It isn't supposed to be like this. The laws of reality television tend to dictate that no show remains captivating for more than a few seasons, even with cast shakeups. It's just the way our attention spans and the concept of diminishing returns operate. Yet, here we are in the eighth season of The Real Housewives of New York City and the Bravo staple is unequivocally having its best season ever.
After a glorious run of early seasons that introduced the world to Bethenny Frankel, Jill Zarin, Ramona Singer, Countess Luann de Lesseps, Alex McCord, Kelly Bensimon and Sonja Morgan, and took us to Scary Island ("Go to sleep!"), delivered an electrifying collection of episodes that documented the very real, very raw dissolution of the series' central friendship between it's very own Lucy and Ethel (Bethenny and Jill), it truly seemed as though the big fun in the Big Apple was nearing its expiration date.
Bethenny, Bravo's first true breakout star, left the series for greener pastures (her own spinoff, followed by two seasons of her very own talk show), a revolving door of cast changes brought in duds (Cindy Barshop who?) and clearly-contrived drama generators (Aviva Drescher and her flying leg), and original stars found themselves either demoted (Luann in season six, thanks to stalled contract negotiations) or straight-up fired. Who can forget the bloodbath between seasons four and five that Jill, Alex, and Kelly get the ol' heave-ho?
But after a few years spent re-building the line-up, Bravo has finally found the perfect alchemy in this current season. How did they achieve this level of pure unadulterated reality TV bliss? We're glad you asked.
First, the obvious. The return of Bethenny to RHONY has been key. After her talk show didn't work out as well as she'd hoped and she swallowed a bit of her pride, the B came back for season seven, but barely. She spent most of her time keeping the women at arm's length as she tried to get a read on the new ladies she was sharing the spotlight with, while also getting re-acquainted with the familiar faces she'd thought she'd left behind. Technically homeless and in the throes of her divorce, the Bethenny that we saw last season was struggling to reclaim her place not just on the series, but in the world. But this season? Now, that's a different story.
Season eight Bethenny is peak Bethenny, golden age Bethenny, the best Bethenny she can be. The rapier wit we fell in love with in the early days is back in full force, along with her complete inability to suffer even the slightest of fools without speaking her mind. One need only look to her scorched earth sit-down with Sonja over the latter's decision to ape the former's brand with a prosecco of her own called Tipsy Girl, or her unrelenting smackdown of Luann at relatively new Housewife Dorinda Medley's home in the Berkshires over everything the Countess has ever done, or her verbal combat with Dorinda's boyfriend John Mahdessian to see that she is once again, the reigning queen of Bravo, as she was always meant to be. Of course, one Bethenny does not a show make.
Without the women surrounding Bethenny in the credits sequence, holding their apples every which way, we'd have nothing to talk about. The season's current line-up, comprised of OGs Ramona, Luann, and Sonja, Carole Radziwill on her fourth tour of duty, Dorinda on her second, and newcomer Jules Wainstein, feels as though it was formulated in a lab, it's that's perfect. (And who knows, maybe it was?)
As much credit we give Bethenny's return for propelling the show to new heights, it must be said that without Ramona, it probably never would've lasted long enough to see her return. Of all the women, the Singer Stinger seems uniquely and singularly meant to be documented on television, and in those fallow years, she kept us coming back for more. She's incapable of biting her tongue or putting the pinot grigio down. Whether she's fighting on the streets of New York with Dorinda and John (whom she can't remotely be bothered to conceal her disgust for, much to longtime friend Dorinda's dismay) or cheekily replying, "I don't know" when Luann asks her if she likes the jumpsuit she's wearing, she's been a freaking hoot this season.
And though she's relatively new to the game, Dorinda's made her mark so thoroughly that we routinely find ourselves wondering how the show ever existed without her. She loves herself a dirty martini and isn't afraid to throw down with the best of them after she's had perhaps one too many, especially if they come for her boyfriend, her birthday cake, or her good time in the Berkshires. But it's her shared history with Ramona and Sonja that makes her an essential addition, especially this season.
Really, it's the shared history among all these women that is what has RHONY back on top. They truly have known each other for years and years, before the cameras ever began rolling, and that's evident in the way they interact. Dorinda's holiday party from hell, which will likely stand the test of time as one of the series' best episodes, couldn't have melted down in as epic a fashion without these women being as enmeshed in one another's lives for as long as they have. Ramona may not be able to keep her mouth shut about John, but that's only because she's known Dorinda for over a decade and actually cares for her friend. These aren't minor squabbles between co-workers forced to pose as friends. And that's what makes them so riveting.
Of course, it isn't always that deep. There's also been a high level of WTF-ness that's run through the season, letting it shine even brighter. We've been witness to Sonja and Luann bunking together at Chez Morgan, just a few tins of cat food shy of going full Grey Gardens. We've watched Bethenny and Carole try and ghost out of a brunch at Jules like a polite goodbye would melt their skin. Every second in the Berkshires had us questioning exactly what's in the water up there. And who will ever forget where they were when they first laid eyes on Rey, Luann's ex? Not us. We could go on and on, and you'll likely have examples of moments worth mentioning to share in the comments, but the point is this season has been on absolute fire.
They say New York is the greatest city in the world. While other major cities will likely argue that claim until the end of time, there's no denying, wherever you live, that season eight of The Real Housewives of New York City is the show at its very best. We just can't wait to see where it goes from here.
The Real Housewives of New York City airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.
(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)