I can help! Launching into established and long-running TV shows can be daunting, but I’m here to help you find the Housewives franchise that’s best for you! You could take this quiz or that quiz on Buzzfeed to find out which housewife suits you. Or, Jezebel writer Madeleine Davies put together a really useful google doc that zeros in on some of the most significant and entertaining episodes of various franchises, perfect for someone who wants a taste.
But since each franchise has its own special brand of women and tropes, allow me to break them down for you. In order of franchise establishment.
Orange County is the original. Is is the boiled-down essence of all the other franchises. The early seasons are like rough documentary footage; it takes a while before the series figured out how best to edit the women. Because it’s been filming since 2006, you get to see the housing and financial crisis happen in real time.
Most likely To: Be born again Christian. You’ll definitely hear these suburban warriors invoking Jesus in their testimonials. The women are more blonde and conservative, less likely to be working outside the home, and less likely to be single.
How many seasons? 12
What’s that they’re holding? Oranges
Who’s the queen bee? Vicki Gunvalson, the longest-running housewife in Bravo history.
What’s best? Vicki dates a
Tennessee Williams character southern conman named Brooks, and in season 10 you learn that he has been faking cancer. Really, the whole Brooks arc is hard to beat (seasons 7-10).
What’s worst? Some truly loathsome housewives and deplorable house husbands; you may want to skip the first 4 seasons just to get to where it’s going.
Alexis season 6: “God is my savior, my husband is my king, and my body? It’s sinful.”
Shannon season 10: “When life gives you lemons, put nine in a bowl!”
New York City is always good. They have a deluded sense of their own importance, and are so cruel to each other’s faces. The women are smarter than most franchises, and are more likely to be single or working outside of the home.
Most likely To: Marry into old money. There’s a countess, there’s a princess. One of them married a descendant of John Adams and JP Morgan. Like the Gatsby parties that crop up in all the franchises, the old-new money divide is a recurring problem.
How many seasons? 10
What’s that they’re holding? Apples
Who’s the queen bee? Ramona Singer
What’s best? It keeps getting better! Former countess and “Money Can’t Buy You Class” singer Luann
De Lesseps D’Agostino was arrested in Palm Beach this December, so in a few months we’ll get to watch it all happen. Come for their screaming vacation fights, stay for Sonja Morgan’s descent into Grey Gardens.
What’s worst? A triggering re-telling of the 2016 election in season 9
Carole season 6: “If you’re going to talk about me behind my back, at least check out my great ass.”
Sonja season 8: “If being Sonja is so wrong, why does it feel so right?”
Atlanta consistently gets the highest ratings or a reason. Like New York, is reliably dramatic and amazing. It was the first franchise to star a predominately African American cast, which continues today. The housewives are funnier and more gif-able than the other franchises. More likely to be single and working with a truly astounding array of brands and businesses.
Most Likely To: Coin catchphrases I would buy if put on a t-shirt. They also have charities that matter and that are doing actual important work. On the current season (10), they filmed a PSA where the women shared their experiences with domestic violence, and most of the cast went to Houston to help with hurricane relief.
How many seasons? 10
What’s that they’re holding? Peaches
Who’s the queen bee? NeNe Leakes, who has acted on Broadway and Cirque du Soleil
What’s best? Their fights have a Shakespearean quality, with truly amazing insults. I haven’t seen as much of Atlanta, but season 9 was so amazing that it required a record-breaking 4-part reunion to unpack the web of lies, sexual propositions, and accusations.
What’s worst? Because NeNe is the sun around which the franchise must rotate, she can be particularly reluctant to play the game when she’s filming. But you really can’t go wrong with Atlanta.
Phaedra season 5: “I’m a Southern belle. Brains, booty, and all business”
Porsha season 8: “I’m about to give you life, so stay out of my way!”
New Jersey really leans on tropes of Italian family and vague mob connections. The familial relations of the cast members gives the drama higher stakes, but makes it sadder to watch. The women are more likely to be married and to use malapropisms. At this point they should spin the Giudices off to their own program.
Most Likely To: Get physically violent. There are fights at fashion shows and christenings. One of the housewives even laid hands on Saint Andy Cohen during a reunion.
How many seasons? 8
What’s that they’re holding? Nothing! New Jersey doesn’t have an easy identifier.
Who’s the queen bee? Teresa Giudice, she of table-flipping and prison fame.
What’s best? Jersey starts strong, with super villain Danielle Staub and the simmering resentment that can only come with knowing someone for decades.
What’s worst? Some truly awful seasons of television (6-8) which are devoid of interesting drama beyond the Guidice family legal woes. I think it’s time to retire the franchise, or do a complete recast. Maybe dig into a different social group without family?
Melissa season 5: “Sexy life, loyal wife. Take a page from my book.”
Caroline, seasons 1-2: “If you’re gonna mess with my family, you’re messing with me.”
