Very few networks would see a competitor’s scripted series rise to the ranks in popularity and think, “Let’s recreate that…but as a reality show.” Even fewer could do it successfully, multiple times over. But Bravo is not just any television network, it’s a lean, mean, reality-television machine. It’s the home to some of the most successful and well-loved franchises in television history. And its flagship franchise, The Real Housewives, is not just a television show—it’s a way of life. And that way of life would simply cease to exist if it wasn’t for two of its scripted drama predecessors: The O.C. and Desperate Housewives.
Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County spun a wicked yarn that combined these two hit series into a massive and all-powerful, multi-city franchise. Their formula of turning television gold into cold hard cash worked so well the first time around that they’ve done it again multiple times over, creating an entire empire. Southern Charm can be traced back to Hart of Dixie; Married to Medicine had a built-in audience of Grey’s Anatomy addicts. Even Bravo’s flops are historic—their Gossip Girl ripoff NYC Prep is the stuff of legend even though it only ran for one season in 2009.
With that proven recipe for success, it’s not hard to see where Bravo’s newest reality show, Real Girlfriends in Paris, sprang from. Netflix’s Emily in Paris has become a cultural sensation so unavoidable that even your off-the-grid grandparents have watched it. Emily in Paris is the inspiring story of a beautiful white girl with a big salary who moves to Paris and succeeds despite all odds (aka, the French people hating her). And as annoying as that is, it’s terribly watchable.
It’s too bad, then, that Real Girlfriends in Paris can’t duplicate that same sensation. It has all the same ingredients as Emily, but lacks the same je ne sais quoi, if you’ll indulge me in my high school French. Where Emily is a spunky Carrie Bradshaw wannabe in the City of Light, the Real Girlfriends are just trying to get by on a metro pass and a prayer. And by removing all of the fantasy and aspiration, Real Girlfriends in Paris gives us characters who are easy to root for but far lighter on all of the high drama we’ve come to crave.
The Real Girlfriends in Paris are Anya, Adja, Margaux, Victoria, Kacey, and Emily, each with their own reasons for moving to Paris that basically boil down to “I come from money” or “I have a remote job.” While that’s fine and there’s a respectable level of acknowledgement there, it would be more exciting to see a few people with actual stakes in their lives rounding out the cast.
Several times throughout the first episode, a cast member will take to their confessional to say, “When I’m in Paris, nobody knows who I am. No one recognizes me!” And while that’s true of being an American in a foreign country, you could easily get the same sensation by moving from Arkansas to Idaho. None of these girls really have legitimate reasons for upending their loves other than that they were suckered in by Eiffel Tower imagery and the allure of fresh baguettes.
But on the other hand, if you’re a French fanatic, Real Girlfriends in Paris will certainly satisfy a weird niche craving. It’s surprising that it took this long to get an American reality show set in France when it’s such an aspirational and idyllic destination. It’s just a shame that this one isn’t more engaging.
Despite setting itself in one of the most gorgeous and exciting places in the world, the show is—and it brings me not one iota of joy to say this—a total snooze. Sweeping shots of arrondissements and the Seine aren’t enough to fill the total void of plot, no matter how many of them the editors try to cram in to fill time. Bravo has made itself famous for reality shows that are innately watchable even when there’s nothing happening, but watching Real Girlfriends in Paris feels like watching someone try to dredge up something out of dead air, without the trusty Bravo Editing Guidebook to help them as they sift through months of footage.
There are occasional glimmers of something more, faint but sparkling little moments that I tried to hold onto with all my might lest the editors snatch them away from me. Watching Margaux complain that she used to be given $10,000 a month by her rich parents when she’s now only getting $2,000 threatened to send me over the edge…until she became so exhausted by that reality that she had to smoke a cigarette indoors. That’s Parisian! That’s dramatic! That’s flat-out ridiculous! If these women are going to flaunt their privilege so openly, I want them to act like it’s a goddamn living nightmare. The ingredients for the exact kind of haughty, absurdist show that this should be are all there, Bravo just needs to run wild with them.
And that said, I hate to be the annoying gay stereotype that just wants to watch women fight with each other, but seeing these six women play nice with one another is simply boring. If one of the Real Girlfriends makes a dumb inspiring comment ripped from a Facebook meme, I’d rather see another roll their eyes in response than agree, “Yes, Queen!” and snap her fingers.
Dialing the madness up to a 10 should be in these women’s contracts by now, shouldn’t it? I mean, don’t real girlfriends have tiffs? Perhaps an occasional spat or two? We’re not tuning into a Bravo show for slice-of-life programming where the cast films themselves on iPhones walking to and from bars to meet friends, we want to see them scream until they’re hoarse under the lights of La Tour Eiffel!
It’s immediately clear that Real Girlfriends in Paris is the soft launch of a new franchise for Bravo, something skewed even more toward twentysomethings and collegiates. Just like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its phases, so does Bravo. We’re entering Phase 4, but somehow still starting from scratch. Perhaps that’s why Real Girlfriends in Paris shares so many of the same qualities as the first couple of seasons of The Real Housewives of Orange County: dreary authenticity, faux-aspirational day-to-day lives, and a cast that is willing to throw things at the wall to see what sticks for a sizeable paycheck and a little camera time.
Like those early years of RHOC, the show is blatantly struggling to find its footing and making no apologies for it. And that is an admirable quality! But unlike Bravo’s first runaway original hit, Real Girlfriends in Paris has no reason to be so very dull when there’s so much darkness lurking just out of frame. They’ve compiled six beautiful young women in one of the greatest and most chaotic cities in the world, the most memorable moment of a 45-minute pilot should not be when someone pulls out a bottle of ranch dressing out of their coat in a café (which, by the way, is the reason French people hate Americans—ranch is vile).
Still, I must confess to you: I will be watching the rest of the season with anticipation, waiting with bated breath on each frame of Kacey slacking on her English tutoring job and Victoria going on dates with other women. I’m only human! Well, that and I sold my soul to Bravo in 2017, a transaction that was notarized by Bethenny Frankel herself. But losing me in the very first episode ever threatens to breach that contract. Especially when, at this point, the playbook is basically laminated.
Real Girlfriends in Paris is as disappointing as deflated souffle and as empty as a hollow, flaky croissant. But, like its predecessors in the Bravo pantheon, it could easily have some substance if it leans into the very silliness of its own existence—it just has to find its raison d’etre. If only it knew what it could be from the start, we’d all be having the time of our lives in Paris.
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