“What Salt Lake City is most known for is the Mormon church,” Salt Lake City Real Housewife Lisa Barlow narrates over footage of Temple Square as the first episode of the series begins.
“A quick lesson on being a good Mormon: Don’t drink, don’t smoke, and treat your body like a temple,” Lisa explains. “We are taught honesty and integrity,” Whitney Rose adds in a sexy baby voice. “Fidelity within marriage,” one of the housewives says. “And most importantly, to watch for sin,” another housewife concludes.
After that nuanced deep dive into the complexities of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we get our formal introduction to the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, who recite their tag-lines like third graders who have worked very hard to memorize their parts for the school play.
“In this town, I’m Queen Bee and MVP,” Jen says. Because she’s married to a coach. I guess.
“When you take cheap shots, always expect a hangover,” Lisa says. Because she owns a tequila company.
“This rose isn’t scared to handle a little prick,” Whitney says. Does she . . . not know what that means?
“Jealousy is a disease, to which I say, ‘get well soon,’” Meredith says. This one truly sent me. Are you telling a disease to get well soon, Meredith? Are you talking to a pathogen?
“I love God, but I will read you like a scripture,” Mary says. Because she owns and ministers at a church that once belonged to her grandmother who was married to Mary’s now husband.
“Just like my pioneer ancestors, I’m trying to blaze a new trail,” Heather says. Because she is shaking up her life. Heather really seems to be going through it. Divorce, faith transition, feeling a little lost – she’s unpacking a lot. And that can’t be easy, especially when it’s all happening on camera. So I can forgive her the overly wordy tagline.
Now that we’re all acquainted, it’s time to meet the housewives’ families and tour their homes, starting with Jen’s:
Jen calls her home The Shah Chalet.
We find her there explaining the difficulties of being a minority (Tongan and Hawaiian) in Utah.
She explains that because the Mormon church did not fully accept Black people until the 1970s, she converted to Islam after she married her Black husband. Which, fair.
Jen is married to Coach Shah of University of Utah football, and she describes their marriage as a “FaceTime marriage” since “Coach Shah,” as she calls him, is often traveling with the team.
Jen uses this rare family breakfast together as an opportunity to lecture her youngest son on the dangers of kissing.
Jen has enough chaotic energy to power a city block, and I can tell already that she will carry this show for seasons to come and we will erect statues in her honor.
Next we find Heather at the medical spa she owns in downtown SLC.
“Because Salt Lake City is the capital of Mormonism, I decided to open Beauty Lab Laser. Attaining perfection is a Mormon pastime,” Heather says. Yes. Mormon women are the only women in the world concerned with their appearance. We are wholly unique in that regard.
She explains her claim to Mormon royalty — her husband’s grandfather worked as Howard Hughes’ driver, and when he died, Hughes left the Gay family a large portion of his estate.
But her life on the throne came crashing down when Heather and her husband divorced five years ago. “In the Mormon church, divorce is not an option,” she says, which is just factually incorrect. Heather says she no longer feels like she fits in at church because she likes rap music??? Like I said, I think Heather is working through some stuff, and if that’s how she feels I won’t invalidate her. But I, a Mormon woman, would like to walk her through my Spotify playlists.
Meredith’s house looks like the building attached to a power station:
Meredith isn’t even from Utah and only lives here part time and is kind of boring and I would vote to have her removed from the show immediately if it weren’t for her absolute legend of a son, Brooks.
Brooks has the best lips I’ve ever seen on a human, and his presence signals just how much he cannot be bothered in a way that is truly powerful. You can hear his eyes rolling with every word he says.
Brooks’ father and Meredith’s husband, Seth, spends most of his time in Chicago, and things don’t seem great between the married couple.
“I am totally overworked and undersexed,” he says ON TV. IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE. A NATIONAL AUDIENCE. I can’t believe she doesn’t divorce him right then and there.
Lisa lives in a very Draper home:
Where we find her dressing her dog to go outside.
Lisa tells us she met her husband John through her sister who served a mission with him.
And really, who among us in this great state is not in a relationship born from a mission connection?
Now the two own a tequila company, and they live their version of Mormonism, which Lisa calls Mormon 2.0. Love the idea of upgrading to a new model of our religion every year. Maybe someone in a black turtleneck gets on stage during General Conference and explains the latest upgrades with a multimedia presentation.
