The ladies of Atlanta have returned for the winter. NeNe Leakes is back in our lives, whether we like it or not (one of you must have forgotten to forward the chain letter). But as we look forward to season ten, let’s take a look back. Which season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta was the worst, and which reigns supreme?
9. Season Six
ATL6 is a gloomy slog that brings out the worst in all of its participants. The big plotlines are the Kandi/Todd/Mama Joyce nightmare triangle, featuring Kandi at her most non-committal and enabling, and Phaedra vs. Kenya, always too uncomfortable and slut-shamey to be any fun. The rest of the story is outsourced to a massive cast of one-named peripheral characters you’ll never see again, along with the husbands, who even annex the cast vacation. The most memorable moments of the season, the pillow talk party and the reunion, are explosions of pointless physical violence. Dark-sided.
8. Season Seven
After years of valiant efforts from an outmatched government military effort, NeNe’s monstrous ego escapes its human shackles and consumes the season whole. It’s impressive that someone so clearly indifferent to the program could drag it down so far. By the time NeNe storms out of a therapy session she strongarmed everyone into attending, because the therapist isn’t kissing her ass and absolving her of responsibility, you’ll be begging for a trapdoor.
7. Season Five
ATL5 is sort of akin to those early seasons of The Simpsons where no one acts like themselves and Homer’s voice is all weird (season one Homer voice is my party trick, BTW; I’ll show you sometime). Newbie Housewives Kenya and Porsha will eventually become staples but haven’t quite figured things out yet; Kenya is affected even by her standards and Porsha is doing the Stepford Wife thing that will last the entirety of her brief, miserable marriage to Kordell. The result is an uneven season, though not unwatchable.
6. Season Four
With Shereé leaving after this season and Kim bailing shortly into the next, this is the tail end of what you might call the classic era of RHOA. You can feel that fatigue, like everyone is ready to clear the board and get some new blood in (Kim, in particularly, starts to feel really over it). Still, there’s plenty of fun, with the cast trip to Africa, the introduction of Marlo the criminal socialite, Shereé’s dalliances with Dr. Tiy-E the fake love doctor, and Phaedra’s misadventures at the morgue.
5. Season Eight
I don’t have an excuse for enjoying ATL8 as much as I do. Nothing really happens, and it’s filled with weird tangents like Tammy Browning’s trip to the hospital and the existence of Kim Fields (no shade; I’m possibly the only Kim Fields fan in the game). But somehow, it charms me. Maybe it’s the relative lack of NeNe. Maybe it’s the return of Shereé. Maybe it’s the ‘mercial. ATL8 is an undemanding season that moves briskly between a series of minor dramas that never amount to much. Not groundbreaking, but it’s nice to background while you clean your house.
4. Season Nine
Season nine is slightly overrated on account of its explosive finish, so it’s easy to forget that the first ten or so episodes are a whole lot of over-scripted nothing. That ending, though. The best Housewives seasons are marriages of high and low; watch as a low-base piece of gutter gossip like “Kandi tried to drug Porsha and rape her in her sex dungeon” reveals a Shakespearean web of intrigue and betrayal. Phaedra buried herself alive at that reunion, but what a way to go out.
3. Season One
Of all of the O.G. first seasons, ATL1 is by far the one where the most things happen. The cast still needs a lot of tinkering, but it’s remarkable how TV ready the NeNe/Kim/Shereé trio are even in their earliest incarnations. NeNe is candid and vulnerable and occasionally even humble. Shereé hasn’t yet worn down in her quest to convince the world she can afford her lifestyle. And Kim is a masterpiece, a plastic-wigged chain smoker whose ill-advised country music career is bankrolled by her wealthy married lover, the timeless Big Poppa.
2. Season Two
An excellent shit show in its own right, season two functions best as a dress rehearsal for season three. Kim is a nightmare, NeNe is a brute, Shereé is a wonderful narcissist, but the chemistry isn’t quite perfect yet (cough cough Lisa). Still, Kandi’s a fun addition, not least for finally enabling Kim Zolciak the way she deserves. You could do a lot worse than the saga of “Tardy for the Party.”
1. Season Three
ATL3 is the season they finally got it all right. Well, not all right. They never should have gotten into bed with Peter Thomas. But swapping out Lisa Wu for Phaedra Parks, the purring attorney in either her sixth or ninth month of pregnancy depending on who you asked, was a touch of casting genius that jolted the show to life. Meanwhile, Shereé fancies herself an actress and Kim takes a break from her affair with Tracy the lesbian DJ to torture Kandi in the recording studio some more. Send someone back in time to stop Cynthia’s wedding and this one would be just about perfect.