drama until the end of the episode, when Danielle confronts Jacqueline and Dina at a hair salon as they get ready for a girls’ night she wasn’t invited to and threatens to show up anyway. It’s light drama that somehow manages to escalate to a flipped table just seven short episodes later.

ICONIC QUOTE: “I don’t want to live in somebody else’s house. That’s gross.” —Teresa Giudice

SIDE CHARACTER: Because the first episode doesn’t include the gold-standard, bone-chilling side characters of Kim D. and Kim G., the real standouts are the trio of Manzo children, one of whom, Chris, lays out his plan to open a strip-club car wash.

FORESHADOWING: Throughout the episode, between shopping sprees and house tours, there are constant references to the recession, which Teresa cites as her reason for buying thousands of dollars of furniture in cash. It’s an underlying darkness hanging over a show on which fleeting wealth, foreclosures, and bankruptcy will become all too common — coming to a head with Teresa’s 2015 prison sentence.

4. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Wealthiness” (October 2010)

Photo: Bravo/B) Bravo

The second California-based edition, RHOBH focuses more on housewives who are adjacent to fame, giving the audience a reference point for some of the cast. Camille, of course, is stepping out of her husband Kelsey Grammer’s shadow, and the former child stars Kim and Kyle Richards are introduced as Paris Hilton’s aunts. Rounding out the strong cast are Taylor Armstrong, Adrienne Maloof, and future network staple Lisa Vanderpump. And what better way to showcase Beverly Hills than by immediately going to Sacramento? The day trip is permissible since it’s done via private jet to go cheer on the NBA team Adrienne owns.

MAJOR FEUD: Although Kim and Taylor rub each other the wrong way at the basketball game, Kim takes it out on her sister for leaving her out to dry around a new group of friends. The two butt heads as Kyle helps Kim look for a house, trying to fulfill the promise to take care of her that she made to their late mother, Big Kathy, whose presence looms over the show. They argue in circles about Kyle’s overstepping and Kim’s indecisiveness, a highlight of which is when the 46-year-old casually ponders having another baby.

ICONIC QUOTE: “My husband calls me a sex object. He says every time he wants sex, I object. I say to him, ‘You know what, Christmas and birthdays — and it’s your birthday, not mine. That’s another day off.’” —Lisa Vanderpump

SIDE CHARACTER: Although we meet Lisa’s houseguest-turned-enemy, Cedric, and Camille’s husband-turned-enemy, Kelsey Grammer, the biggest and ultimately most famous side character introduced in this episode is undeniably Giggy, Lisa’s alopecia-ridden Pomeranian.

FORESHADOWING: The moment we meet Adrienne and her husband, Paul, they’re already arguing, which ends up being an accurate first impression. Their bickering becomes a trademark of the show, making it not all too surprising when they join the ranks of divorced Housewives couples (though this usually happens after a vow renewal) and part ways in season three.

3. The Real Housewives of Potomac

“Mind Your Manners” (January 2016)

Photo: Bravo

The Real Housewives of Potomac didn’t just have an unknown cast but was also set in an unknown city, giving it even more work to do in engaging an audience. Focusing on Black women living in an exclusive, etiquette-based D.C. suburb, the show has the franchise’s highest original Housewife retention rate, with Gizelle Bryant, Karen Huger (wife of “the Black Bill Gates”), the habitually late Robyn Dixon, and Ashley Darby (who doesn’t appear until episode two) still in the cast five years later. Charrisse Jackson-Jordan and Katie Rost round out the inaugural group as they celebrate Karen’s birthday and throw a crab boil.

MAJOR FEUD: The episode features two etiquette-driven feuds, both of which involve Gizelle, the more prominent of which results from her taking the center seat at Karen’s birthday dinner. Bringing phenomenal prop work to the table from day one, Karen responds by gifting Gizelle a framed list of etiquette rules for attending a birthday dinner.

ICONIC QUOTE: “People come for me all the time; they just don’t find me.” —Karen Huger

SIDE CHARACTER: Gizelle arrives early to give Charrisse a hand with the crab boil alongside her friend and hairstylist Kal, who helps them wrangle live crabs jumping out of pots in an unproblematic version of Annie Hall. Ultimately, Charrisse turns on the pair for their rowdy behavior, after Kal offers to fix her hair.