But honestly, Mormon 2.0 doesn’t seem all that different from my standard first-edition Mormonism in terms of beverage choices:
And food preferences:
We get another shot of the temple for some reason:
And then a shot of the man who shows up a lot on my Instagram feed:
Regan is every Utah Influencers’ favorite botox and filler guy, so his reputation very much precedes him when we find him consulting with Jen about getting her armpits injected to prevent perspiration.
Stuart, Jen’s first assistant (?), watches supportingly from the corner, as I assume all good first assistants do.
After getting her pits poked, Jen tells Heather she wants to throw Meredith a birthday party featuring lots of male strippers.
Would love a reaction shot from Stuart at this point, but no such luck.
After Heather tells Jen that a party full of naked men doesn’t sound like a party the elegant and reserved Meredith would enjoy, Jen ignores her and moves forward with her party planning.
Next, we take a trip to the quintessential Daybreak home, where Whitney Rose and her unconventional family reside.
Whitney is renewing her vows with her husband Justin,
whom she married ten years ago when she was five months pregnant — the result of a torrid affair, or as Whitney calls it, “a hot office romance” that she and Justin happened to have while they were both married to other people.
My husband and I had our wedding dinner in this same venue as Whitney and Justin's original wedding, and seeing this image gave me an unsettling sense of deja vu. These people exist in the same world I do, but also in a completely different world, at the same time. I can’t decide if I’m fascinated by that truth or startled by it, knowing how many different kinds of lives one could live in a given location.
Anyway. It’s Whitney’s turn to prove her Mormon street cred, which she does by explaining that her great great grandfather, Shadrach Roundy, served as bodyguard to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
I don’t think the producers of this show understand just how uninteresting it is to live in Utah and have connections to early Mormon prophets. It’s the norm, not the exception. More Utah Mormon families are named in the Doctrine and Covenants than not.
After the vow renewal ceremony, Whitney slips into something more flexible to perform on the stripper pole she’s had installed in her basement. She does her sexy little routine in front of her dad.
Elsewhere in the valley, First Assistant Stuart, the runaway star of the episode IMO, drives Jen around town and begs her to let him go to his favorite local grocery store for lunch.
After Jen tells Stuart they don’t have time for the Harmons, they call Jen’s second assistant (?) Crystal to finalize party arrangements.
If you’re wondering how many assistants Jen has, I counted three this episode, but I would not be surprised to learn she has five or more in the future episodes.
Later, Lisa and Jen drive to Park City to visit Meredith.
Jen mentions Heather, who has told Jen that she remembers Lisa from their BYU years. But Lisa doesn’t really remember Heather; what she does remember is a “good time girl” with a fondness for breaking the Honor Code, which BYU students agree to live by and which includes rules of conduct around chastity, curfews, and abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
Back in Salt Lake City, Mary meets Whitney for dinner.
It is very obvious that even though the producers told them to act like long-time friends, this is the very first time these two people have ever spent any time together.
But they certainly already know about each other.
“Everyone in Salt Lake City knows the story about Mary and her step-grandfather,” Whitney says. The story of course being that Mary married her step-grandfather shortly after her grandmother died.
“It was in my grandma’s will for us to marry,” Mary explains, like that doesn’t make this already sus situation ten thousand times worse.
During dinner Whitney receives a text from Jen about Meredith’s party,
and when Whitney tells Mary about it, Mary says she probably won’t get an invitation. She and Jen are not on good terms. Mary explains, because six months ago, Mary told Jen she smelled like a hospital.
The smell of hospitals takes Mary to a dark place and makes her sick, so even though Jen had been at the hospital comforting her aunt who had just had her legs amputated, Mary could not hide her revulsion. The two haven’t spoken since since.
So Mary is surprised when she gets a text from Jen and learns that she is invited to Meredith’s party after all.
At the Shah Chalet, Jen and her throng of assistants are busy prepping the house for the soiree.
Heather shows up and is dumbfounded by the extravagance.
“What are we going to do in June when it’s my birthday?” Heather asks with the innocence of someone speaking at the end of 2019.
Jen takes a break from the work she was watching her assistants do to tell Heather about the Lisa snub,
and Heather is not pleased. “It’s a diss,” she says like it’s 2002, and then adds that she would love to go back and slut it up in college.
“In order to even attend BYU I had to sign an honor code,” she says. I don’t know what I was expecting from this first episode of RHOSLC but I certainly didn't expect the BYU Honor Code to get this much play.
