TV & Movies

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide To The Real Housewives

In the 15 years since the inaugural season of The Real Housewives franchise debuted on Bravo, memes about the show have become inescapable. We’ve all seen that picture of “woman yelling at a cat” (aka RHOBH’s Taylor Armstrong) or heard “Waking Up in the Morning,” Gia Giudice’s actually-sad-as-hell song from RHONJ Season 3 that recently went viral on TikTok. But if you've never watched the show, it might feel easier to simply mute the group chat than to begin the long process of acquainting yourself with a franchise that has thousands of episodes and an entire language of GIFs, taglines, and quotes. With eight U.S. shows currently airing and more than 40 spinoffs and international versions, where do you even start?

I won’t lie to you: It will be an arduous journey filled with tears, scandal, and a truly inadvisable amount of wine, but one that will quickly prove to be worth the effort. The Real Housewives is the only place on television you’ll be able to watch a drunk, vape-puffing psychic derail an entire dinner party or a Pentecostal church leader take another woman to task for calling her a “grandpa-f*cker.” And it’s more than low-brow entertainment: Yes, the women featured are obscenely privileged and astonishingly petty, but they also deal with sobering issues like divorce, substance misuse, grief, and even prison time. Frankly, I’m jealous you still have a whole world of eccentric characters, unhinged fights, and genuine friendships left to discover. To help ease you into the chaos, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to start watching The Real Housewives (all streamable on Hulu), listed in order of which franchises to watch first.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

The Basics

First episode date: Oct. 14, 2010

Number of seasons: 10 (Season 11 premieres May 19)

Spinoffs: Vanderpump Rules, Vanderpump Rules: Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky

Following the glamorous women of Hollywood’s hidden hills, Beverly Hills is a fascinating glimpse into L.A.’s most elite circles, where fame and youth are the most valuable currency and everyone seems to know everyone. It stars a number of actors from previous eras — including Kim and Kyle Richards, Lisa Rinna, and Eileen Davidson — and between the family secrets, alleged affairs, and many lawsuits, it plays like a real-life Hollywood soap opera. Beverly Hills may not be the best franchise overall, but it’s certainly the easiest place to dive in; it will feel familiar to anyone who grew up watching 90210, The Hills, and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Where to Start

Start Beverly Hills at the very beginning. With legal threats, million dollar weddings, and sisters squabbling over a house that one allegedly stole from the other, Seasons 1 through 3 are early reality TV at its finest. It’s worth persevering through Season 4, which introduces two new Wives who just don’t mesh well with the group, to get to the introduction of Lisa Rinna and Eileen Davidson in Season 5. But despite juicy rivalries, several iconic late additions (notably Dorit Kemsley, Denise Richards, and Garcelle Beauvais), and an explosive alleged affair between Denise and former Housewife Brandi Glanville, the show has yet to recapture the magic of its first few seasons.

Who to Know

Beverly Hills stands out because of its star power. Where else can you watch Paris Hilton’s aunt arguing with Gigi Hadid’s mother and Kelsey Grammer’s ex-wife? But the show also creates its own stars, like Erika Jayne, the sharp-tongued wife of a (now disgraced) lawyer turned pop star and soon-to-be divorcee. Ultimately, RHOBH is a battle of two Lisas: Vanderpump (the master manipulator) versus Rinna (everyone’s favorite problematic pot-stirrer). But it also also has a legion of guest stars whose contributions to the show can’t be understated, from outlandish party planner Kevin Lee to Kyle’s polarizing BFF, the “morally corrupt” Faye Resnick.

Current Housewives: Kyle Richards, Lisa Rinna, Erika Girardi, Dorit Kemsley, Garcelle Beauvais, Sutton Stracke, Crystal Kung Minkoff

Previous figures of note: Faye Resnick, Lisa Vanderpump, Kim Richards, Camille Grammer, Yolanda Hadid (and her children, Gigi, Bella, and Anwar), Brandi Glanville, Taylor Armstrong, Lucy Lucy Apple Juice, The Bunny

Best Episodes

“The Dinner Party From Hell” (Season 1, Episode 9), “Game Night Gone Wild!” (Season 2, Episode 7), and “Amster-damn” (Season 5, Episode 16) feature some of the most dramatic, GIF-able, and pivotal conflicts in Housewives history. “Showdown at Villa Rosa” (Season 9, Episode 8) is so tense that it can only be watched with a glass of (preferably Vanderpump) rosé. Reunions-wise, it doesn’t get better than Lisa Rinna’s first reunion in Season 5, where she and Brandi Glanville go head to head. And in Season 7’s reunion, Kim Richards infamously returns the stuffed bunny Rinna gifted to her grandchild because it didn’t have “good energy.”

