The Real Housewives of Dubai
We have finally made it to episode five and apparently not a moment too soon because the Dubai girls have found themselves in the middle of some Bravo network drama right as the Eileen Davidson accords are expiring. Courtesy of self-actualized caricature drawing Lisa Rinna’s penchant for aimless antics designed to daze and confuse, the new cast in the Emirates have shown that they are not going to entertain racist (and yes, I am going to call a thing a thing here) microaggressions lying down and pack way more punch than these early episodes may show — which is promising for early adopters, because if the rest of the season hinges on an argument at Nina’s dinner, I may need to call into Watch What Happens Live myself and demand an explanation of precisely what was so earth-shattering about that night because it cannot possibly be a slight over a bad game of telephone.
Without further ado, however, let’s get into the preliminary power rankings for the cast.
Chanel Ayan: Easily the breakout star of the season, her natural whimsy and charm override the moments that are clearly attempts by her to manufacture taglines or GIF-able scenes; in fact, despite herself, even the failed executions end up being memorable. There have been times when she has been caught up in very unnecessary flourishes of the truth, but this is Housewives, a healthy dose of mythmaking and delusion is par for the course for the best breakout stars. Kenya Moore rolled onto the scene being Gone With the Wind Fabulous; Ayan might, on a given week, mix up coincidence and acquaintance. 8/10.
Lesa Milan: Out of all the housewives on this cast, Lesa likely has the most complete story line in the traditional sense — a successful business that she is trying to expand, a dynamic with her camera-ready family that she is trying to figure out as a working mom, individual relationships with most of the cast, and genuine chemistry with the breakout star. However, the biggest detractor for her remains that most of her biggest and sharpest individual moments are retained in confessionals and not within the scenes themselves. Confessional thugging is an easy way to get you iced out by your castmates, and hopefully, that is either not the case here or will be a point of conversation at the reunion. 7/10
Nina Ali: Nina’s biggest flaw is her desperate need to be relatable. Whether or not she is a true rags-to-riches tale or always had some form of means, she certainly has money now, and Housewives is a show that encourages you to fully engage in the delusions that come with wealth, whatever that may mean. I find it hard to believe that Ali had no idea the cost of license plates before she filmed this show, but if you let her convince you, she’s the one-percenters’ version of a coupon clipper. While I am sure her clothes cost more than my bedroom set, that doesn’t mean that it gives any less of a White House Black Market meets Ann Taylor vibe. At her best, she is invoking her best impressions of an extra from Dynasty, quietly offering shade across a table during a lunch tête-à-tête or dinner fiasco. She has potential, but there remains much to be realized. 6/10
Caroline Brooks: I’m unsure what raw footage Dubai’s production company had to work with here, but the Black Caroline drew the short end of the stick on the editing table. We get the least insight into her as a person, and she primarily serves as a chaotic foil and plot device to give the season momentum, with her actual projects given the lipservice of the “DIY fixer-upper” part of a Property Brothers episode and her romantic life spoken of dramatically yet cryptically as an integral part of her come up. Brooks pops on-camera, so all is not lost yet, but there needs to be a sharp turnaround to adjust course and reset beyond thin villainization, if not on the back half of the season then certainly on the reunion. 4/10
Caroline Stanbury: Stanbury entered the show with arguably the most name recognition, which has only served as an anchor for her journey thus far as someone who has had the biggest expectations and has fallen short at every turn. As Lesa Milan’s husband said, “We’re talking about a 50-year-old influencer here,” which is a far cry from the posh Brit we were introduced to who could navigate social hierarchies cunningly. As a result, what we are left with is a petty harridan of a woman who is unable to accept when a group declines to conform to whatever she has decided is the proper course of action after any given conflict. We also get a healthy dose of whatever free wares she is given to flaunt for the episode. Perhaps her standing in the U.K. expat community justified the influencer position, but it doesn’t merit her standing within this cast. 2/10
Sara Al-Madani: As the only Emirati on the cast, Al-Madani’s role is a delicate one, serving as an ambassador for both her own brand, her culture, and the SWANA region in the face of (justified and understandable) critiques. She sometimes ends up being bogged down by this burden instead of offering entertainment value as per the commandments of Housewives power rankings. She needs another Emirati to dilute this load or the viewers will never have a chance to engage with Sara on the merits of her as an individual as much as an emissary of the lifestyle of an extremely wealthy subset of Emiratis. While she is inoffensive and beautiful, she is also uncompelling beyond her brief moments of wisdom and needs to find a way to engage more substantively than highlighting how “modern” she is versus western conceptions of Arab nations. 3/10
The actual episode this week is a letdown. Given the anticipation built for Phaedra’s big return to the Housewives franchise (in case you have been living under a reality TV rock, Andy Cohen has been personally traipsing the southern belle and her shenanigans on a redemption tour throughout the Bravo empire, building for the inevitable showdown between Parks’s near-guaranteed return to Atlanta and Burruss’s insistence that she would walk from the show), the introductory scene actually came and went rather quickly. Phaedra was her usual charming self, but it felt like a weird tourism commercial for Dubai than anything that tied into the greater context of the show.
Stanbury and her fiancé who she has already legally married, so I don’t know why we keep talking like they aren’t married, seem to think they have a leg to stand on in their issue with Lesa and, readers, I would like someone to explain to me what exactly that is. If Caroline doesn’t remember what she said or thinks it is just cheeky British humor, and Sergio doesn’t feel like repeating it to her, that is fine. But even Brooks admitted that the exchange could have gone left with many other people, and she can’t even bring herself to admit that her wigs are just as distressing as Ayan’s. Why are we in this dick-measuring contest at an indoor bunny slope, then? Yes, you’ve been to Gstaad; I don’t think people who do indoor skydiving think it genuinely compares to doing tandem skydiving from a plane. This is where I wish they would just make the subtext plain and say that Stanbury is not representing any brands that will not compensate her because there is no other explanation for her stubbornness.
Stanbury offers the pleading excuse that because of the neglect in her family, where she was shipped off to boarding school and pretty much discarded, her cold demeanor is what she has developed over time, reserving her last five shards of a heart for the friends she has maintained in her created family. That’s all well and good, but it lands with a thud when juxtaposed next to Ayan, who is running around barefoot in the mall and clinging to a family who adores her, flaws, histrionics, and all. The very idea of intimacy and familial bonds seems to repel Stanbury, who, despite being in therapy, seems not to process how genuinely unhealthy it is to tell her now-husband how little she wanted to get married or have the kid(s) he desires so much, whether or not this is purely for TV’s sake. If Ayan can find adoration and celebration within her family while holding on to 26 years of unaddressed pain from poverty and neglect, then rich, abandoned Stanbury can learn to make peace with her abandonment in a way that is healthy and productive for the relationships around her. Your history is not an excuse, it is merely context; it is up to you to choose how to be guided by that clarity, particularly if you have the means to do so.
Next week, the Stanburys arrive, and Sara’s villain arc begins. See you all then!