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Quarantine and the Real Housewives: Escapist TV at its best, says Caitlin McBride

By January 7, 2021January 10th, 2021No Comments

‘Some people have taken up hiking, yoga or baking, I am House-wiving.’ Caitlin McBride on the catharsis of Real Housewives in lockdown…

It’s hard to describe the Real Housewives’ franchise to someone who has not watched it. On paper, it’s about a group of rich women from major metropolitan cities who squabble over petty dramas like the size of an ice sculpture at a barbecue in Beverly Hills or eating the bow off a wives’ cake at her surname change party in Orange County.

But it is so much more than that – and to me, this vapid world in which one-percenters and wannabees make and break friendships as quickly as Dorit Kemsley changes wigs has been cathartic during our ongoing quarantine.

I have an embarrassing lack of hobbies. I thought lockdown would bring out a long-buried penchant for DIY work as a first-time homeowner, encourage me to finally pick up an instrument, learn how to cook or finish my Couch to 5K.

But none of those things came to fruition. The existential anxiety unique to quarantine left me with little bandwidth left to focus on a more challenging pastime.

In fact, over consecutive lockdown(s), I’ve found myself leaning harder into the universe of Desperate Housewives, out of both an urgent need for escapism and a genuine appreciation for the genre.

In May of last year, I left my job of ten years, in September I began studying for an MBA. An intensive academic curriculum coupled with ever-changing lockdowns meant that my options for consistent downtime became increasingly limited – and so, I turned to Housewives. In fact, it became my favourite hobby.

My Real Housewives journey originally began circa 2012 when a friend told me about this new show he had come across called The Real Housewives of New York City, in which a woman from Connecticut insisted on being called a Countess because her husband was bestowed with the title of Count.

That woman’s name is Luann de Lesseps, and she was every bit as absurd as I had hoped.  But it’s Luann’s co-star Sonja Morgan, the fourth ex-wife of John Adams Morgan – as in the Morgan of JP Morgan bank – who holds a special place in my heart. Sonja is charming, affable and absolutely bonkers as all good Housewives should be. Last May, I was celebrating some life events: it was the height of Lockdown 1.0; I was changing careers and it was my 33rd birthday. Because I didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate any of this outside of Zoom, my fiancé brought Housewives into our home.

He ordered me a Cameo – a personally recorded message for a fee from reality tv stars – from my favourite, Sonja Morgan, in which she waxed lyrical about a former intern she had called Caitlin and continued in similarly innocuous one-way conversation over the course of one minute. It was the best present I have ever received.

Since my 2012 introduction, I have watched every franchise, both American and international. In the US, there are big-ticket attractors like Beverly Hills in which women with names like Lisa Vanderpump will ship mini ponies to surprise her husband Ken via private jet, perfectly exemplifying the the ‘lifestyle porn’ expected of the franchise.

Guests entering their palatial home are greeted by swans Hanky and Panky, a beloved Pomeranian with alopecia Gigolo – aka ‘Giggy’ – was treated with more reverence than most humans. Former Bond Girl Denise Richards joined the franchise for a brief two seasons before she quit after being targeted too frequently for wearing jeans and biker boots instead of being sewn into catsuits like her co-stars.

Each city has its own theme – in Beverly Hills, it’s glamour, in New York, it’s hard partying in penthouse apartments, and in Potomac and Atlanta, it’s game-changing drama. The newest addition – Salt Lake City – portrays the lives of six absurdly wealthy women from peripheral Mormon backgrounds. We are only eight episodes in to the first season and already there has been a marriage separation, two theme parties (the ideal backdrop for all iconic fights) and a wives’ honest portrayal of her father’s addiction to prescription painkillers. That’s the thing about Housewives – just when you think it’s all table flips and toy dogs, it can hit you in the gut.

While we are all recovering from the proverbial gut punch of 2020, I have found my tonic in re-connecting with these women. Last year, I wrote a book entitled The Day That Changed My Life in which women shared stories about moments that changed their lives. One woman, who was experiencing some emotional fragility, mentioned that the Real Housewives helped soothe her as she felt she was not emotionally equipped to watch anything more taxing.

One day I will write Nene Leakes [star of the Real Housewives of Atlanta] a letter,” she told me. As a fan of the show, that comment always stuck with me, but I undervalued the emotional fulfilment the series would give me, until my own fragility was tested. I have experienced my own traumas and tragedies as we all have, but Covid hit me differently and so it also required a different form of therapy. And my choice of therapy in Covid has been distraction.

Last summer, Netflix added two franchises to its Irish roster and soon, the community of viewers grew exponentially. I was suddenly a Housewives specialist, or a ‘maven’ as Ramona Singer would say, guiding my friends through their first-time viewings. Suddenly, we found ourselves building a virtual bridge of commonalities during a time of growing isolation.

While I might suffer from ‘Zoom fatigue’ after six hours of lectures and study groups, I’ve yet to reach my threshold for Housewives fatigue.

Realising how little control you have over your own life is a very sobering realisation. Staying sane in a pandemic is not easy and while some people have taken up hiking, yoga or baking, I am House-wiving.

They represent a sort of unofficial time capsule of this year, at least for viewers from the cities in which they are filmed. Or, as Bravo deity Andy Cohen put it, “a microcosm of a rainbow of sentiments relating to Covid, from wacky theories to the Fox News perspective, to just trying to take care of your family.”

It’s easy to dismiss something unfamiliar as unworthy, but I dare you not to watch any episode of any franchise and not smile – even just a little.


Image from @therealhousewivesofbh