Best Tagline

“You can stab me in the back, but whilst you’re there, kiss my ass.” — Lisa Vanderpump, Season 9

The Real Housewives of New York City

The Basics

First episode date: March 4, 2008

Number of seasons: 13

Spinoffs: Bethenny Ever After, Bethenny & Fredrik, The Big Shot With Bethenny

If you watch only one Housewives franchise, let it be The Real Housewives of New York City. The second longest-running Housewives show, RHONY follows the lives of wealthy Manhattanites (and one notable Brooklyn couple) at Upper East Side charity galas, Hamptons getaways, and the front row of New York Fashion Week. The Housewives are as blunt as they come — when there’s a problem, they aren’t afraid to “mention it all!” — and Page Six is brought up so often it’s practically a recurring character. Think of RHONY as a cross between Gossip Girl and Sex and the City, but if Carrie could actually afford all of those Manolo Blahniks.

Where to Start

If you aren’t fazed by the idea of two seasons’ worth of arguments about people being slightly late to events, start from the beginning. Otherwise, it’s probably best to skip ahead to Season 3, when the drama is in full swing. Seasons 1 and 2 are essential to understanding the arc of the franchise, most crucially seeing Bethenny Frankel before she made it big in business and the early days of her doomed friendship with Jill Zarin. But the early seasons were filmed in a time when the pace of the show was slower. You can always go back and watch; it’s just better to save them until you’re fully invested.

After Season 3, feel free to jump past Season 4 (which is quite dark and generally feels off) and straight into Season 5, when the show is rebooted with three new faces. It’s a complete masterpiece from then onward.

Who to Know

Come and stay for Bethenny Frankel, a bitchy but mostly lovable entrepreneur who serves as our relatable anchor in an otherwise impossibly rich and often out of touch group. She has a true underdog story, navigating through singledom, finance struggles, marriage, and divorce to eventually become one of the most successful business moguls on the show. She left the series for the second time after Season 11, but OGs Ramona Singer and Luann de Lesseps — who once tried to get a pizza delivery guy to address her as “countess” — are worth sticking around for. Sonja Morgan is the slightly tragic Samantha Jones who you can’t help but root for, and Dorinda Medley — the host who “made it nice” during the cast’s storied trips to the “Bezerkshires” — belongs in the Housewives Hall of Fame.

Current Housewives: Luann de Lesseps, Ramona Singer, Sonja Morgan, Leah McSweeney, Eboni K. Williams

Previous figures of note: Bethenny Frankel, Jill Zarin, Alex and Simon Van Kempen, Aviva Drescher, Carole Radziwill, Thomas “The Pirate,” Harry Dubin, Tom D’Agostino, Dorinda Medley, John Mahdessian

Best Episodes

“Scary Island,” the cast’s trip to St. John in Season 3 in which Kelly Bensimon appears to have some sort of mental breakdown, is a must-watch, as is Season 5’s trip to St. Barts featuring a Johnny Depp look-alike. The Season 6 finale, in which Aviva Drescher takes off her prosthetic leg and slams it on the table, is one of the most talked about moments in Housewives history. And if you’ve got a sentimental side, don’t miss “From Ashes to Bashes,” Dorinda and Carole’s Season 7 trip to London where they reflect on their late husbands.

Best Tagline

“I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me, acquire some taste!” — Ramona Singer, Season 9

The Real Housewives of Potomac

The Basics

First episode date: Jan. 17, 2016

Number of seasons: 5

Potomac is perhaps the most underrated franchise. The show might not be as dramatic as Atlanta and New Jersey or as opulent as Beverly Hills and New York, but it has some of the most chaotic and quick-witted Housewives that Bravo has to offer. There are bankruptcies, cheating allegations, and an incredible array of wigs. Plus, unlike most of the other franchises, it follows a group of Black and mixed race women in a predominantly white city and features interesting discussions about topics like race, colorism, and misogynoir.

