Having found a formula that works in “The Real Housewives” franchise, Bravo has done its level best to milk it dry before flogging it to death in endless permutations (look for a “Real Housewives” in a town near you!). With the franchise aging and America possibly running low on actual housewives to film, the network has been sniffing around for new territory with mixed results. Very mixed results, mind you.
So far we’ve gotten “Eat Drink Love” (narcissistic foodies), “Below Deck” (horny yacht workers), “Gallery Girls” (truly horrid art world hangers-on), “Married to Medicine” (bitchy doctors and bitchier doctors’ wives), “Most Eligible Dallas” (hateful Texans) and more I can’t bring myself to remember. What these shows usually have in common is vapid and self-absorbed stars, attractive settings, and shopping. If not shopping, sex. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
While “The New Atlanta” doesn’t veer too far from formula, the good news is that more than a few of the stars of the show seem too smart to be on it. Alex, Emily, Vawn and Africa don’t start screaming at one another immediately, which is encouraging, but when the fighting begins it’s actually spurred by a discussion that could be interesting if anyone ever bothers to get back to it.
Africa takes Emily with her to her friend Alex’s graduation dinner. While Emily is a small business owner with her own store (and probably sees the show as an excellent way to promote it), Alex wants to be a trophy wife — a goal she states in front of her mom, who seems pleased as punch at the thought of her daughter following in her footsteps. Emily is, of course, appalled. How could an educated woman want to sit on her ass and be cared for like a pet?
I would suggest the real question is whether Alex realizes that, while her dad has kept her mom neck-deep in furs for thirty years, it might be harder to find a husband who doesn’t trade her in for a newer model in a few years, as she’d know if she’d been watching any of the other shows on Bravo. Unfortunately, Emily just rolls her eyes and passes judgment so that we now have The Battle to fuel the show — the wannabe trophy wife vs. the single working gal. Tensions only increase at Africa’s birthday party, which devolves into an “isn’t she awful?” gossipfest that’s disappointingly middle school.
What is more interesting is Africa’s quest to break through in the music industry after years of struggle. Africa is attractive, gregarious and, at “thirtysomething,” mature enough to step into the mother hen role on the show, steering the drama but (hopefully) not being drawn deeply into it. She’s also, yes, smart. Apparently she considered law school before being pulled toward entertainment (and unlike, say, a few “Real Housewives” we could name, she can really sing). While I can imagine she’ll soon chafe at the interference of producers trying to goose the drama on the show, she’s one of the more engaging people on a Bravo ensemble right now. When she refers to herself as “Lady Havisham” as she piles on bracelets at Emily’s store, I don’t even mind the mild mix-up (it’s Miss Havisham, to be picky). The fact that she makes a Dickens reference and uses it correctly, and does this on a Bravo show, is enough to blow my mind.
Maybe I’m just won over by the ridiculous names on the show — in addition to Vawn and Africa, we have “Ken doll” Tribble and a back-up pal named Sincerity. The mixed race and gender dynamic promises fewer catfights and more connections (and, wowza, actual insights about race — really, am I still watching Bravo?), but more importantly, the show seems well cast. If Emily and Alex ever sit down and try to have a reasonable conversation, they both seem capable of defending their very different points of view without crying or hurling school yard insults (like that will ever happen, but at least it’s possible). Vawn discusses the challenges of being a single dad with surprising insight, even as he makes it clear he’s a player and intends to stay that way. Tribble, well, he’s called Tribble. Does he even need to do anything else?
Though the promo for the rest of the season suggests the usual brawling and screaming and crying, oh my, I’ll chalk that up to editing. If this is a new direction for Bravo — finding smart (and, in some cases, hard working) people for their shows who aren’t just parroting lines fed to them or picking fights for no good reason, I’m in.
Did you watch “The New Atlanta”?