'The Real Housewives' Beginner's Guide: What To Watch First

My Roman Empire is watching The Real Housewives of Orange County star Shannon Storms Beador lie in a makeshift grave while her crummy then-husband, David Beador, reads aloud a prepared eulogy: “Here lies Shannon.” The morbid and slightly awkward “healing” exercise occurred in Season 10, during which Beador revealed that David had an affair. And to answer your question, yes, the episode was extremely uncomfortable to watch — but I’ll forever be a Shannon stan until the day I die (no pun intended).

It’s cringey yet vulnerable scenes like these that make Bravo’s Real Housewives the best reality TV series ever conceived. The franchise began with RHOC in 2006, followed by The Real Housewives of New York City and The Real Housewives of Atlanta in 2008, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey in 2009 — all of which are traditional episodic shows that are still airing new episodes to this day.

If you were to ask me, that’s an impressive feat in today’s world, in which most reality TV series drop episodes all at once or in binge-able chunks (à la Love is Blind). One could argue it’s because Real Housewives has had decades to build a loyal fan base, or it’s because its franchises are just that damn good. Or you’re like me and think it’s a little bit of both.

Nine different Real Housewives franchises air currently, including The Real Housewives of Dubai. There’s also The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip, which brings past and current Housewives from different franchises together for an extended vacation. (It’s as wild as it sounds.)

In other words, there are a lot of franchises for you to choose from. Deciding where to start is crucial for newbies, yet it can also be overwhelming. You don’t want your introduction to Real Housewives to go sour, but also, binging 14+ seasons of just one show is really freaking daunting.

Thus, allow me, Scary Mommy’s resident Real Housewives connoisseur, to help. I’m highlighting my top five favorite Real Housewives franchises so you know which ones to watch first. In the words of OG OC Housewife Vicki Gunvalson, let’s whoop it up!

5. The Real Housewives of New York City

Say what you will about the franchise’s controversial characters, but the ladies of Manhattan (and Brooklyn) know how to put on a show. From Alex McCord’s “Herman Munster” shoes and Scary Island to Aviva Drescher’s flying prosthetic leg and trips to the iconic Blue Stone Manor, RHONY is chock-full of hilarious (and yes, sometimes cringe-worthy) moments.

The only gripe I have with RHONY — apart from Ramona Singer’s ignorance — is that the show has gone through so many iterations that it seems to have lost some of its pizzazz. Things kind of hit the fan during Seasons 12 and 13 following fan-favorite Bethenny Frankel’s exit and Tinsley Mortimer’s abrupt, mid-season departure.

That said, Season 14’s brand-new cast (which some are calling the “reboot cast”) holds a lot of promise — thanks, in part, to new Housewife Jenna Lyons, the former creative director and president of J.Crew.

4. The Real Housewives of Orange County

Hardcore Bravo fans will fight me on this, but hear me out: RHOC is one of the best Housewives franchises on the network. For starters, the number of cutthroat and comedic one-liners we’ve gotten from this cast is insurmountable. This isn’t my plate!” “That’s my opinion!” “You have a little family van.” “When did I become Skipper? I’m f*cking Barbie!” Anyway, I digress.

Having been on the air since 2006, RHOC has had its fair share of dud seasons. But as a former OC girly myself, I’ll never give up on my SoCal ladies. Of all the franchises, I also believe you’re most likely to run into an OC Housewife in the wild. The crew loves name-dropping their favorite spots on the show and is known to film at certain restaurants and bars.

3. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

As far as new Housewives franchises go, RHOSLC couldn’t have asked for a better inaugural season. Heck, halfway through Season 2, right as the women were headed on vacation, the feds showed up to arrest one of the Housewives on account of wire fraud! Come Season 3, she (Jen Shah) was locked behind bars.

Then, get this: The new Housewife that Bravo hired to replace her, Monica Garcia, was a witness in Shah’s trial and the mastermind behind the infamous Reality Von Tease Instagram account responsible for spreading malicious lies about the ladies and their families. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

In case you’re wondering where the iconic phrase “Receipts, proof, timelines, screenshots!” comes from, you can thank OG cast member Heather Gay for that one. RHOSLC first aired in 2020, so you don’t have a lot of catching up to do either!

2. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

RHOBH has stood the test of time. To a large extent, I think this is because the ladies are actually friends IRL, which fuels the drama forward. Another driving point of the series has been the Richards sisters: Kyle Richards, Kim Richards, and Kathy Hilton (YUP! That *Hilton*), all of whom have put their necks out on the line for the show at one point or another.

Drama aside, you can’t beat the fashion. If you want to see designer couture, diamonds, and Hermès bags up close, all you have to do is turn on RHOBH. The homes are also magnificent compared to other Housewives franchises.

1. The Real Housewives of New Jersey

If you want to begin your Housewives journey binge-watching the crème de la crème, then you need to start with RHONJ. It has everything you’d want in a reality TV series: wit, family drama (sisters-in-laws Teresa Giudice and Melissa Gorga have been dueling since Season 3), memorable cast vacations, petty drama, under-the-belt insults, cliques within cliques, and more. Not to mention, the food they cook always looks amazing, too.

However, if I had to explain why RHONJ has been so successful, I would argue it’s because the franchise has been able to sustain such an eclectic cast of characters. Many of these women have known each other for decades, so the drama (read: blackmail and assurance to call each other out) is already there.

Additionally, the husbands are arguably just as vital to the show’s success as the Housewives. Talk about comedic relief! I’m still waiting for the RHONJ men to get their own spinoff. Anyhoo, if you’re going to start somewhere, I highly recommend RHONJ.

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