Prior to Merdith’s party, Brooks spreads the remains of a hundred thousand roses around the living room for his mother’s birthday on behalf of his father who is in Chicago and can’t be bothered to fly home.
It looks like someone murdered Chris Harrison in the foyer.
“This is incredible!” Meredith says in the tone of someone who knows they’ll be spending the next week vacuuming rose petals, and hugs her son who tells her:
He says it with the inflection of an annoyed Kardashian.
Meredith FaceTimes her husband Seth and he immediately starts mocking her for being six months older than him:
Not only does he give a very wasteful and useless gift, he also makes Meredith feel bad about herself and misses her birthday. I just don’t think these two are going to survive the season.
Then, at long last, it’s time for Jen’s/Meredith’s party:
Guests walk in to find a step and repeat that reads “Shah Chalet” spelled out in roses.
Once inside, guests find Jen’s shirtless male relatives serving hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. They are summarily objectified by the women attendees.
While Jen prepares upstairs for her grand entrance into Meredith’s birthday party, her very tipsy friend Sara waltzes into the room and starts singing sexy “Happy Birthday.”
Jen and Heather have to break it to Sara that it’s not Jen’s birthday, but Meredith’s.
“It’s Miss Shah’s party but not her birthday,” Heather says.
“Oh shiz,” Sara responds as she nearly spills her tequila.
Rumor has it that Jen and Sara are no longer speaking because Sara is deep into Qanon. That is in no way relevant to this episode but a fun fact nonetheless.
Meredith arrives to the party in a dress an entire flock of flamingos gave their life for:
And after a quick pit spritz ( I guess the botox hasn’t kicked in yet),
Jen makes her entrance. To Meredith’s birthday party:
And announces that she’s flown in Tongan dancers for the occasion:
If you’re wondering what Tongan dancers have to do with Meredith, you have something in common with the show producers:
“Tongan dancers have nothing to do with Meredith, they have everything to do with me,” Jen explains.
So there you have it.
At some point during the party, Heather decides Lisa has snubbed her again because Lisa only offers a “Hi! How are you?” as she walks past, and not a full stop and chat.
“Is it because I’m divorced? Because I don’t fit the mold? Because Lisa is only friends with perfect Mormons?” Heather asks. And look, I’m no therapist, but I’ve watched enough Sopranos to know this is a clear projection.
Heather also gives a weird monologue about alcohol, and claims that at any party where drinks are served you will find Mormons drinking in the corner, which is again, just not true. At least not at the parties I've been to. You know when you have a friend who’s dealing with a big life change and you want to be supportive but you’re also kind of tired of hearing them talk about it? That’s how I felt about Heather at minute 40 of this episode.
“I would shake your hand but I spilled tequila all over it,” Conspiracy Theorist Sara says to a stranger at the bar.
Again, apropo of nothing, but great.
Mary has arrived looking like Sixteen Candles and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” video had a baby and is vibing alone on the couch,
Until Jen sits down and confronts her about the hospital smell incident. Jen explains how hurt she was by Mary's actions after Jen had just spent the day comforting her aunt in the hospital, but she's met with nothing but defense from Mary.
“I had to have twelve surgeries getting all my odor glands removed,” Mary tells Jen, adding that she died two separate times on the operating table, and that’s why she can’t handle the smell of hospitals.
Jen isn’t buying this explanation, and tells Mary it wasn’t fair for her to tell their mutual friend Keri that Jen smelled like a hospital. Mary denies doing so, calls over Keri, and asks her if she told Jen that Mary told her she thought Jen smelled like a hospital.
“I absolutely did,” Keri said.
This is real. I am not making any of this up. I couldn’t if I tried. These 10 minutes really played out like this on TV.
As Keri smirks and Jen glares with a meatball mouth, it’s clear Mary has lost this argument.
But she still doesn’t believe she was wrong.
“I don’t know what you want me to do about your aunt. Her legs are gone. Why are you getting your legs cut off at 60? That means your diet is bad. She didn’t eat right. Drink more water,” Mary says to the producers. Again. All real things Mary said.
She says a version of all of that to Jen, so Jen storms away,
And slams the door.
And with that I’m left wondering if Jen and Mary will ever reconcile, if Heather will ever get the attention from Lisa she feels she deserves, and if I should be more self conscious about my armpits, and if so, should I look into getting my odor glands removed, or will botox will do the trick?
I’ll meet you back here next week to discuss.
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(Design: Joshua Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)