“The Real Housewives” franchise has stalked my life recently like a mountain lion in Provo Canyon. My girlfriend, who grew up in Orange County, has a deep connection to the “Real Housewives of Orange County” series, always quoting and talking about the characters on the show. I never took to the franchise, since the thought of spending an hour watching a reality show about housewives in eight different cities — from New York City to Washington, D.C., to Dallas — just didn’t appeal to me.
So, it surprised me when I learned BravoTV was bringing “The Real Housewives” franchise to Salt Lake City. Naturally, I had to watch the show. I mean, the potential writes itself. The lavishness of Park City. The spiritual backdrop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Soda shops. Sugary items galore. A much different bar scene than what you get in New York or Orange County.
What’s not to like, right? Well, I wouldn’t be so sure.
Indeed, the premiere episode delivers what you’d expect to see in a show about the elite Utah class. And indeed, religion does play a prominent part. That elite circle includes Lisa Barlow (she considers herself “Mormon 2.0” or “not one to adhere to all of the traditional and strict Mormon rules”), Mary Cosby, (Pentecostal) Heather Gay (who describes herself as “Mormon-ish”), Meredith Marks (Jewish), Whitney Rose (former Latter-day Saint) and Jen Shah (Muslim). There are parties, liquor, mountains, skies and so much more.
You get the puffy snow jackets, a sprinkle of the tech and business world, a look at Sundance, and a few nods to Harmons and super-sized sodas. Utah’s unique culture is definitely there.
But let’s fact check the premiere. The first episode of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” comes with some misinformation, slight digs and negativity about the church which is headquartered in Utah’s capital city. The show makes false assumptions and is littered with inaccuracies about the church, Salt Lake City residents and the entire vibe of the area. There’s also a lot of alcohol, a ton of sex talk and some mature language, which is fitting for any “Real Housewives” show, but not for a family or church audience.
It’s one of those shows where you’ll only understand the references, jokes and nods if you actually live in Utah. You may find yourself watching “RHOSLC” to spot your house, your neighborhood and your community. But let me be clear — if you’re sensitive to how modern media portrays the church, and how modern pop culture gets things wrong, this isn’t the show for you.
How ‘RHOSLC’ handles the church
Let’s get this out of the way. The premiere doesn’t do itself any favors in appealing to members of the church. Even me — not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and avid coffee drinker — found myself fact-checking a lot of the claims and remarks about the church and its members. At one point, there’s a discussion between the women about church member do’s and don’ts (many of which are inaccurate), and how the church has 6 million members (it actually has 16.5 million).
It’s not surprising the church would be a tricky subject for this franchise. Andy Cohen, host of the Bravo network’s “Real Housewives” series, told an audience in 2017 at Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City that Bravo had previously pursued a “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” series. It was axed at the time before it was later revived.
Cohen planned for the show to delve into the culture of Utah and, specifically, the Latter-day Saints who live here. He told Entertainment Weekly the show will take place in Salt Lake City in “a locale we’ve never been, and it’s gorgeous and it’s unique, and when you have the overlay of the Mormon culture, it becomes something really interesting.
The premiere episode digs at the church members for wanting to keep their bodies and souls clean. These are jokes you’ve probably heard before if you’ve lived in Utah. We won’t waste time on them.
The Utah references are pretty cool
There are scenes where Jen Shah drives through downtown Salt Lake City, giving us a glimpse of City Creek Center, 400 South and then State Street. That scene is funny because it’s filmed out of order. You wouldn’t drive by City Creek over to 400 South heading East, and then flip around to go south on State Street. There’s even a joke about how Shah and her driver might go to Harmons, which is something we’ve all done since the pandemic started.
There’s also a cool (and yet totally odd) scene in Daybreak out in South Jordan. In the scene, Whitney Rose — who “left the church after she fell madly in love with her boss, Justin, and the two had an affair,” according to Bravo — is shown renewing her vows with Justin. They’re standing outside the Daybreak lake. For anyone who knows the area, it’s a cool nod. But it’s also a little strange to see these lavish individuals having a ceremony at a manmade lake.
The premiere also spends time in Park City. I’m not a Park City dude, but I’ve been up there enough to recognize the few spots they point out. Anyone who lives in Park City would probably get even more out of the episode.
Should you watch it?
“Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” is not the show for you and your family. It’s full of digs at Utah culture, church members and the general vibe from the city that will make any Utah diehard squirm or even surge with anger. Plus, there are moments where you see these people, who live in Utah, make fun of the Utah culture. Criticism is fine — and yes, there’s plenty to criticize about Utah or any state (except my home state, Massachusetts, of course) — but it’s a little weird when this elite class is digging at the kingdom they reign over.
It’s refreshing to see Salt Lake City on a reality TV program. Anyone who wants to see their city and their home on national TV might want to check in. It’s also an easy show to follow during a time like 2020 when there’s surging COVID-19 cases and a presidential election that just won’t seem to end. So, if you want your brain to go numb for awhile, it’s totally something to watch.
Just remember you might have to stomach some of the tougher moments, too.
How to watch:
The episode premiered on BravoTV on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. MST.