FORESHADOWING: Gizelle balks at Karen’s suggestion of her getting back together with her “cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater” ex-husband, Jamal, but that’s exactly what we see playing out on the current season, five years later.

2. The Real Housewives of Atlanta

“Welcome One, Welcome ATL” (October 2008)

Photo: Bravo

The Real Housewives of Atlanta started off with a bang as the franchise’s third edition in 2008, with a cast composed of immediate all-stars NeNe Leakes, Kim Zolciak, and Shereé Whitfield, as well as the short-lived ’wives Lisa Wu and the eternally drowsy DeShawn Snow. We’re introduced to this ultra-elite Atlanta social scene as we watch DeShawn hire a house staff, Lisa host a bowling party in her home, and Shereé order a Louis Vuitton birthday cake. Not to be outdone, NeNe helps Kim change into her designer dress in a Shell-station parking lot on the way to Shereé’s party.

MAJOR FEUD: As is always ideal, the series launches amid a preexisting feud between NeNe and Shereé, who are already sparring via confessionals. Shereé decides to extend an olive branch by inviting NeNe to her party, but, like clockwork, she is turned away at the door because she’s “not on the list.” A convenient oversight or an act of domestic terror? It lit the fuse that ignited the powder keg, and, as NeNe says, “It’s gonna be war.”

ICONIC QUOTE: “I’m very materialistic. It makes me feel good to have name brands and top of the line; I don’t want anything else. I could die tomorrow, I’m gonna die wearing Dior.” —Kim Zolciak

SIDE CHARACTER: We’re treated to the debut of Big Poppa, Kim’s wealthy, anonymous boyfriend, whom she calls throughout the episode so he can sign off on extravagant gifts she decides he’s buying for her. Despite never appearing onscreen, Big Poppa draws enough intrigue and controversy to become a staple of the show.

FORESHADOWING: The pilot mentions Shereé’s fashion line, an endeavor that persists deep into the series’ run as “SHE by Shereé.” The flaky business venture remained a conversation topic as recently as season ten, when Shereé promised that “joggers” would be coming in “September/spring/summer.”

1. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

“Welcome to Salt Lake City!” (November 2020)

Photo: Chad Kirland/Bravo

The most recent entry in the canon is also the strongest, proving that the production has not only mastered the form but delivered a cast so adept in the medium it’s as if they attended a training program. Exploring the Housewives format through the new lens of religion, RHOSLC features immediate hits like a stripper pole at a vow renewal, a Mormon-helmed tequila brand, and an odor-glands-free pastor married to her own step-grandfather. It’s so packed with God-tier absurdity that it sounds like Stefon describing New York’s hottest club.

MAJOR FEUD: Early in the episode, we’re introduced to a classic Housewives conundrum, in which Lisa Barlow claims not to have known Heather Gay even though they went to school together. But if you thought this was our marquee conflict, you’re sorely mistaken, because we soon learn there has been a standing feud between Jen Shah and Mary Cosby ever since Mary said Jen “smelled like hospital.” Naturally, this was deeply offensive to Jen, whose aunt had just gotten both legs amputated “at the last minute.”

ICONIC QUOTE:  “I don’t know what you want me to do about your aunt; her legs are gone. Why are you getting your legs cut off at 60? That means your diet’s bad. You know, it’s just like, she didn’t eat right, like drink water.” —Mary Cosby

SIDE CHARACTER: Brooks, Meredith Marks’s 21-year-old son, is an instant standout, taking a semester off from college to deliver deadpan one-liners that are surely worth some kind of internship credit. But by the looks of it, Salt Lake is filled with a roster of camera-ready women circling the crew like vultures, including Jen’s friend Keri, who, when confronted about spreading gossip, hauntingly doubles down, declaring, “I absolutely did.”

FORESHADOWING: With only a few episodes under its belt, it may seem early to rank RHOSLC so high, since we don’t yet know where the show will take us. But we’re told in the premiere that, according to the Mormon faith, “perfection is attainable,” and the debut episode of this new franchise is proving Joseph Smith right on that front.

Every First Real Housewives Episode, Ranked