The Real Housewives of New York City recap: Ramonaville is full of one-way streets
In these very uncertain times, the Real Housewives franchise has been a constant. The Real Housewives of New York City is on its 12th season; it's been on the air since 2008, before most people could even DVR it — I mean, we used to sit through commercials in order to watch this show. The country may be in turmoil, and we may not know the next time we can see our friends and family, but rain or shine, pandemic or puppygate, you can still set your watch to Ramona throwing herself a tacky birthday party that nobody wants to go to, or Kyle doing the splits in a tiny Moulin Rouge top hat, or what have you.
Which is why it was particularly alarming when RHONY and RHOBH just disappeared from prime time without warning a few weeks ago. If the Housewives have the staying power of cockroaches, then the Housewives' editors have the resilience of bomb shelters, and the idea that the pandemic could slow them down… well, I don't even want to consider what that would mean for ordinary people.
Luckily, we don't have to. Because it was just a two-week break! Ramona and her pending birthday party came right back to us, just like they always do. And yet, a few things were notably different…
No matter the warnings of needing more time to edit due to working from home, and no matter the rumors that these seasons weren't quite done filming, I simply could not have ever imagined that I'd be watching these New York women film their testimonials in their actual homes instead of in front of a greenscreen displaying a fake version of their home. And we can't move past the quarantine confessionals until we move through them, so I present to you an official ranking of these testimonial setups that amount to Zooming with your aunt whose reading glasses are always on the verge of clattering off her nose into the webcam. Presented in order of least offensive to nearly intolerable:
LEAH: Listen, I don't want to be ageist, but I've also spoken with every generation of my family on video calls at this point, and I know that the angle at which you film yourself on a FaceTime directly correlates with the year you graduated high school. And Leah, class of '01, is the only cast member who seems to have managed setting her laptop right at eye level and sitting naturally in front of a couch. Our girl got a ring light and tripod, and she called Spectrum to make sure her Wi-Fi was on point, and I for one appreciate it.
SONJA: Sonja has found the "touch up my appearance" button on Zoom, and for that she deserves our praise. She is positively glowing, which leads me to assume that at the time of filming these at-home testimonials, she was still stuck at that spa in Palm Springs (honestly, she might still be there wandering the desert). Not just because she looks extremely refreshed in a simple floral button-up, but also because her background doesn't appear to feature any loose thongs or chaise lounges she's trying to sell on eBay, so she couldn't possibly be at her own home.
RAMONA: The best I can say for Ramona is that her audio doesn't make me want to do anything dangerous with a Q-tip… but I simply cannot understand why she chose her weird, sterile kitchen as a backdrop.
LUANN: Luann sounds like she is speaking directly through a potato. I assume that she's broadcasting these confessionals through a hotspot on one of those Androids that you're not allowed to take on planes because they're always exploding. We simply are going to have to do something about this.
DORINDA: I know that some people might take more umbrage with Luann communicating over an AM radio, but for me Dorinda's background of choice was absolutely inexplicable. She has for some reason seated herself in front of a bookshelf full of exclusively John Grisham novels and Pier One knickknacks, and a full layout of teal and purple décor. Teal chair, purple pillow, teal-and-purple sateen curtain… it looks like an Olan Mills elementary school portrait when your parents sprung for the jewel-tone background package.
All in all, the at-home testimonials are a little jarring, but they're also kind of fun — a sign of the times! One day I'll tell my grandchildren I lived through a pandemic (because I'm keeping my ass at home, watching Housewives with a glass of wine I bought via curbside pickup while wearing a mask), and 12 seasons from now, in 2032, we'll remember the season where Ramona filmed her confessional in front of a microwave while her daughter filled up a Hydro Flask nearby and yelled at her to stop talking about her weird friend Elyse all the time.
Maybe we'll get to the completely unnecessary new taglines another time, or maybe we'll just pretend they never happened. But for now, let's get into this Halloween episode, which felt appropriately drab for the first episode with lingering hints of the quarantine to come. Since Tinsdale has flown the Bravo coop for Chicago, Dorinda has now transferred her former senseless anger with Tinsley over to Ramona, who is more often than not deserving of at least some light rage.
Everyone is mad at Ramona for being selfish, which is understandable, but everyone is also saying things like "Ramona isn't being herself right now," which is patently absurd. Ramona is consistently, constantly, and without pause so deep up her own ass that she's kissing bellybutton.
Dorinda is particularly annoyed that Ramona clearly dragged her out to Long Island the week before so that she could get a discount from her social-media-thirsty party planner. Sonja is particularly annoyed because whenever she tries to tell Ramona about her life, like her new role as "chief lifestyle officer" at Century 21, Ramona just brings the topic back to herself. Or as Sonja tells Elyse, "I always feel un-surped by her, or u-supped, or whatever the word is." Which leads us to Elyse's being particularly annoyed with Ramona because she's always kicking Elyse out of cars and making her sit at the end of tables and being a generally terrible friend.
