By Jodi Walker
November 12, 2020 at 12:26 AM EST
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Credit: bravo

In the premiere of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, I learned that part of the Mormon doctrine is believing “perfection is attainable.” That was news to me, a person who is fairly unfamiliar with the Mormon faith, save for watching the video of Andrew Rannells singing “I Believe” at the 2011 Tonys during my biweekly 2:30 a.m. YouTube spiral. (Truly, 1,000 of those 2 million views are from me, and I hope 1,000 more of them will soon be from you.)

And when I first heard new RHOSLC housewife Heather tout Mormonism’s belief in perfection while explaining the success of her beauty and laser clinic, which features “15 Minute Botox Parking” and facials for pre-teens… I was a little skeptical. I don’t take everything in that Book of Mormon performance as fact, and I don’t think it would be wise to assume that everything the women of RHOSLC say about the Mormon faith is automatically true either. And yet — by the time I had watched a woman named Jen casually introduce a semi-nude, meatball-wielding waiter as her nephew while futilely trying to pull an apology out of a woman named Mary for once saying she “smelled like hospital” when Jen arrived at a dinner moments after visiting her aunt who’d just had both legs amputated…

Well, by that point I believed — excuse me, I BELIIIIIiiiiiIIIIIeeeeEEEEeeeEEEEved — this newly learned fact about the Mormon doctrine. Because, by God, this Real Housewives premiere was damn near PERFECT.

Every single woman in the RHOSLC cast is like the Stefon skit of Housewives. This Housewife has everything: a flashback of wearing her high school prom dress while marrying a man 18 years her senior, a vow renewal with the same man, dueling affairs, a father with hair that’s been run through a freshly-paved road, and an ex-communication from the Mormon church.

And that’s the lowkey Housewife of the bunch, Whitney! And then there’s Mary, who seems like she may be the boring Housewife because her voice is a constant whisper, and her couture wardrobe is definitely overcompensating for something. But then it’s revealed that Mary…married her step-grandfather…because her biological grandmother stipulated it in her will…in order for Mary to inherit the family’s Pentecostal church empire. So, just to reiterate: Mary wed her late grandmother’s second husband because her grandmother said she had to from the grave. And honestly, that’s perhaps the least chaotic thing Mary does in her franchise debut.

There are truly so many delicious tidbits seeded into this premiere, and I don’t want to miss a single meatball-wielding nephew or adult son zipping his mom into a dress, so it might be best if we just go through these new women one-by-one to get started:

JEN is our star. Her place in the Housewives Hall of Fame is practically carved out already, and they carved it using one of the insane stilettos that she wears in three inches of snow to attend casual drinks at a friend’s home. Jen is Tongan and Hawaiian but moved to Utah from Hawaii when she was 6. “People in Utah have no clue what I am,” she says. “In Utah, I’m Black, because they don’t know any better.”

Jen’s husband Sharrieff Shah, however, is actually Black and informed his wife a few years into their marriage that the Mormon religion she’d been raised in didn’t allow Black people until a few decades ago, which he didn’t love, and she probably shouldn’t either. So, not wanting to raise her sons in a church that didn’t welcome them wholly, Jen decided to convert to Sharrieff’s religion instead, which she celebrates by shouting, “As-salamu alaykum, bitches!”

Sharrieff is a football coach at the University of Utah, and while I know that level of coaching can be a high-paying job, is it like a…nine-figure paying job? Because Jen and Sharrieff live in a home that has truly earned the title of “Jen’s Chalet” (not a Chateau Sheree situation, is what I’m saying), and she later throws a birthday party for a friend that I would estimate cost $100,000. Is there some family money we don’t know about yet??

As for family money we do know about: HEATHER. We meet Heather at the medspa business she says she “started from nothing,” and is now valued at over $20 million.

Now, you know I love a Housewives entrepreneur, but when Heather goes on to explain how she “married into extreme wealth,” I start to question the “started from nothing” aspect of that bootstrap-pulling narrative she was weaving earlier. Either way, Heather got divorced from her “Mormon royalty” husband — his family inherited a large portion of Howard Hughes’ estate because “Howard Hughes loved the Mormons,” apparently — five years ago, and seems to be working through a pretty complicated relationship with the Mormon church now. For her part, Heather says that she’s a “purebred, pedigreed, pioneer Mormon” which feels like a pretty yikes things to say, as do many of the things she says… and yet I can't help but root for Heather, our $20,000,000 underdog.

MEREDITH, however, I have true concern for. Don’t get me wrong, I like her just fine so far: she has a flair for fashion and definitely brings a new slice to the religious pie as a Jew from Chicago. Meredith has a beautiful home, and a jewelry line frequented by Rihanna, and a sarcastic college-aged son with whom she shares a bit of a “Motherboy” vibe, but like in a fun way. But the one thing the editors really drive home in this premiere is that Meredith’s husband Seth is away on business a lot. And she’s not exactly at peace with the dynamic.

Meredith also looks a lot like LISA, which is going to make them tricky to differentiate until I learn every crevasse, crease, and caveat of these women’s psyches (I’d estimate around episode 4). Not only do they look similar, but Lisa is also from a big city (New York) and also Jewish by heritage, but she tells us that she’s Mormon by choice. Apparently, Lisa’s mom wanted her children to have a more religious upbringing, so when a Mormon missionary knocked on their door, not only did Lisa’s mother not turn out all the lights and pretend she wasn’t home, she answered and straight-up became Mormon. Lisa seems to be the most dedicated to the Mormon church in the RHOSLC cast, and yet she also owns a liquor company, about which she says, “I’m sure other Mormons care that we own a tequila company — what’s important is that I don’t.”