D.C. was short-lived, but is iconic because it featured the infamous gate-crashers of President Obama’s first state dinner. It was always doomed to fail because most D.C .elites can’t be on reality TV, and it’s not a large enough population to have a good social group with enough wealth and self-importance to be interesting.
Most Likely To: Pretend a fashion show/polo match is an important power center in D.C.
How many seasons? 1 [cancelled]
What’s that they’re holding? Nothing!
Who’s the queen bee? Never established
What’s best? Watching everyone fall over themselves to prove that they are friends with the Obamas, or anyone else with influence.
What’s worst? Everything else. I remember a lot of advertising for Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry.
Only one matters. Cat season 1: “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”
Beverly Hills brought the glitz, glam, and opulent wealth that the franchises were always supposed to showcase. Someone is always spending exorbitant sums on ridiculous things. These women are smarter and more liberal (at least culturally) than their OC counterparts, with the undercurrent of substance abuse and exploitation of Hollywood.
Most Likely To: Spend $50,000 on a 4th birthday party for a little girl who will spend it swinging with her nanny. Similarly ostentatious presents and parties are the norm.
How many seasons? 8
What’s that they’re holding? Diamonds
Who’s the queen bee? Lisa Vanderpump, who got a successful spinoff for her restaurant empire. [One could argue that Kyle Richards is the real power behind the throne].
What’s best? I think this is a gateway franchise, and starting at the beginning will get someone hooked pretty quickly. It starts strong, showing you the dissolution of the Camille and Kelsey Grammer’s marriage, then sucks you into the never-ending Brandi Glanville controversies before introducing you to the dance performer Erika Jayne. You really can’t go wrong with BH.
What’s worst? Season 6 is pretty rough, as you can pretty much see them manufacturing drama by throwing around accusations of Munchausen’s syndrome.
Joyce season 4: “You can never be too young, too thin, or too honest”
Lisa Vanderpump season 5: “Throw me to the wolves and I shall return leading the pack.”
Miami was short-lived and never really found its footing. The only franchise that has made an effort to cast Latina women, it floundered due to a lack of interesting storylines. Indeed, the most exciting stuff came from Mama Elsa [see below] and an off-air, cross-franchise lawsuit about the way one woman’s vagina smelled.
Most Likely To: Center social functions around regular dinner parties
How many seasons? 3 [cancelled]
What’s that they’re holding? Tropical cocktails, I believe the drinks changed over time.
Who’s the queen bee? Lea Black maybe? She certainly thought so.
What’s best? Any scene with Marysol’s mother, Elsa
What’s worst? Everything else. I didn’t watch it all, but I remember a lot of drama happening off-screen
Lisa season 2: “My husband’s a top plastic surgeon in this town, and I am his best creation.”
Adriana season 1: “I speak five languages, but I can get a man with no words.”
Potomac is the second, and far more successful attempt, to have a franchise in the greater D.C. area. Potomac as a social scene seems to be mostly an illusion, existing in the fiction of the show. The women mostly identify as black (biracialism is an important plot point in season 1), but unlike Atlanta, they exist in a predominately white area.
Most Likely To: School each other on proper etiquette, a regular obsession.
How many seasons? 2
What’s that they’re holding? Glasses of champagne
Who’s the queen bee? Up for grabs, and a key point of contention in season 2. For me, it’s Gizelle Bryant.
What’s best? Season 1’s debate over colorism and racial identity, watching the self-delusion of Charrisse Jackson-Jordan.
What’s worst? It’s still finding its footing, but it has promise. Whenever Ashley talks about her vagina sweat.
Ashley season 1: “Throw this spring chicken into the cougar’s den and let the games begin.”
Gizelle season 1: “Word on the street is…I’m still the word on the street.”
Dallas is the other new entry, and season 1 is rough. But season 2 showed good promise, mostly due to a remix of the friendships and one of the greatest characters to ever grace reality TV, LeeAnne Locken.
Most Likely To: Use phrases like “Jesus Juice,” but also teach you about carny culture. Not the smartest franchise, they are religious and conservative like OC, but with the Potomac preoccupation with etiquette.
How many seasons? 2
What’s that they’re holding? [Lone]Stars
Who’s the queen bee? LeeAnne Locken, the star of the show
What’s best? Season 2 is pretty excellent. It has: a woman in her 40s trying to finally win her mother’s approval; one husband jealous of the time his wife is spending with their daughter; and some of the greatest lines in housewives history: “Her husband gets his dick sucked at the Round-Up. I know the boys who did it.”
What’s worst? Brandi and Stephanie’s friendship season 1, which was the embodiment of a “It’s Wine O’Clock” throw pillow.
Cary season 2: “Every girl has skeletons in their closet. Mine are next to my Birkins.”
Kameron season 2: “Dumb blondes get noticed. Smart blondes get everything.”
I have not dabbled in the international varieties, mostly because I don’t know how to watch them and keeping up with these ladies is enough. Watch on Bravo or Hulu.