And, listen, Elyse doesn't exactly exude an uplifting energy, but she is often pretty reasonable. She says (in a pre-COVID testimonial): "When Ramona needs emotional support, she would come to me, and now that she's feeling stronger and I don't have a jet, a yacht, a house in Aspen, and I can't do surgery on her… she has no need for me anymore."
So everything is at a boiling point when the women gather at Luann's Halloween party, which serves as the crux of the episode, so I simply cannot believe it's taken me this long to say…
What in the actual hell is Luann thinking playing host to a voodoo-themed Halloween party? This woman wore actual blackface on actual national television two years ago, and she can't even do a quick Google search to see if the party she's inviting all her friends to is a breeding ground for cultural appropriation? Watching these women parade around in bone necklaces, waving around shrunken heads and voodoo dolls for which they have absolutely no knowledge or understanding, of is gross. Race is not a costume, and neither is religion! I would encourage you to read this helpful piece from NPR for more details on why appropriating voodoo is harmful than a recap that also includes a bellybutton-licking reference might be able to provide.
In Ramona's one and only win of the episode, she narrowly avoids a culturally appropriative costume by mistaking an evil space queen costume for a stereotypical voodoo outfit. Believe me, Ramona intended to be ignorant — "I looked up voodoo on the internet, and this image came up, and I said perfect" — her normal level of ignorance just somehow managed to counteract this specific Halloween-related ignorance, and voila: accidental Disney villain.
So Ramona shows up to the party an hour early in a Maleficent costume because she apparently texted the other women the night before about moving this fully planned and catered party up an hour so that she could fit in another party afterward — but if you can believe it, they didn't comply. Dorinda and Elyse show up with Sonja and the Ghost of Sonja's Future Hangover. "What do you think I was doing before I headed to this Halloween party?" Sonja says in her testimonial. "Getting lit with my hair and makeup team!"
And the team did a much better job of getting Sonja lit than doing her hair or makeup, because not a lash or a slurred syllable is where it's supposed to be all night.
Leah shows up with her daughter's dad/her best friend, Rob, because she wants him to meet the women. And I swear, if I ever find out Rob is a monster I'm going to be devastated, because I just love a surly-looking, tattooed-covered man who shows himself to be a stable and thoughtful sweetheart (but again, I reserve the right to turn on him at any moment). Rob even manages to be friendly and non-judgmental as he meets all the gorgeous monsters his ex-lover/mother-of-his-child has been associating herself with recently. When he meets Luann and Dorinda in their sky-high heels and towering headpieces, they say they're glad to finally lay eyes on him, and he chirps back happily: "Here I am — all small and s—!"
That is the last ounce of happiness or charm that this party features. Because it begins with Ramona complimenting a man on the realistic "paunch" he's incorporated into his costume only to be told (very graciously) that it's his actual stomach…
And it ends with Dorinda standing up to make what she couches as a toast but is actually an angry, awkward tirade. Dorinda first confronts Ramona at the party in the name of standing up for Sonja, who is so sloshed that she couldn't possibly stand up for herself except to repeatedly slur that she's going to get Ramona "in the ear, and in the rear." Dorinda then confronts Ramona in earnest, telling her she felt used when Ramona dragged them out to her party planner's office in Long Island, demanding that Ramona swear on her daughter's life that she's not getting her birthday party for free.
Dorinda takes Ramona then asking if she's already drunk as the greatest offense of this argument, but the actual greatest offense is the poor caterer who has to hover behind the entire ordeal with the drink Dorinda ordered, just hoping she'll acknowledge him so he can get as far away from this mess as possible. The table full of severed goat heads and squid towers would be preferable, I imagine.
In her final act, Dorinda waits for everyone to be seated for dinner and Luann's party, and then stands and clinks her glass, as if to give a toast. "Let me ask a consensus her, as a woman in power," she says to the table. "Do you think it's nice when you have a good girlfriend, and when they don't like something, right away they say, 'Are you drunk?'"
I cannot explain to you the agony and ecstasy of seeing a table full of people with their glasses raised in the air for a toast, only to realize that they're just an unwillingly captive audience for a bitter tirade. "Well... I'm drunk, but I'm happy about it," Leah calls out in return. But Dorinda will not be calmed with humor! She informs Ramona — who is refusing to even look at her — that she's sad and weak and mean, and also: "Schadenfreude, that's what you are!" I cannot believe we're still having to hear these women say this word that they do not even a little bit understand. I cannot believe that Sonja is ladling out stew and slurring, "Don't do that, Ramona!" for the entirety of Dorinda's speech…
And I simply cannot believe that we'll be carrying this rage and sinister energy into the Berkshires next week, where literally nothing good has ever happened. See you there!
Ramona, LuAnn, Sonja, Carole, Heather, Kristen, and Dorinda — and oh, yes, Bethenny — are in a New York state of mind.