Where to Start

You should start Potomac from the beginning, but be warned that it doesn’t really kick into gear until Season 3. The payoff is big: Seasons 4 and 5 are two of the best seasons of Housewives ever recorded.

Who to Know

As a newer franchise, Potomac still has four of its original six Housewives. The women who’ve left the show also make regular appearances, so the drama feels real and the friendships deep. Karen “The Grande Dame” Huger assumes the Ramona Singer/Lisa Vanderpump matriarch role, Gizelle Bryant gives pot-stirrers Lisa Rinna and Dorinda “Meddler” a run for their money, and Ashley Darby and her husband, Michael, are a never-ending source of scandal. The big feud to watch is between Monique Samuels and Candiace Dillard, who end up in a physical altercation that sent shockwaves through the Housewives world.

Current Housewives: Gizelle Bryant, Ashley Darby, Candiace Dillard, Wendy Osefo, Robyn Dixon, Karen Huger, Mia Thornton

Previous figures of note: Monique Samuels, Katie Rost, Jamal Bryant, the butter knife, the IRS, T’Challa

Best Episodes

Potomac reunions are always fiery, but Season 4’s “Sex, Lies, and Butter Knives” has some of the best conflict on the show, as do the episodes that center on cheating and sexual misconduct allegations against Ashley’s husband, Michael, in Seasons 4 and 5, like “Opening Old Wounds,” “Serving Up Betrayals,” and “The Tipping Point.”

Best Tagline

“Honey, the grande dame doesn’t repeat history — she makes it.” — Karen Huger, Season 5

The Real Housewives of New Jersey

The Basics

First episode date: May 12, 2009

Number of seasons: 11

Spinoffs: Manzo’d With Children, Boyz to Manzo, Teresa Checks In

The Real Housewives of New Jersey is The-Sopranos-meets-Jersey-Shore mash-up you absolutely did not ask for yet never knew you needed. The Housewives have no filter, the husbands are so entertaining they need their own show, and the drama is next-level: Prepare for table-flipping, physical brawls, and even prison time. That being said, if toxic masculinity and wives of the MAGA persuasion aren’t your idea of escapism, New Jersey might not be the best fit for you.

Where to Start

New Jersey has been around for more than a decade, so the early episodes feel very old, but the conflicts are so interwoven and go on for so long that you’ll benefit from starting from the beginning. The show hit its sweet spot between Seasons 9 and 11, when it strikes the balance between explosive drama and sentimental, impactful storylines, like Jackie Goldschneider’s recovery from anorexia and Jennifer Aydin supporting her brother as their Turkish family comes to terms with his sexuality.

Who to Know

New Jersey is full of antiheroes, heroes, and villains, with the roles shifting from one season to the next. Teresa Giudice, the only remaining OG Housewife on the show, is both the alpha of the group and its biggest star. Despite having an anger streak, going to jail for multi-million dollar fraud, and openly supporting Trump, she has, against all odds, managed to stay somewhat likable. Her relationship with fellow Housewife and sister-in-law Melissa Gorga is reminiscent of Kyle and Kim Richards in Beverly Hills. Danielle Staub is one of the finest villains on the entire Housewives franchise, and Dolores Catania and Margaret Josephs are the glue that holds later seasons together.

Current Housewives: Teresa Giudice, Melissa Gorga, Jackie Goldschneider, Dolores Catania, Margaret Josephs, Jennifer Aydin

Previous figures of note: Caroline Manzo, Jacqueline Laurita, Joe Giudice, Danielle Staub, Kathy Wakile

Best Episodes

New Jersey’s confrontation scenes are its most epic, from the Season 1 finale where Teresa flips a table to Danielle’s physical attack on Margaret in Season 10’s “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.” The show’s most compelling episodes, including Season 6’s “Guilt Trip,” “There Will Be Bloodwork,” and “Judgment Day,” feature Teresa and her husband Joe’s legal troubles.

Best Tagline

“I used to flip tables, now I’m turning them.” — Teresa Giudice, Season 7

The Real Housewives of Atlanta

The Basics

First episode date: Oct. 7, 2008

Number of seasons: 13

Spinoffs: Don’t Be Tardy, The Kandi Factory, Kandi’s Wedding, Kandi’s Ski Trip, I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding, Porsha’s Having a Baby, Kandi Koated Nights

Atlanta was Bravo’s first foray into the South, as well as the first (and still one of the only) franchises with a majority-Black cast. It has some of the best wigs on television, shade that could put RuPaul’s Drag Race to shame, and the first (and only) four-part reunion because there was just that much drama to dissect. It also has probably the biggest back catalogue of GIFs and one-liners.

