The Real Housewives of Miami, Season 1: A Retrospective

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The Mayor of Miami, Lea Black, cordially invites you to a series of dinner parties in and around Miami, Florida. Come feel the rush.

The Real Housewives of Miami is something of an anomaly in the larger Housewives canon. It was cancelled after three seasons due to low ratings, meaning it never reached the level of cultural prominence of the longer-running franchises, and lacks the infamy of a failure like D.C. Even its ending was uncertain — it drifted off-air in 2013 to three years of radio silence until Andy Cohen, as if suddenly remembering its existence, confirmed its cancellation. It occupies a middle ground, a hazy place in the discussion dictated entirely by those few who watched it live and those motivated to retroactively seek it out. If you’re among the Housewives faithful, though, let this serve as a recommendation: Miami is an excellent RH iteration, boasting a unique cultural milieu, a strong Latina-centric cast, and plenty of fun drama.

Miami is, for my money, the franchise whose marked rise in quality between seasons most corresponds to the producers’ understanding of what the show needed. Dallas had a similar uptick in watchability, as we’ve discussed on this site at length, but that felt far more like the result of the cast suddenly, magically getting with the program. Miami, on the other hand, started as a reboot of Miami Social, some nothingburger Bravo property starring Katrina Campins from The Apprentice and Hardy Hill from Big Brother. In repackaging the show as a Housewives instalment, the producers bumped up the production values, scrapped season one’s bizarre structural underpinnings (RHOM1 plays out as a series of cooking parties, each hosted by one of the women), and fired its two least interesting cast members, Larsa Pippen and Cristy Rice, to replace them with four newbies.

Though she ended up being a dud, it’s easy to imagine why Larsa might have been cast: she’s the wife of Scottie Pippen, easily the most famous athlete to appear on this show, with a fleet of nannies and an enviably opulent lifestyle. She’s part of the Kardashian inner circle, though that carried less weight in 2010, before Kim’s 72-day-long marriage to Kris Humphries, let alone her relationship with Kanye West. Cristy is less of a slam dunk, though she dovetails nicely with the show’s mandate around highlighting the movers and shakers of Miami’s Cuban-American community, and Glen Rice is still no slouch as far as husbands go. But together they brought little to the show, a pair of mean girl robots whose main contribution was getting obliterated by the gruesome twosome of Lea and Adriana.

Lea and Adriana are your reasons to tune into RHOM. Lea is Lisa Kudrow’s best piece of character work, a cackling doyenne and self-styled “collector of people.” Lea lives her life amidst curated eccentricity. Her outfits, her belongings, and her circle of friends (including Rick Ross, Dennis Rodman, Joe Francis, and Kim Zolciak) are specifically assembled to be as hectic and distracting as possible: to propagate her image as an interesting person, to keep her busy, and, one imagines, to serve as a flashy smokescreen for her puppeteering. Adriana is one of the people Lea’s collected, a polyglot art dealer, single mother and femme fatale, whose belligerent confidence and passionate self-obsession are the root cause of 85% of Miami’s early conflicts (with Lea swooping in to claim the remaining 15% via passive-aggressive innuendo).

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Rounding out the cast are Alexia and Marysol. Alexia is a magazine editor. She leaves by her own initiative at the end of the season, to deal with some family issues, and takes a reduced role as a Friend Of in season two. She’ll be back full-time for season three. Candidly, the show’s loyalty to Alexia puzzles me; she’s not tremendously likeable or interesting. As time-waster Housewives go, though, there are worse. Marysol runs a PR firm and is the vessel through which her much more interesting mother, the iconic bruja Mama Elsa, appears on our screens. Elsa loves the camera as much as it loves her, so she reliably pops up at least once an episode, dropping wisdom and antagonizing basics. As for Marysol, she plays out a truly bizarre storyline, a relationship with her much-younger French lover Philippe that zooms from courtship to engagement to marriage in the space of literally an episode. The accelerated pace of it, the fact that they’ll already be divorced by S2, and some other notes (why is Philippe proposing with a piece of Mama Elsa’s jewelry?) sure make the whole thing seem like a green card scam, in which case I hope Marysol was in on it because yikes, how awkward.

As mentioned above, the cast interactions in RHOM season one largely occur during a series of cooking/dinner parties, each hosted by one of the ‘Wives. Some of these are better than others (Marysol’s shindig where Mama Elsa nukes Larsa for being an immature twit and Cristy for cheating on her husband is a classic), but the show quickly figures out that it’s what happens between the women outside of these gatherings that’s most interesting. It’s Lea posting Cristy an invoice for crashing her charity gala. It’s Adriana oozing sexy angst all over an art opening. These are the moments that lay the groundwork for RHOM season two.

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One last, weird touch worth acknowledging: the reunion. For reasons which puzzle historians to this day, production opted to present the reunion in one partlive, from the WWHL Clubhouse. This probably seemed like a good idea on paper but was an utter disaster in practice, an unairable mess of cross-talk, bleeped-out slander, and arguments during commercial breaks. There’s a reason these things usually play out over 16 hours and multiple violations of the Geneva Conventions. Still, this scattered hour is worth enduring, if for no other reason than to marvel at Adriana as she eviscerates a crowd of cowering villagers without ever stopping for air, in the debut of her signature berserker reunion strategy.

I heartily recommend RHOM season one to anyone who wants a fun, bite-sized Housewives season to binge over the course of the day. It hasn’t quite figured out its strengths, but there’s a lot of excellent raw material and a distinct Miami flare. Best of all, it serves as an appetizer for season two, one of the best Housewives seasons of all time.

2 thoughts on “The Real Housewives of Miami, Season 1: A Retrospective

  1. I LOooooooOOOOOOVeee Miami! It’s the only franchise to be cancelled besides DC and that is criminal to me. Adriana is a top 10 housewife for sure, and by season two it really hits its stride. Can’t wait to hear about a certain cast member when you watch that…

    1. karent wait*

      i was actually most impressed by LEA upon this rewatch. i had remembered her taking some time to warm up, but she was insufferable and overbearing from the word go, in the best possible way. i forgot how effective her signature ‘say something horrifyingly bitchy about someone and then laugh uproariously in their face’ tactic was.

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