It’s a big week on Bravo: The Real Housewives of New York City kicked off its 10th season Tuesday night, and Thursday brings the season 5 premiere of Southern Charm.
Yes, you read that right! Five! Snaps for Southern Charm! I watched the first season and frankly found it Southern charmless, but I congratulate it, sincerely, on reaching this milestone — not to mention inspiring two spinoffs. (RHONY is a reality behemoth that does not need my congratulations, and I will not embarrass myself by extending them.)
Southern Charm premiered on Bravo in 2014, yet another product of Bravo’s favorite formula: Find a small group of telegenic young people who either work together in a singular environment or socialize together under a specific shared value system (Southern Charm falls into the latter camp). At best — and by best I mean the iconic Vanderpump Rules — the colleagues also socialize together, and their workplace happens to come with its very own code, and they all strictly observe this code until someone inevitably breaks it, and then the others shriekingly reproach the traitor for compromising the integrity of their very way of life, all of which is just a smokescreen for all of the accusers’ own abundant indiscretions. But that is very much beside the point.
The longevity of Southern Charm is impressive when you consider how many of these attempts on Bravo’s part — somewhere around two dozen in the last 10 years — have fizzled after one short season. Who could possibly forget the shameless but short-lived stereotyping of Princesses: Long Island (10 episodes, 2013), about the clique of privileged 20-something Jewish girls who were living with their parents until they found husbands? Will Bravo ever air another pep talk to rival Chanel’s rabbi telling her “Remember, you are a princess”? Probably not.
Let’s pour one out, too, for Eat Drink Love (eight episodes, 2013), in which a group of young women navigated the L.A. culinary world and the L.A. dating scene (at the same time!!!), all of which looked to me like one long moonlit parade of craft cocktails and breezy maxi dresses. The list goes on. We’re talking Dukes of Melrose. We’re talking Après Ski. We’re talking Miss Advised, L.A. Shrinks, Game of Crowns. We. Are talking. Gallery Girls.
Gallery Girls (eight episodes, 2012) told the tale of seven 20-something young women trying to make it in New York City’s art world, dramatized as an epic battle of blonde Upper East Side trust-funders vs. red-lipped Brooklyn dilettantes. In the pilot episode’s opening sequence, two out of the seven cast members actually cite Sex and the City as their inspiration for moving to New York and doing arty things. It had a retro girly-pop theme and a hip youthful soundtrack. Every episode was named after a Velvet Underground song. It was like Bravo was trying to make the first half-hour of an indie rom-com into an ensemble reality series. It was perfect.
After the credits rolled on Gallery Girls’ finale, I waited patiently for a renewal announcement, and mourned bitterly when I realized none was coming. In retrospect, I should have known that it could never last. It was too pure for this world. Nothing gold can stay.
Maybe their social lives weren’t incestuous enough. Maybe Chantal (who, it bears repeating, does not like wines from Oregon) realized, a little too late, that Bravo wouldn’t really enhance her particular brand. Maybe Angela got bored, Claudia got overwhelmed, and Amy got drunk. And maybe the art world is a little too uppity to grant the kind of access needed for the backdrop for a Bravo series (kind of like how The Real Housewives of D.C. just couldn’t work because every real Washington power player knows that a reality show would be political suicide… or it would have in 2010, anyway).
Anyway, the why doesn’t really matter; there are a million reasons a reality show might come to an end. The real question is: Do we need more of it?
I can’t believe I’m saying it, but maybe not. Maybe eight episodes of Gallery Girls was exactly the right amount. Any more would have tainted it. The girls would have watched and learned. They would have played up their perceived strengths, developed a shtick, cultivated a look for the cameras. The getting-to-know-you rhythm of the first season would have given way to producer contrivances to facilitate drink-throwing, table-flipping drama in subsequent years. We can’t just watch them lob general insults about each other’s neighborhoods forever, after all. (Or can we?) More seasons would have cheapened it. And if there’s one thing art dealers don’t like, I’ve learned, it’s cheapening.
Now the girls’ single Bravo season is just a wacky thing they tried, a throwaway line on their résumés (kind of like what the original Real Housewives of Orange County initially thought their first season would be). But for us, their devoted viewers, it’s all we have to cling to. Most of them, it appears, have left the art world — and would we have wanted to see that? This way, they’re aspiring gallerinas for eternity, talking about Sex and the City with stars in their eyes and lipstick on their teeth. Now that Gallery Girls is over, it can truly last forever.
So I hope you enjoy Southern Charm tonight! I hope you love its two spinoffs! Those Southern charmers can have their success; there’s poetry in cancellation for everyone else. And to all of those one-season stars, the gallery girls and the princesses and the eat-drink-lovers who tasted the sweet fruit of Bravolebrity for just a brief, beautiful moment: I salute you. I salute you all. I hope that real life has proven kinder than reality.