Where to Start

Season 3 is likely your easiest entrée to RHOA. Kim and Nene’s on-again, off-again friendship is at its most entertaining, plus we get to see Kandi and Kim’s frenemy-ship as they both pursue music ventures following their disastrous collaboration on Kim’s delectably bad party pop anthem, “Don’t Be Tardy to the Party.

Season 8 is a bit of a dud season, with a new Housewife (Kim Fields) who didn’t gel with the other women and an icky homophobic storyline about one of the husbands supposedly being gay. You won’t miss much by skipping it!

Who to Know

NeNe Leakes is the Bethenny Frankel of Atlanta: The fame she cultivated from the show helped take it to a new level. Before Bethenny’s Season 7 return to RHONY, Nene was reported to be Bravo’s highest paid Housewife, and given the amount of drama and memes she’s generated, it’s easy to see why. Kim Zolciak, meanwhile, is a reliable source of comedic relief, and Porsha Williams starts off slow before evolving into an all-time favorite.

Current Housewives: Kandi Burruss, Cynthia Bailey, Porsha Williams, Kenya Moore, Drew Sidora

Previous figures of note: Nene Leakes, Kim Zolciak-Biermann, Shereé Whitfield, Marlo Hampton, Shamea Morton, Phaedra Parks, Dwight Eubanks

Best Episodes

Season 3 has some real gems, including “Tour-ture,” a friction-filled episode in which Kim realizes that touring with Kandi is nowhere near as glamorous as she thought it would be. In the Season 3 finale, Cynthia ties the knot with her now-ex-husband Peter — with no thanks to her mother and sister, who hilariously attempt to hide their marriage license. Season 9 culminates in the aforementioned four-part reunion, and Season 13 brings several legendary episodes too. Its premiere, “No Justice, No Peace,” focuses sensitively and movingly on the Black Lives Matter movement, while in “What Happened in the Dungeon?” we see the ladies get very raunchy at Cynthia’s bachelorette party. (There’s even rumors of a threesome with two Housewives and a stripper.)

Best Tagline

“I don’t keep up with the Joneses; I am the Joneses.” — NeNe Leakes, Season 2

The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

The Basics

First episode date: Nov. 11, 2020

Number of seasons: 1 (with a second season forthcoming)

Salt Lake City may be the newest addition to the Housewives universe, but it already has the potential to usurp RHONY as the cream of the crop. Set in the Mormon capital of the world, it features some… unusual characters, including a woman who married her step-grandfather and another who’s now embroiled in a federal fraud investigation. Oh, and apparently a lot of swingers.

The cast is also the Housewives’ most diverse, though that admittedly isn’t saying much: New York and Dallas both only recently added the first women of color to their formerly all-white casts, while Beverly Hills cast its first Black Housewife last year.

Where to Start

With only one season, there’s not much to catch up on, but rest assured: RHOSLC is God-tier reality TV from its first minute.

Who to Know

The first season centers around ongoing tension between quirky church leader Mary Cosby and the outspoken Jen Shah, who views herself as the head honcho in the group. But it’s ex-Mormons Heather Gay and Whitney Rose who emerge as the true stars (don’t just take my word for it, Rihanna thinks so too). I also have a soft spot for Whitney’s dad, who provides one of Season 1’s most emotional storylines (and standout hairstyles).

Current Housewives: Jen Shah, Heather Gay, Mary Cosby, Meredith Marks, Whitney Rose, Lisa Barlow

Other figures of note: Meredith’s son Brooks, a scene-stealing young fashion designer; Jen Shah’s husband, “Coach Shah,” and her “first assistant,” Stuart Smith, who’s also under investigation for fraud

Best Episodes

SLC starts off with a bang, with the first and second episodes being two of its strongest. The cast trip to Vegas (the third-last and penultimate episodes) feature jaw-dropping confrontations that need to be seen to be believed.