I love that line, and I love that Lisa and her family seem to go to four different fast-food restaurants in one trip to get individual meals for all four of them. I want to like Lisa, and yet I really didn’t like hearing her pretend not to remember Heather from their time together at Brigham Young University, but also manage to remember just enough to say she “used to hear stories that [Heather] was one who was like, ‘Honor Code, whaaaat?’” I find the distancing-and-shading combo extremely suspect.

On the other hand, I was fully trying not to like WHITNEY, but damnit, I think her unexpected defiance had me by the end! You see, we meet Whitney at what appears to be her wedding, but once Whitney actually approaches the altar to meet a man 18 years her senior, we discover that man is already her husband. They were married 10 years ago when Whitney was five months pregnant with their first child, and this is a vow renewal of sorts. Then Whitney and Justin tell us in a joint-testimonial (an RHOSLC staple, it seems!) that they worked at the same office when they met, so they had to keep the romance a secret…

Oh, and they also had to keep it a secret because they were both married at the time, and because Whitney’s family is so Mormon that her great great great great grandfather was Joseph Smith's bodyguard. So no one was super stoked about the age difference, or the infidelity, or the premarital sex, so Whitney and Justin were ultimately excommunicated from the Mormon church, and Whitney happily ends her vow renewal party pole dancing in front of her father, who, again, looks like he has dyed his hair with charcoal toothpaste.

These! Housewives! Have! Everything! And, of course, this cast’s pièce de resistance is MARY, a seemingly soft-spoken pastor who married her late grandmother’s second husband in order to inherit a Pentecostal dynasty. It’s one of those things where stating it flat-out gives the story more resonance than any snarking, editorializing, or hyperbolizing ever could.

I truly could have spent all episode meeting these women, each with a more shocking backstory than the next. But RHOSLC simply has the range, and they’re going to prove it in one episode flat by bringing these women together for a group Housewives scene that might just go down in history.

Jen has decided to throw a birthday party for Meredith even though Meredith thinks Jen is a little much and Jen thinks Meredith is a little snooty. But Meredith understands that her birthday is very much just an excuse for Jen to show off what an amazing party she throws — and if she didn’t understand it before, she definitely would have figured it out when she walked in to find that the step-and-repeat read “SHAH CHALET,” or when Jen made a grand entrance wearing Meredith’s signature color, and announcing that she’d flown in Tongan dancers for a taste of her culture.

It makes me like Meredith so much more seeing how she just shrugs her shoulders at it all. And it makes me respectfully fear Jen seeing how she can create a small Met Gala in her house with nothing but the help of her first assistant, Stuart, her second assistant, Crystal, and her third assistant, Murilo (Crystal and Murilo do all the work, but Stuart is one in a great long line of inexplicable male assistant/Housewife dynamics).

Jen’s three hired assistants seem to have hired approximately 100 more people to remove every single piece of furniture in Jen’s home, bring in all white furniture to replace it with, drape all of the walls in white, build a tunnel and red carpet leading into the house, and hire approximately 100 more men to take their shirts off and serve meatballs. Again, I think it’s appropriate to be a little scared of Jen — and yet, Mary is so, so not.

While Jen is a clear alpha, Mary is more like a… full-tilt agent of chaos, the likes of which we have not seen since Phaedra Parks.

In a storyline designed by Mad Libs™, we’ve already learned from Mary that she and Jen used to be good friends until they had a falling out because Mary said Jen “smelled like hospital” a few months ago. At the time, Jen’s aunt who raised her had been in the hospital all week and ultimately had to have both of her legs amputated. Jen says that Mary knew what she was going through with her aunt, but when Jen arrived at a dinner out with friends, Mary noted to another friend that Jen “smelled like hospital,” which Jen found unkind. So, when Mary arrives at this party wearing mint green Valentino inexplicably paired with white tights and visible black bra straps, Jen approaches her for a chat. And honestly, I thought Jen’s energy was very chill the whole way through, even when Mary was absolutely wildin’.

Jen starts off by simply bringing up that she had told Mary in the past about her aunt, and Mary goes into an entire spiel about how hospitals take her to a very dark place because she had to have 12 surgeries to “get all [her] older glands removed,” and it was the worst experience of her life, “So that smell, I don’t care if I need a nose job, I’m not going to the hospital.”

Mary! No one is asking you to go to the hospital! They’re not even asking you not to have a visceral reaction to the smell of a hospital. It seems that Jen is simply asking you to allow space in your brain for the fact that hospitals might also be a dark place for her — especially at the time that her aunt’s legs were being amputated — so please don’t say that she smells like hospital while her aunt’s legs are being amputated.

If you think I’m being too harsh on Mary, I assure you that I am not. Because not only does Mary go on to not apologize to Jen… not only does she go on to deny that she said Jen smelled like a hospital, then demand that another friend come over who confirms she said it, then tell that friend she has nothing to do with this… not only does Mary deadpan, “so what do you want me to do?” when it’s confirmed twice over that she definitely said Jen “smelled like hospital,” and that Jen found that very hurtful…

Mary then says this in her confessional: “I don’t know what you want me to do about your aunt — her legs are gone! And why are you getting your legs cut off at 60? That means your diet’s bad! Like…she doesn’t eat right, your diet’s bad!”

There is a world in which I could have thought that Jen overreacted to hearing that Mary said she smelled like hospital when she did, in fact, probably smell like hospital. That world ceased to exist when it was revealed that rather than apologizing for saying something a little callous, Mary chose to mock Jen’s family, knowing full well that her own family wills elderly husbands to one another. And with that, I regretfully say goodbye to a television premiere with more action than a Fast and Furious movie. See you back here next week, I quite truly cannot wait.

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