Almost six months behind schedule, The Real Housewives of Atlanta is finally back on Bravo with all the fun shade, shade, shade, as they call it, and talk about edges you would expect from our favorite Georgia peaches.
The stakes have never been higher for the beloved franchise, now in its 14th season. Despite how crucial the show has been to the Real Housewives universe, from creating an entire dictionary of online speech (thank you, NeNe Leakes) to informing how most Housewives look and behave in this current era (we see you trying, Jen Shah!), the series has had a rough past two seasons. The drama has been admittedly lackluster. Certain beefs between cast members have become repetitive and tiresome. Not everyone has been down to play. Most of all, it’s been hard for Atlanta to stand out amongst buzzier, scandal-driven seasons of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, Beverly Hills, and Potomac.
It’s not that the women have stopped being extremely funny and deliciously cutting. (They’re still the only franchise that uses the terms “shade” and “read” correctly). It’s more that the expectations of what it means to be an entertaining franchise these days have notably changed from mundane pettiness to full-fledged true crime stories. RHOA certainly played a part in this phenomenon during season 9’s infamous sex dungeon debacle.
Likewise, there doesn’t seem to be any headline-making controversy for RHOA fans to look forward to this season. But Bravo seems focused on re-establishing the chemistry and hilarious dynamics between the cast, adding some notable OGs. In lieu of fan-favorite Porsha Williams and long-running cast member Cynthia Bailey, the series brought back Marlo Hampton, who may be the most notable “friend of” in the Real Housewives universe. The internet’s favorite fashion designer with no fashions Sheree Whitfield makes a record-breaking second return to the show as a full-time cast-member. And after an odd last season overcrowded with new faces, we’re blessed with only one new housewife this season: Olympic track star Sanya Richards-Ross, who melds effortlessly into the mix.
But let’s get into the actual premiere. I can only describe this episode as feeling very caffeinated. From the over-the-top comedic editing to the amount of energy each housewife sustains throughout the episode, everyone is doing the most but in a refreshing, delightful way.
The hour kicks off with what can most accurately be described as a “Previously On” segment disguised as an organic meetup at Kenya Moore’s dance rehearsal as she practices for Dancing with the Stars. After Moore shows us some of her dancing skills and laughs way too hard at her dance partner Brandon Armstrong, Hampton, Whitfield and Kandi Burruss arrive to give each other an update on their personal lives since we last saw their perfectly beat faces.
Moore tells the ladies that she’s still in the process of divorcing one of the cruelest House-husbands Bravo has seen in years, Marc Daly. But she seems light and rejuvenated, which may have something to with an obvious crush on her dance partner. Whitfield seems equally high on love, as her formerly incarcerated boyfriend Tyrone has just been released—although he’s living in a different state. And Hampton is splitting her time between raising her two nephews while her sister is in prison and running her new improperly spelled fashion showroom, Le’ Archive—more on that later.
Maybe the most startling revelation in this opening scene is that, after years of being shamed about her lack of edges by her castmates, Hampton got a hair transplant to fill out her hairline. Out of all the surgeries we’ve seen on Bravo, something about a 40-year-old woman getting needles in her forehead to grow baby hair, essentially, is instantly saddening. Not to mention, the results are strange. Oh, and Burruss lets us know that her and her husband Todd are too busy with their 57 businesses to have sex.
We meet the rest of the women and their husbands at the gym for a workout scene. Drew Sidora is surprisingly back for another season, after turning viewers off for her slut-shaming, over-exaggerated grievances and, well, dullness last year. However, she still has an openly disastrous marriage with her husband Ralph that’s always fascinating to watch and now a weight-loss business that’s ripe for mockery by the other women (and, notably, the editors). We’re also introduced to Richard-Ross through Sidora. The four-time gold medalist is both charming and sharp in her interviews without trying too hard and seems down to throw shade at anyone, including her buddy Sidora.
“Out of all the surgeries we’ve seen on Bravo, something about a 40-year-old woman getting needles in her forehead to grow baby hair, essentially, is instantly saddening. Not to mention, the results are strange.”
Unfortunately, as we find out later, her husband, former football player Aaron Ross, is obsessed with having a daughter and openly pressures her to conceive again despite, according to Richards-Ross, neglecting her after the birth of their son. So we’re basically reliving Robyn and Juan’s storyline on Potomac last season all over again.
Aside from catching up with the ladies, the main drama of this premiere centers around a sensual text message exchange between Ralph and his female assistant about a massage that we know we’ll hear about all season. There’s been some questions online about whether Sidora and her husband’s cartoonishly toxic marriage is an act, and their willingness to discuss this text exchange with Burruss and Richards-Ross seconds after stepping into their home won’t ease any suspicions. Anyway, after some arguing, the verdict is that he should not have been texting a woman who is not his wife about a massage.
The other focal point of the episode is a launch party Hampton throws for Le’ Archive. According to Hampton, her showroom loans out fashions, lifted from her expansive designer wardrobe, to television and film productions. Aside from the now-canceled Empire, it’s hard to envision a Hollywood production that would be interested in renting out her stunning but gaudy pieces. Also, as Burruss notes, Hampton is a very tall woman and actors are famously short.
At the end of the episode, we’re reminded that Hampton is not particularly gifted in the area of event-throwing. She picks a gorgeous ballroom, but it’s poorly lit, minimally decorated, and too large for her underwhelming display of mannequins. The party is essentially like walking around a prom dress store with one waiter occasionally offering you pigs in a blanket. For the most part, the women try to be polite with their critiques. But Moore, fresh off of her elimination from DWTS, is ready to rain on Hampton’s parade like when she brought an actual parade to interrupt her wig launch event two seasons ago.
Despite acting friendly with Hampton at the start of the episode, Moore is eager to dog her out over the lackluster party. Notably, Richards-Ross, along with famous tattletale Whitfield, decides to inform Hampton of Moore’s shit-talking. And honestly, it’s great that Richards-Ross is willing to be messy this early on. Nothing is worse than a newbie pretending to be above the drama. Hampton is obviously livid and insists that Moore just doesn’t understand whatever French layout her event is modeled after.
The episode ends with Hampton on bad terms with Moore for what feels like the hundredth time in their friendship. And we can only expect more squabbling later on. Overall, the premiere was full of energy, laughs and foreshadowing of an eventful season. And it’s clear the women are excited to be back on camera.
This season of RHOA may not feature an FBI chase with helicopters. But there’s plenty of personality, chemistry and authenticity to make up for it, plus more.