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Reality TV ‘Should Be Fun’: How the Female Friendships of ‘Summer House’ Improve the Genre

By Emma Chance | TV | May 23, 2024 |

By Emma Chance | TV | May 23, 2024 |

@bravotv #SUMMER 👏 SHOULD 👏 BE 👏 FUN 👏 How is it already mid-July? 😭 #SummerHouse #summertime #summer2020 #SummerProject #TwoOptions #bravotv #hamptons ♬ Summer Should Be Fun from Summer House - Bravo

The Bravo version of reality television capitalizes on conflict between women. The Housewives franchise, in its early days at least, was built on the backs of rich women behaving badly and then yelling at each other about behaving badly. These shows pit women against each other, be they mere acquaintances (in most cases) or familial relations (in the case of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Beverly Hills) in a sort of reverse Hunger Games situation: the rich people are the tributes fighting to the (metaphorical) death, and we mere plebeians get to watch.

Or that’s how it used to be. There came a time when the rich women behaving badly just didn’t do it for us like it used to. They started behaving so badly that it wasn’t funny anymore, or they literally went to jail for behaving badly (in the case of…well, a handful of shows), and those of us who used to say, “But are you not entertained?” in response to the people who’d say, “You know those shows aren’t really real, right?” couldn’t even say that anymore because:

1. It wasn’t entertaining anymore, and
2. It was, if anything, too real. Like, so real it was dark. (Especially in the case of everything that went down on New York City.)

Enter: Summer House.

For the uninitiated, Summer House is essentially a newfangled version of The Real World. A bunch of 20- and 30-something New Yorkers all share a house in the Hamptons for the summer, where they go every weekend to hang out and party together. The typical reality show stuff ensues there: breakups, hookups, drunken accidents involving pools and yard toys, etc.

The success of a Summer House season, as with most reality shows, depends entirely on the cast, but maybe more so because these people don’t have to hang out together occasionally, they have to actually live together for 48ish hours at a time. In past seasons this has meant casting people who don’t get along and seeing what happens, which has produced a range of quality from great, classic reality trash to basically watching grass grow. Season 7 was good because it documented the controversial relationship of two longtime cast members and how that relationship revealed cracks in the dynamics of the larger group. Season 8 came with much anticipation, as viewers knew that relationship had already broken down, and now we would get to watch its demise in real-time. What was unexpected, though, was what that meant for the women.

It’s a motley crew of women who make up the SH season 8 cast. Up to this point, they have most certainly not all been besties, but suddenly, under the shadows of their aging Peter Pans, the women found each other. Paige DeSorbo, Amanda Batula, and Ciara Miller had previously been pretty cliquey—they were the girls you wanted to hang out with at summer camp, all cuddling together in each other’s beds, playing pranks and dressing up in silly costumes—and decidedly anti-Lindsay Hubbard (one half of the aforementioned controversial relationship), Gabby Prescod, and Danielle Olivera, all of whom were a little more straight-laced and, frankly, boy crazy (but not in a fun way).

But this season they put all of their past grievances aside to band together in support of what was clearly a woman in distress (Lindsay). Danielle is the exception to this rule, but she proves that healthy female friendship makes good television by not contributing to the female friendships of the season and therefore getting very little screen time, so that’s the last I’ll say of her. Amanda, whose husband is the best friend and former business partner of Lindsay’s then (now ex) fiancé, listened to Lindsay’s concerns about getting married and understood her perspective, and then made sure that perspective was represented in conversations about her she wasn’t present for, even when it caused problems between her and her own husband. Paige was the one who sat Lindsay down at a party and had the “I’ve got the car running outside if you wanna bail” conversation with her. These are women who couldn’t stand to be in the same room together a year ago. Separate from Lindsay’s thing (and proving the show can pass the Bechdel Test), Paige was also the one who encouraged Amanda to work for herself instead of her husband, telling her, “I wish you saw yourself as I picture you in my head.”

Representations of female friendships like this are especially important in this changing reality TV landscape to lay the groundwork for what will be accepted in the genre going forward. Shows like Vanderpump Rules have utterly failed in this respect, where concerns of fourth-wall-breaking and what’s real and what isn’t continue to take precedence over genuine relationships and friends supporting each other through life’s various changes and obstacles. The women of that show have completely disbanded in the face of conflict with their menfolk, as opposed to the women of Summer House, who came together. If we claim to be concerned about the reality (read: veracity) of reality television, we have to care about how the storylines and themes of the shows in question represent the culture they exist in, because art (pause for sounds of readers exiting in outrage at the writer calling reality TV art) abhors a vacuum. Thus, in a world where anyone who isn’t biologically male continues to experience mounting prejudice and oppression, women like the ones of Summer House season 8 (minus Danielle) are the reality stars we need.