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The first episode of The Real Housewives of Potomac is here, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. No, not for the cast—although they should probably sue over the show’s bar mitzvah-level introduction—but for the D.C. area itself.
For more than a decade, the District, Maryland, and Virginia have hoovered up enough tax money that we should have inspired several successful luxe reality series. So far, though, the area hasn’t provided the nation with even one show worth its space on the DVR.
2010’s The Real Housewives of D.C. was so bad that Housewives fans won’t even rank it in the franchise, and similar efforts never even got on the air. Potomac may be a half-hour drive from D.C., but at this point, it’s our best shot at reality TV relevance.
I’ve never been to Potomac, MD, and apparently I’m not alone—new villain Karen promises that “only legacy or large cash-flow can get you in.” So I’m glad the show’s first episode focuses on the bizarro folkways of wealthy Potomac, which skews half-Downton Abbey, half-Wicker Man.
But first: our characters!
Robyn is divorced from basketball player Juan Dixon, formerly of the Terps, Wizards and, uh, Turkey’s Bandırma Banvit. But her divorce, caused by Juan’s passion for scoring in ways that have nothing to do with the Verizon Center, isn’t so final that she won’t hang out in her wedding dress (above) in the house she still shares with Dixon.
Robyn doesn’t just still live and parent with Juan—she still “shares a bed with him.” Despite that, she’s somehow also the sanest character on the show (or at least, the most reluctant to take her shot at reality success).
All that makes Robyn seem less like material for Bravo and more like grist for the New York Times‘ column on weird divorces. Here’s Juan walking on in his ex-wife in her wedding dress and instantly wondering if Ted Leonsis will take his call:
Katie comes from gobs of money, she used to date Russell Simmons, the National Building Museum is in her intro clip, whatever. More importantly for viewers, Katie leads the Housewives Problematic Sweepstakes.
First, she declares that Robyn’s sons might be interested in wearing her wedding dress…if they’re gay! Then, after saying she likes to date Jewish men, Katie says her absolute favorite thing about her Jewish boyfriend is how good he is with money. Oh no.
Katie’s boyfriend might know how to balance a checkbook and invest in index funds, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in marrying Katie. Worse news for their relationship, though comes when he tells Katie to ditch the Preakness for his golf tournament.
“Supporting me in my golfing ventures is definitely more important than a horse race,” says this dope.
Along with Katie, Gizelle is the second Brash Young One. Divorced from a pastor who was a “cheater cheater, pumpkin eater,” Gizelle now lives “by the rules called ‘Gizelle.'”
Modesty apparently didn’t make the cut for the Gizelle rulebook—she says her return to Potomac after living in Baltimore occasioned a “ticker-tape parade.”
Charrisse is the chillest housewife, but she probably shouldn’t be. The wife of former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, she’s now long-distance with him as he coaches Rutgers’ basketball team. That’s left her marriage foundering—a matter made all the worse because her husband’s team is doing comically badly. It’s one thing to risk a marriage for the Final Four; quite another for the NIT.
Without her husband around, Charrisse does this daffy-champagne, Ms. Havisham thing that’s pretty fun to watch. When Gizelle shows up to her house, a sedate Charrisse declares that only cute people can come in—and then, after probably more deliberation than Gizelle would like, admits that she is indeed cute enough.
Charrisse also gets closest to the clique’s racial situation, which finds them an all-black or biracial group in a town that’s three-quarters white.
“I was not greeted with open arms when I moved to Potomac, because people thought I was Section 8,” Charrisse says. “Not many black people live in Potomac.”
I’d say Karen is angling to be this show’s villain, but that’d be an insult to the subtle machinations of a Richard Hatch or an Omarosa. Married to a man she describes to people she meets as “the black Bill Gates,” Karen goes hard one-percent early.
“It is just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor man,” Karen says. “It is a choice.”
Manners-crazed Karen always sneaks a putdown into her conversation. Take this interview with Washingtonian, where Karen says the Tiffany’s in Chevy Chase, Md. is “as D.C. as I get with the shopping.” I can’t figure out what’s rude about that, but I know it’s something.
There’s one more housewife—kangaroo restaurant magnate Ashley Darby—but she’s not in this episode. Fortunately, her absence doesn’t stop us from learning a few rules of the etiquette-crazed TV version of Potomac:
Don’t Ask for a Pot
Charrisse invites Gizelle to come over and help her cook for boil crabs. When Gizelle asks Charrisse for a pot while she’s getting her make-up done, though, Charrisse gets nuts!
“This isn’t how you act in somebody’s house in Potomac,” Charrisee says. “Maybe in the ghetto, but not in Potomac.”
Don’t Hang with the Help
As the many blurred faces of the housewives’ various mansion workers attest, this isn’t a show that’s big on the service industry. The cast proves their dedication to social caste when Gizelle shows up to the crab boil with her hairdresser, then cooks crabs with him. Charrisse declares him an “uninvited sous-chef.”
“Who in the world walks around with the help at a private event?” Karen says.
Sit With A Comical Excess of Care
Our heroines head to the District’s Sax, although sadly not in time to see the lounge’s now-vanished lewd murals. They’re celebrating Karen’s birthday, but she shows up late. That leaves Gizelle in the center of the table—a seismic breach of Potomac etiquette.
The offending seat:
Who cares, you might say? And Karen would respond that you wouldn’t last a minute in Potomac. The snub inspires Karen to bring a framed list of rules for birthday party guests—apparently all written by her—to “give” to Gizelle at the crab boil.
Karen’s list includes some pretty specific rules. For example, Karen’s list advises that “guests do not arbitrarily plop their bottoms down wherever they choose!” The two women get into it, Gizelle implies in an interview that Karen came from a “cabbage patch,” and Karen storms off.
This exchange pains two never-to-be-introduced characters, who look genuinely pained to be witnessing this fight:
I feel you.
Photos courtesy Bravo