The 13th season premiere of The Real Housewives of New York City (shouldn’t we have skipped that unlucky number and gone right to 14 like a midtown-Manhattan high-rise Hilton?) handles the coronavirus in an almost oblique way. First, we see a picture of the city bustling, cafés bursting with people, and traffic snarling without Kelly Killoren Bensimon jogging through it. Then we see October 2020, when it’s just still, all the bustle is gone, and everyone is wearing masks that say “Resting Bitch Face” on them and trying to pretend they didn’t just experience a collective trauma. Maybe they didn’t because most of the cast left the city as soon as the ambulances crowded the avenues, but that’s another story.
As we’re catching up with all our returning heroes, we alight on Luann de Lesseps, whose biggest problem with the new normal (not to be confused with the NeNe Leakes star vehicle The New Normal) is wearing masks. She describes them as a “fashion faux pas.” Ugh. Seriously? I don’t love masks either, and they can be a bother and totally screw up my aim when I’m standing at a public urinal. But I wear them because they are mandatory. Luann calling them a “fashion faux pas” insinuates that we’re wearing them by choice as some sort of sartorial expression, rather than being forced to have them on our faces to, you know, stay the fuck alive. I’ll be the first one to burn all of mine once herd immunity is reached, but for right now, can we not give people more reason to keep their lower heads as naked as a gaggle of Real Housewives in a Mexican villa’s pool?
As we’re checking in with all the women, we see Ramona in her kitchen with her ex-husband, Mario, a plate of fries someone is eating curbside that you just want to reach out and grab one from as you walk by. She seems very giggly, offering to cook him food any time he wants if he comes back to New York, and he tells her to come visit him in Florida. They coo and they color, and it proves Ramona will flirt with every single man she encounters, even if it is her cheating ex.
The big story for Ramona and Luann is that they now live around the corner from each other on the UES since the countess has given up her “cabin” in Kingston and probably made a killing on it when die-hard New Yorkers fell all over themselves in the great land rush upstate. I hope the profits will pay for all the blow-ups of cabaret posters that are dotting her new apartment.
The most prominent features of this new apartment, however, are the large windows that look directly onto the terrace of Luann’s ex-husband Tom’s penthouse. There it is, staring down at her, the greatest failure of her life shining directly into her apartment like it’s an alien tractor beam and she’s three weeks overdue for her next anal probe. I like to think of it as the light at the end of Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby. It’s just blinking there, right out of reach, offering Luann the life she had wanted so badly, and had for a brief shining moment, only for it to be wrenched away by Bethenny’s water-glass-shuddering paroxysms when she told her, “It’s about Tom.”
Next, we see Leah going to her boxing trainer, Martin, whom the producers are definitely trying to make a thing. Give him a TikTok and let him spread his wings, but he’s much more effective when he’s telling Tinsley the hard truths. Leah tells him she has a new nose, a new apartment, fresh clothes, and a whole new lease on life. We call this the season two glow-up, and it is in full effect.
Leah’s personal story line this season is that she’s converting to Judaism, which seems a little odd, but a religious conversion is something that has never been done before with the Housewives, so she gets points not only for originality but also for her dedication to keeping things fresh around these staid, oak-paneled halls. She has a call with her father on Yom Kippur and apologizes for being a bad daughter all these years and asks for forgiveness. He says he’ll have to see. His argument is that he’s a Catholic and believes in penance, so she should have to do something to make up for her transgressions.
I’m sorry, but I’m totally with Poppa McSweeny on this one (and it may be because we are both named Brian/Bryan and were both raised Catholic). Yom Kippur is not the day of forgiveness; it’s the day of atonement. How is Leah atoning? What will she do in the future not to be a bad daughter and torture her parents? How is this behavior going to change going forward? Yom Kippur is not the “day of knowing I have a problem but smiling cutely and hoping you forget all the bad shit I did.” Sorry, kiddo, it’s gonna take a little bit more. At least FedEx him a box of bialys.
Finally, we come to Sonja Tremont Morgan of the 69-Foot Garden Hose Morgans, who is back in her dilapidated townhouse and patching the boulders of her discontent together with Scotch tape in an effort to keep the whole structure from falling into the East River. Ramona and Luann are concerned about Sonja because they haven’t talked to her in months, and they say when she retreats like that, something is psychologically the matter. How could you even tell if something were psychologically the matter? It’s sort of like putting your hand on the stove and knowing if the burner is on medium or high. Either way, that shit is hot, and you’re facing a huge bill at the emergency room because your stimulus check didn’t cover your Obamacare payments.
We first see Sonja with the newest of her interns, Zoe, and it seems neither of them has discovered that we’re going through a reckoning in this country about unpaid labor, though they have unearthed the clippers Sonja uses to deforest her “puuuuuusssssssyyyyyyyy,” as she so eloquently calls it. Sonja instructs the intern on how to prepare her bath but goes about turning all the wrong knobs and misplacing all the nozzles until she’s sprayed by the bathtub. Seriously? You don’t know how to turn on your own tub? Then she says her interns learn invaluable skills, like how to prepare a bath, how to do laundry, and how to load a dishwasher. “You don’t learn that at Wharton,” she says. Um, I would hope not. Those are lessons that should have been covered by your parent, guardian, or freshman-year roommate. You should not need extra training to learn these life essentials.
Sonja has all the girls over, including the new girl, Eboni, for a little party in her garden, which seems as safe and lovely a COVID-friendly destination as you’re going to find. Because of the Eileen Davidson Accords, we will not be judging Eboni until her fifth episode has aired, but I was very glad for her inclusion in this one for several reasons. The first was when Sonja’s trying to get the garden party-ready and can’t greet her guests because she has a very specific way of power-washing the stones in her backyard, and Eboni says to Leah, “Is she for real?” Sometimes you just need some new blood to see how much we take the bonkers-making behavior of our favorite ladies for granted.
What’s really great is when Luann invites Eboni and the rest of the ladies to her house in Sag Harbor and Eboni tells them it was one of the first communities on Long Island to allow Black people to own property. Luann, who has lived there for as long as Andy Cohen has used poppers, has no idea of that fact. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need diversity both in front of and behind the camera so that people with different experiences can shape the entertainment products we consume and broaden the minds and lives of everyone in the audience.
A better depiction of what’s going on in America right now is what happens when Sonja shows off the fish in her fountain for Eboni. She shows her that she has black fish and white fish, she has all kinds of fish, and Eboni hilariously adds, “And there are black-and-white fish for biracial, and you have some larger fish for body positivity.” It’s sweet because Sonja’s trying to show Eboni that she wants to include her and welcome her into the fold, which she does by being more cringey than your mom singing along to Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” at full volume as she spills Dunkin’ down the front of her pajamas while dropping you off at school. Eboni’s a good sport about it, though, and takes it in the spirit with which it was intended, a bit of emotional labor she is certainly not being compensated for.
Ramona, the Foxy-est of all the ladies (and by that, I do mean Fox News–iest), tells Eboni she feels a certain bond with her that she doesn’t feel with most people. Leah pipes up and says she said that to her last season, too. And to Tinsley before that, and to Jules before that, and to Dorinda before that, and to every single new girl except Cindy Barshop, whom she hated because she wouldn’t give her free vajazzling. That is how Ramona manages people, with flattery and evasion, with arms-length inclusion, by dragging them along with her into the deep, dark night while a black Escalade pulls up alongside them and the window whirs down at a threatening speed.