The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City Can’t Recover From a Season of Unfulfilled Promises
Jen Shah on RHOSLC Season 3. (Photo: Randy Shropshire/Bravo)
To say that The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City has reached a crisis point would be an understatement. The Bravo show premiered just over two years ago, and in the brief period since, current housewife Jen Shah was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison for her role in a telemarketing scheme, Mary Cosby (who starred in Seasons 1 and 2) was accused of running a religious cult, and Jennie Nguyen, a new addition in 2021, was fired after racist Facebook posts resurfaced online.
By all accounts, this off-camera drama should entice fans, yet RHOSLC ratings continue to steadily decline, with one recent episode drawing less than 450,000 viewers. To put that dismal figure in perspective, a rerun of The Masked Singer that aired the same week was watched by 1.41 million people. That’s anything but Shahmazing.
To make matters worse, rumors are swirling that RHOSLC is being “put on pause” as produces consider a “major casting shakeup” ahead of Season 4. A word to the wise: If the disappointing, plot-free third season has taught us anything , it’s that a fresh set of voices won’t save this franchise extension. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is a failed Bravo experiment. It’s time for these ladies to have one last Vida margarita and pack it in, for good.
When RHOSLC premiered in November 2020, it promised to deliver something a bit different than other Real Housewives shows. Yes, there were wealthy women bickering about perceived slights (including Mary telling Jen that she “smelled like hospital,” an early source of conflict within the group), but the show’s Utah setting also offered a fascinating window into the lives of members of the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of the cast members are, or were at some point, practicing Mormons, and the first season of RHOSLC afforded them an opportunity to explain how their faith plays a role in their everyday lives and personal squabbles. Often, the Housewives struggled to reconcile the church’s rigid laws, including its no-alcohol policy and lack of support for divorced women, with their own choices, adding a fascinating layer of introspection to a franchise that thrives on petty disputes.
By the second season, though, RHOSLC’s unique exploration of religion was relegated to the ladies’ taglines — “I was raised a Mormon, but now, I’m raising a glass of champagne,” said Heather Gay at the top of every episode — and Jen’s arrest on fraud charges (understandably) sucked all the air out of the room. For fans and celebrity gossip lovers alike, the show reached its peak in November 2021 with the episode “Highway to Vail” (Season 2, Episode 10), which captured the moment federal agents swarmed the cast’s Sprinter van in search of Jen.
Just minutes prior, Jen received a phone call and ripped off her microphone, informing the women that her husband was in the hospital with internal bleeding, and she would not be driving with them to Vail for their weekend getaway. While on the road, the Housewives learned the truth: Jen had been arrested for her involvement in a telemarketing scam that specifically targeted the elderly. The ladies were stunned, and as new details emerged over the course of their six-hour ride, they began raising questions about who might have had advanced knowledge of the situation (meanwhile, Lisa Barlow desperately called all six of her attorneys for advice).
It’s so fortunate that Bravo got all this on camera that I have to imagine Andy Cohen made some kind of sacrifice to the reality TV gods (“I’ll trade another season of Real Housewives of Dallas if this arrest goes down in the Beauty Lab parking lot” seems most likely). What a bummer, then, that RHOSLC had absolutely no idea where to take it from there. Jen’s lawyers advised her to keep shut about the allegations on-camera — her legal team even filed several requests to exclude clips of the show from her trial — so the women were left to speculate wildly about her arrest, and they spent the next 11 episodes (and three-part reunion) talking in circles as they alternately defended their friend and expressed doubts about her character.
The feeling that RHOSLC is just spinning its wheels has only intensified throughout Season 3, which — in a vote of no confidence on Bravo’s part — consists of seven fewer episodes than the previous outing. Once again, Jen’s legal battle looms large, but this time, the ladies can no longer claim they’re waiting for “justice to take its course,” as they often did in the latter half of Season 2. In July 2022, after 16 months of maintaining her innocence, Jen pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud; the trailer indicated that this major development would be incorporated in the new season, filmed in the months leading up to her plea deal.
Maybe it’s naïve to think that Bravo would make good on its word, but it isn’t until the final minutes of the Season 3 finale, “Trials and Tribulations,” that this comes to pass. A flash-forward to July 2022 shows Jen arriving in New York for her trial, with Heather and Meredith Marks flying cross-country for moral support. In an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment, Jen reveals how “scared” she is for what’s ahead, but she never tells her friends she’s planning to take a plea deal. Instead, a title card does the heavy lifting, explaining Jen’s guilty plea and her six-and-a-half-year sentence, and in a two-minute scene to close out the episode, Heather and Lisa react to the news over lunch. “I think she did it,” says an emotional Heather, who was Jen’s “ride or die” just days prior.
Heather and Lisa’s conversation is the first time all season that RHOSLC addresses the elephant in the room, but by then, it’s too little, too late. Getting to this point required sitting through 14 episodes of nonsensical rumor-spreading about Lisa trading “blowies” for Jazz tickets, a choir audition from hell, Angie Katsanevas and Angie Harrington’s embarrassingly desperate fight for Friend-Of screen time, a dumb miscommunication between cousins Heather and Whitney Rose, and a fake Instagram account that divided the group along bizarre lines. Save for Heather and Whitney’s dispute, which was more frustrating than anything else, these storylines lacked any real staying power, and the season cycled through them faster than you can say “garbage trash whore.”
Perhaps RHOSLC could be forgiven if the other major storyline in Season 3, Heather’s mysterious black eye, bore fruit. During the ladies’ interminable San Diego trip, Heather wakes up with a massive shiner, but rather than chalk it up to an alcohol-related accident — which seems most likely, as Heather and Jen spent the previous evening drunkenly flashing their friends — Heather insists she doesn’t know what happened. But her story keeps changing: Soon, she does remember, but doesn’t want to talk about it; Later, she compares the situation to Fight Club and cryptically claims the other women know what happened “and they just want us to say it out loud.” Despite Whitney’s best efforts to get to the bottom of it, Heather won’t budge, and we end the season without knowing what went down, who Heather is “protecting” by keeping quiet, or whether the other women are correct in guessing that Jen was somehow involved.
As The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City reaches its Season 3 reunion, Bravo has one last chance to right the ship — though this already feels like an uphill battle. Jen declined an invitation to the reunion under advice from her lawyers, and she has since nixed a solo sit-down with Cohen, claiming Bravo was unwilling to “remove contractual provisions that would allow the network to make legally misrepresentations of me and my story. ” Still, even if Jen were attending, it’s difficult to see how the show recovers from a season-and-a-half of unfulfilled promises. If RHOSLC wasn’t able to make hay out of one of the most interesting Housewives storylines in years, it’s a sign that there’s nothing left for us here. As a wise woman once said, it’s time to disengage from this show that stopped being compelling long ago.
The two-part The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City Season 3 reunion begins Wednesday, January 25 at 8:00 PM ET on Bravo. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.