Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise just keeps growing. With "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," which is set to premiere October 14, viewers can now enjoy six (count 'em) versions of the reality series, each with its own particular set of quirks and petty atrocities. There are, to be sure, common threads among the different installments: attractive, middle-aged women who love the not so simple life, but who all too often are undone by their own unattractive character flaws; rampant gossip and adolescent backbiting; and recession-be-damned conspicuous consumption. Nevertheless, not all "Housewives" shows are equal.
"The Real Housewives of Atlanta," which kicks off its third season Monday, October 4, just might be the best of the bunch. This season, the series phases out Lisa Wu-Hartwell and welcomes two new housewives to the feisty, self-absorbed cast. Even with the changes, viewers can expect the same crass hijinks and that familiar sound of grown women spewing obscenities at one another. It's no wonder, then, why the show is the highest-rated in the "Housewives" stable. But just in case you need more convincing, here are 10 reasons why "Atlanta" is the best "Real Housewives" cast on TV.
In the "Real Housewives" universe, all the inane junior high social rules of who's in and who's out still hold sway. That is, survival depends largely on who you've got in your corner. That's why you see so many cliques among the various shows. But not so in "Atlanta," where it's every girl for herself. Why's that? Well, largely because each of the women is untrustworthy and all too eager to throw any one of their friends under the bus to cover up their own moral shortcomings. Let's look at the evidence: Each deep friendship that was established in Season 1 has disintegrated or been compromised. And every one of the characters has had a major beef (that is, serious screamfests) with someone else on the cast. Look at Nene. At some point during the show's run, she's been good friends with, but also talked serious trash about, each of the ladies.
Lack of Housewives
You've got to love a show where most of the feature players are not actually housewives. Last season, only Nene and Lisa Wu-Hartwell were actually married. The other ladies were still looking for someone to settle down with and very much in the dating game, with the notable exception of Sheree, who remained preoccupied in an unshakeable love affair with herself. Because of all this, the "Atlanta" cast has a decidedly volatile dynamic when it comes to love and relationships, one thankfully devoid of overly insecure (Simon from "NYC") and unsettlingly jealous (Simon from "Orange County") husbands. This season, however, might be different. Lisa's been jettisoned as a regular character, having been replaced by two new housewives -- Cynthia Bailey and Phaedra Parks. Of the two, Phaedra is married, but her marriage, at first glance, should provide some viewing nuggets. She married her husband just months after he was released on parole for racketeering.
Off-screen characters aren't new to the small screen (think Maris on "Frasier"), but they're still pretty rare in the world of reality TV. Big Poppa, Kim's on-again-off-again sugar daddy, was a central feature of the last two seasons. He was, after all, the focus of increasing antagonism toward Kim. The other housewives questioned her lifestyle as a kept woman, registering resounding disapproval for a relationship that they saw as futile. If reports are true, the party is finally over between Big Poppa and Kim. But given her penchant for wishy-washiness and her weakness for dollar signs, it's not entirely out of the question that we haven't seen (or heard) the last of Big Poppa.
The 'Other' Housewife
When it comes to supporting players, most "Housewives" casts, for the most, part rely on ho-hum and pedestrian husbands and boyfriends. Not so with "Atlanta," which features the outrageous and outspoken Dwight Eubanks. The flamboyant "Atlanta" hairdresser stole every scene he shared with Nene during Season 1. By the next season, he had become a semi-regular, tangling with Sheree and Lisa about their respective fashion shows and generally throwing shade whenever he opened his mouth. With his love for (wearing) women's clothes, his mince-no-words approach to small talk and his mysterious relationship history (he claims to have both an ex-husband and an ex-wife), Dwight's proven to be the only onscreen player with a personality to match that of Nene's. Individually, they're plenty sassy and bitchy. Together, they're a wicked force to be reckoned with.
All hell broke loose earlier this year when "Jersey" bad girl Danielle Staub got her hair extensions pulled out by Ashley, Jacqueline Laurita's daughter, after a fashion show. But it wasn't the first or funniest instance that a housewife got her hair assaulted. That precedent would go to Kim, who, for some reason, seems singularly gifted at aggravating her fellow "Atlanta" castmates. Back in Season 1, Kim and Sheree were BFFs. But by Season 2, their ridiculous friendship had dissolved. In one memorably explosive episode, Sheree, Nene and Kim met at a restaurant in an attempt to clear the air over a typical she-said-she-said nothing. The attempt didn't result in a truce, but only increased resentment. The argument spilled out from the restaurant onto the sidewalks where Sheree, unable to bridle her own anger and curiosity, tugged at Kim's blonde wig. It was a low-rent move that stunned even Nene. Kim denies that the wig was ever pulled off. But, the heated exchange was one of Season 2's loudest confrontations and provided viewers a tantalizing suggestion of something they've never seen -- Kim's real hair.
