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Why Mary Cosby Shouldn't Return to 'RHOSLC'

By Chris Revelle | TV | March 14, 2023 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | March 14, 2023 |


It’s known and widely accepted that reality tv is a moderated and produced version of reality. Some series lean less produced, others lean more, but none are fully un-edited and all strive to put together a narrative that can be easily digested by audiences. There’s nothing wrong with that inherently, but it can lead to a tricky dynamic in which people, and all their contradictions and conflicts, are flattened and simplified in the process. What viewers interact with are not the people themselves, but personas negotiated between their behavior on camera, the producers, and the editing booth. When the things at play are fights at yet another Great Gatsby theme party or rich moms getting drunk in Cancun, it’s all relatively good fun. I contend that when the material in play is quite a bit darker and more troubling, some things aren’t fit for consumption as entertainment and that some people just shouldn’t be on reality TV.

Real Housewives of Salt Lake City had its first season in 2020, a year that was, you know, a time. The show was immediately popular as a voraciously dramatic franchise thanks in part to the big characters they cast like the self-proclaimed CEO of Fun Meredith Marks and her “fashion designer” son who shills sweatsuits with his name on them and the Bratz-Doll-esque Jen Shah who has since been convicted of defrauding the elderly through telemarketing scams. It was big and splashy and ridiculous. It’s everything Bravo viewers go for what with the broad, kooky characters having tense conversations in the waiting room of Beauty Lab + Laser and how Bad Mormon Heather Gay believes a thumbs-up emoji means “fuck you.” Mary Cosby stood out on the show, not just as one of a couple of women of color nor as a faithful non-Mormon Christian in Utah, but also for her past and for her circumstances.

In 1997, Mary’s grandmother Rosemary passed away, leaving her millions of dollars, assorted businesses, and the leadership of Faith Temple Pentecostal Church. As a condition of leadership and reception of funds, she was instructed to marry her step-grandfather. Since doing so, Faith Temple has been accused by many of becoming a cult with Mary positioned as God themself. If all of that wasn’t enough, Mary also claims that over the course of 12 surgeries, resulting in two near-death experiences, her odor glands were removed to address “an autoimmune [disease] where it causes my body to attack my odor glands, and when they attack them, they cause big boils.” From what Google tells me, she’s probably referring to Hidradenitis Suppurativa, but that doesn’t list surgical removal as a treatment, so take from that what you will.

So how did this all play out within the ridiculous circus of RHSLC? It all came across as awkwardly as you’re expecting. The gland-removal story comes out to explain why she said disparagingly of someone, “she smells like a hospital.” Mary tries to couch the marriage to her step-grandfather with, “Don’t think it wasn’t weird, because it was.” When allegations came out that her church takes large amounts of money from their members and someone compared it to Jen Shah’s fraud, Mary had this to say: “I’ve been through this my whole life because people hated me for my life and my lifestyle … It’s not fair to put me with someone [like Jen]. When I think about Jen, I see heartless, I see a thug. Like, you know, those Mexican people that make all those drugs. To pit me with that?!”

Mary ended up skipping the season 2 reunion episode when her apology for that comment didn’t go over well and allegations about her church did not die down. Suffice to say, the persona projected by Mary played strangely; when Housewives is meant to offer aspirational lives and soap-level melodrama, hereditary cult leadership and will-mandated marriage that is only technically not incest does take well to the glamorizing sheen. After being absent for season 3, Mary is returning to the show as a Friend Of, which is roughly equivalent to a recurring guest-star role. Many former Housewives have returned this way before. Mary should not be one of them.

I would argue that Mary is going through things altogether too dark and too personal for reality tv. Her trauma doesn’t excuse her behavior, but she’s received trauma from things too real for entertainment. Pentecostalism is an intense evangelical sect of Christianity and when you add that the leadership of Rosemary’s church and businesses were left to her grand-daughter who then had to also marry her step-grandfather as if she assumed her grandmother’s mantle and life, I do not think things are well here. I wonder how much agency Mary really has in all this as Pentecostalism isn’t known for their progressive ideas about gender. I also question whether platforming a potential cult on Real Housewives is a good idea. Obviously, Bravo had misgivings about another Friend Of, Sara McArthur, a QAnon adherent who was present at the January 6th Insurrection who was let go from the show when her leanings were made known. I’m not saying I expect consistency from Bravo, but I would argue they could stand to be this discerning again.

Lastly, I think this is too serious for reality tv. There are certain things that are simply not entertaining and it’s ghoulish to try applying the glittery glamorous aspirational lens to Mary’s story. I question why we want to even try. What part of her background lends itself to fun drama? As I find myself asking more and more, who wants reality tv with that much baggage? There could be a phenomenon at play here where the flattening of a person that occurs when they enter the messypersonverse (thanks, Mr. Bissonette!) means that if/when that person’s drama becomes more real, it might not be taken as seriously as it should. Mary’s background is not a fun and ridiculous drama involving big characters making a mess. It’s a darkened world of a likely cult and askance near-incest and intensely invasive surgery for dubiously explained goals. It’s just too much to take lightly.

Some things just aren’t fit for fun drama and that’s OK! It can be good to remember that reality tv is cheap and plentiful, so we don’t have to feed on someone’s real trauma. It’s possible to have entertainment that doesn’t ask for a compromise like that. Perfect Match, Next in Fashion, Singles Inferno, the shows are out there that give you drama without having to sensationalize something too dark to be fun. Give yourself the break you deserve and consume some trash that isn’t so heavy.