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“I Can’t Believe How Wrong I Was About Jessel”
Talking RHONY with Hola Papi’s JP Brammer.
When the rebooted Real Housewives of New York had its premiere, I wasn’t planning to watch. (I, famously, have only watched every Nene season; Remy’s middle name is Linnethia for a reason!) I saw the RHONY cast photo and marveled at how every single person was dressed for a different event: Erin Lichy was dressed as the mother of the groom. Jenna Lyons was dressed like she just left the set from an And Just Like That… cameo that will inevitably be cut. (“Here We Go Mama” indeed.)
I have not found anything to fill the Succession-sized hole in my heart, but I look forward to every Monday morning when I can watch the new RHONY and eat my English muffin. There are no shareholder meetings or unpredictable Swedes, but there are lavish parties where the butter is definitely too cold, someone complaining about being hungry, relentless jockeying for power. JP Brammer, my fellow Oklahoe and writer of the hilarious and essential newsletter @Hola Papi, writes weekly recap-reviews of each episode. We met in a Google Doc to talk about the season so far.
Hunter Harris: There are two types of people in the world: either you know that Jenna Lyons’s teeth are modeled after Julianne Moore’s, or you don’t know that. I idolized Jenna Lyons when I was growing up. I was raised in the Woodland Hills mall J.Crew, ballet flats-and-pea coat and all, so she has always been a household name whatever house I’m in.
I really only started watching this season because I wanted to see how she fared. (Her previous HBO reality show didn’t interest me, but I did use her office as apartment inspo, despite not liking her actual apartment.) There was a lookie-loo fascination: Jenna Lyons is a real downtown gal about town. She was on Girls! To me, her star is only matched by, say, someone like Kandi Burruss who had a whole entire career before she joined the franchise. JP, are you traditionally a Housewives head?
JP: My experience with the Housewives has deep roots in unemployment. After I graduated college, my mom and I would watch RHONY and RHONJ on the couch. I left it behind for many years (I got a job), but it was actually Jenna Lyons that reeled me back in. I’ve always been fascinated by her ever since that photo of her son wearing pink nail polish in a catalog ad in 2011 sparked a whole Fox News outrage cycle. That, and J. Crew was such a character in the Obama years. She’s kind of the power lesbian to me, so of course I was dying to see how she’d act in RHONY. She’s no stranger to reality TV, as you mentioned, but Housewives is a different beast. How do you feel about her performance so far?
HH: There was a Times profile of Jenna, and the writer spoke to her before they filmed the season, and immediately following. (For some reason the NYT thinks my IP address is a bot so I can’t actually open it again. Lol.) She seems really freaked out in the after, like totally undone by how hard it is to be yourself but also a character-version of yourself to be interesting on camera.
But she’s not doing that bad, or the edit has been kind to her. The women are either trying to impress or embarrass her. Jenna is pretty game, all things considered. Maybe the real design people look down on her, but she was the woman that dressed Michelle Obama in ‘08. That’s like winning a ring with the Bulls with Michael! It’s such a delusion of grandeur that the other women even think to come for her! Your most recent recap was spot on: “I’m siding with the establishment. I’m joining the class war on the side of class. Jenna Fucking Lyons gets to fly business class whenever she pleases.”
Follower counts are dumb, but it’s so funny to me that someone like Sai or Brynn complains about Jenna gifting them her brand collabs. Not only does she have the most followers but Jenna Lyons is actually influential! (Again, this was great: “Sai doesn’t like that the gifts are collaborations and thinks they come with an ulterior motive to get her to share them on social media. This is the level of delusion I aspire to. Yes, Jenna Fucking Lyons needs me to put up an Instagram story about a gift she gave me. So true.”) Okay, sorry, I promise I’ll take a breath here: the only person who radically rose in my esteem is Jessel.
JP: I can’t believe how wrong I was about Jessel. Well, no, I can. The first few episodes were very “go girl, give us nothing.” But when she started giving, when she started talking about needing to get her “socially inept” children into Montessori preschool so they could network with Tom Cruise’s children, I was so on board. She’s wacky to me in an endearing way. Maybe she was right all along. She was bringing the flavor, and I just didn’t have any taste!
I’d love to hear from you, though, about if anyone else has departed from your initial expectations. I’m certainly not alone in living and dying by Hunter Harris’ opinions on pop culture, so I’m ready to bury some people here. Is there anyone you dislike, or someone that you liked at first, but has fallen out of favor? Personally, though I’ve been fighting it for many episodes now, I think I’m ready to admit that, confessional bob aside (love!), Sai is getting on my nerves. The “complaining to serve” ratio is off. I’m also concerned for Brynn. I’m such a sucker for the flirty airhead act, but it’s becoming a bit much, in my opinion. I’m a huge Gideon fan, though. Hugh Grant’s most confusing role to date. Would love to hear Gideon’s voice again.
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HH: There are so many things about Jessel that legitimately leave me verklempt. She wants her kids to go to an exclusive school so she can rub shoulders with Tom Cruise who, um, famously sees Suri all the time? Her husband wants to go to Vietnam for bánh mì? The Judith of it all…!
I cannot stand Sai. I feel like Rose tweeted this, but Sai’s denim top doesn’t even fit in her fucking confessionals! I’ve tried to keep an open mind (she does have many uncanny similarities to someone I used to be friends with) but my God. I cannot deal with her whole thing: the fifty-leven garment bags, the constant whining about being hungry, the insistence that she can dress. She is constantly obnoxious and bitchy for no reason. I can say a lot of things about Erin, but at least she does the hard work of creating every episode’s central conflict.
I really, really love Ubah. I’m almost wondering why she’s on this show, she is so fun and entertaining. She should be hosting a Top Chef or something! I did appreciate that when the women were getting mad at Jenna, she was the first to tell Jenna “um hey we’re all talking shit about you” as a kind of heads up. And she told Sai that it was rude of her to leave Erin’s horrible party!
I too go back and forth on Brynn. Sometimes she’s too much for me; her high maintenance-ness is definitely a defense mechanism. But she has a corniness to her that is sort of amusing.
I can’t wait for the reunion. Is that weird? I want the women to turn on Sai, honestly, and Erin too. I would love for them to band together, even though they are opposed on nearly every issue. And many women owe Jenna an apology because of business class-gate. That was really gross and sad to watch! Are there any big confrontations you’re looking forward to? Outside of Catch versus everybody, of course.
JP: Catch versus the world. Absolutely. I’m right there with you in anticipating the reunion. I would honestly love to see if Jenna has it in her to really call someone out. I want her to out Erin as a fake friend! I want her to give everyone at the reunion a gift except Sai! There were moments in the most recent episode where I was just sort of like… girl, fight back. It’s maybe not her personality, but I also don’t believe you rise to the position of president of a huge company without collecting some heads, so let’s see it.
Other than that, there’s been rumblings about an off-camera feud between Brynn and Sai, so I’m wondering if the reunion will hold any of that. I also can’t wait for the outfits, because there’s so much smack talk about taste and fashion that I kind of want to see who can back it up and who can’t. I, for one, will be wearing khaki to show my allegiance to Team Lyons, though I’ll also be rooting for Jessel. I just learned her fans are called Taank Tops. I think that’s beautiful.
RHONY airs on Bravo on Sunday nights — I guess? I don’t have cable! — and is available to stream on Peacock every Monday morning.