Dead Weight Be Gone
Whereas other "Housewives" shows tend to unnecessarily prolong the life of their dead weight -- characters who add very little to their shows (think Lynn from "Orange County") -- "Atlanta" is not afraid to give the quick hook. At least that was the case with Season 1 housewife DeShawn Snow, who just couldn't hold a candle to her more interesting, smarter fellow costars. Married to NBA star Eric Snow (they are reportedly going through a divorce), DeShawn had her head in the clouds for much of her time in front of the cameras. She seemed too sweet for her own good, unwilling to take sides in Nene and Sheree's Season 1 squabbles. Producers were wise to ditch someone who just didn't seem to have the stomach or the ability to play dirty.
'Tardy for the Party'
So what if Kim Zolciak sounds more than a tad auto-tuned on "Tardy for the Party," her debut single. The undeniably catchy dance track has become an internet hit and a Bravo anthem, providing viewers yet another way of connecting with the show. Kim began the series wanting to become a country singer and, after some serious stumbles in Season 1, just about gave up on her extracurricular dream. But thanks to the studio prowess of fellow housewife and veteran record producer Kandi Burruss, she was able release a song that impressed her initially skeptical castmates. It's still likely true that she can't really sing. But give Kim credit for transforming herself, albeit briefly, into a pop diva. It remains to be seen whether Kim will be able to pull herself out of the ranks of one-hit wonders. However, one thing is certain: "Tardy for the Party" is, by every measure, much better listening than the insipid singles offered up by "NYC" housewife LuAnn de Lesseps ("Money Can't Buy You Class") and "Jersey" villainess Danielle Staub ("Real Close").
'Who Gonna Check Me, Boo?'
If pressed to select the franchise's most memorable catchphrase, many "Housewives" fans would likely pick Teresa Giudice's banshee-like outcry of "Prostitution whore!" right before she flipped the table during the "Jersey" Season 1 finale. But for our money, it's Sheree Whitfield who takes the cake with her now famous rejoinder of "Who gonna check me, boo?" when she was pushed over the edge by Anthony, her incompetent party planner. What made the line so entertaining was not so much the context (here, we had a male party planner screaming at the top of his lungs at his client), but the fact that Sheree briefly revealed the down-and-dirty school girl beneath the normally oh-so-prim-and-proper facade. It was a moment that would have made Nene proud.
They're on Bravo ... and They're Black!
Truth be told, Bravo's reality shows can start to look the same. Put another way, the casts of their shows just aren't very diverse. Look beyond the "Housewives" franchise and you'll see what we mean. And a quick glance at the "NYC," "NJ," "DC" and "OC" casts (and their familiar personalities) makes it clear that Bravo doesn't stray too far from the well-trodden path. But the "Atlanta" ensemble sticks out. One, Nene and company are conspicuously black on a network whose stable of stars are almost uniformly white. And two, they're urban with tastes and sensibilities far different from the other casts. Thank goodness for that. Could you ever see Vicki Gunvalson of "OC" sitting down and feeling comfortable with these Atlanta girls? Not in a million years. Kudos to the powers that be at Bravo for giving viewers a little more variety. Given the success of "Atlanta," you'd think they'd do that more often.
Bam! Nene Leakes
Nene Leakes just might be the guiltiest pleasure in reality TV. She's certainly the housewife you'd most like to meet in real life. Brash, fearless and armed with a deadly sense of humor, Nene has been the star of the show since day one, mainly because she's not been afraid to give up the goods in front of the camera. Whether it's her willingness to share her personal struggles (domestic violence, marital conflict, the search for her birth father and financial troubles) or because she's unafraid to throw the gloves off with anyone, including her best friends, Nene continues to be Bravo's most compelling housewife. Sure, there's a bit of madness to her method in front of the camera, but it's undeniable that she's what makes the show go. Some people shrink in the face of conflict. Nene seems to thrive in it. This former stripper knows how to verbally undress someone she doesn't like. Imagine what she'd do to Danielle Staub or Kelly Bensimon.