Best Tagline

“This rose isn’t scared to handle a little prick.” — Whitney Rose, Season 1

The Real Housewives of Dallas

The Basics

First episode date: April 11, 2016

Number of seasons: 5

Dallas is somewhat of a Housewives hodgepodge. It’s got the real estate of Beverly Hills and the chaos of Potomac, but also a brand of Southern charm that feels Atlanta-esque while remaining distinctly Texan. It has some great Housewives, a strong selection of supporting cast members, and a setting that adds something different to the Bravo universe. But just as the Democrats always say they’re going to win Texas, Dallas always narrowly misses bringing it home. Save it for the end of your Housewives marathon, when you’re in too deep to turn back.

Where to Start

Dallas is only five seasons and there’s some great drama early on, so start from the beginning.

Who to Know

One thing working in Dallas’ favor is that, by its fifth season, the majority of the Housewives are either OGs or joined in Season 2, which makes the relationships and conflicts feel genuine. LeeAnne Locken is the undisputed villain of the franchise, and her tumultuous relationship with D’Andra Simmons is reminiscent of Kyle Richards and Lisa Vanderpump’s ill-fated friendship in Beverly Hills. Brandi Redmond is the lovable underdog, and Kameron Westcott is the rich one who knows a lot about etiquette and won’t hesitate to remind you of it.

Current Housewives: Stephanie Hollman, Brandi Redmond, D’Andra Simmons, Kameron Westcott, Kary Brittingham, Tiffany Moon

Other figures of note: Momma Dee, LeeAnne Locken

Best Episodes

Season 1’s cast trip to Austin in “Killing Time in Austin” provides one of the most dramatic and shocking “hot mic” moments in Housewives history. Season 4’s trip to Thailand — and the fallout from it, which continues through the reunion and results in a cast member being fired — is also a must-watch.

Best Tagline

“This isn’t my first rodeo, so I’m not taking your bull.” — Brandi Redmond, Season 3

The Real Housewives of Orange County

The Basics

First episode date: March 21, 2006

Number of seasons: 15

Spinoffs: Tamra’s OC Wedding, Date My Ex: Jo & Slade

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll probably settle for anything that feeds your Housewives obsession. Which is good, because RHOC has been stuck in a bit of an identity crisis for some time. The drama seldom feels relatable (but also isn’t unrelatable enough to be escapist) and the moments in which we feel connected to the cast and what they’re going through are rare. Recent additions, such as Braunwyn Windham-Burke and Gina Kirschenheiter, have improved things a bit, as did a focus on the coronavirus pandemic in the most recent season. But Andy Cohen has hinted that a relaunch could be on the way, and this franchise is definitely crying out for one.

Where to Start

RHOC’s high point is between Seasons 7 and 10, when Heather Dubrow and Shannon Storms Beador join the cast. The early seasons are pretty antiquated, but do contain iconic rivalries between Tamra Barney, Gretchen Rossi, and “Jesus jugs” Alexis Bellino. If you can stomach the most recent seasons, in which the cast chemistry is way off, more power to you!

Who to Know

RHOC’s resident matriarch is Vicki Gunvalson, the self-proclaimed “OG of the OC” whose rocky friendship with Tamra Judge was the highlight of the show before they both left in Season 14. There have been several forgettable one-season Wives over the years, but also two incredible later additions: hexagonal ice enthusiast Heather Dubrow and Shannon Storms Beador. Current cast member Braunwyn Windham-Burke is Bravo’s first openly lesbian housewife, while Kelly Dodd is inarguably the most controversial Housewife in Bravo history.

Current Housewives: Shannon Storms Beador, Kelly Dodd, Gina Kirschenheiter, Emily Simpson, Braunwyn Windham-Burke, Elizabeth Lyn Vargas

Previous figures of note: Vicki Gunvalson, Tamra Judge, Heather Dubrow, Alexis Bellino, Gretchen Rossi, Meghan King Edmonds, Lauri Peterson, Jeana Keough, Brooks Ayers, Slade Smiley, Briana Culberson

Best Episodes

The Season 10 premiere, which sees Shannon Beador attending her own “funeral” in couples therapy with her now ex-husband, is painfully awkward, amazing television if you can get past how bleak it is. The latter half of Season 10, when Vicki Gunvalson’s boyfriend Brooks Ayers’ cancer diagnosis comes under scrutiny from the rest of the cast, is spellbinding and ends with a climactic finale that can’t be missed.

Best Tagline

“If at first you don’t succeed, try it my way.” — Heather Dubrow, Season 11