Without Bethenny, Real Housewives of New York City got even better

The Real Housewives of New York City‘s fourth season concludes next week*, and remarkably, it has gotten even better. In fact, it’s become a perfect example of why reality TV is so compelling–even though it is often painfully and hilariously clear that we are watching cast members who are very aware that they are being filmed for a TV show.

RHONYC is the only Housewives I watch any more, and I think it’s hands-down the best, mostly thanks to its cast, who are just so ridiculous it’s impossible not to laugh. Watch Cindy complain about having to fire one of her nannies, or LuAnn make up some ludicrous rule, judge someone for breaking it while she’s breaking it herself. Even their fights are comedy because they’re about nothing (hangers, dinner time), so its just fun to watch them–especially when they’re lacking self-awareness.

This is one of those shows I watch because I like it, and I rarely write about it because it’s hard to figure out exactly what I’m drawn to. But I did that today for The Daily Beast, talking about the show post-Bethenny Frankel and arguing that it’s gotten even better because the rest of the “ensemble has stepped up to fill the void, real or perceived.”

For that piece, I also talked to Christian Barcellos, the Bravo executive who oversees production on most of the Housewives shows and on Bethenny’s series. We talked about its artificiality–the way a lot of scenes and interactions seem set-up (mostly because of the logistics required to film in restaurants or parties), although what happens inside those contexts is very real and very entertaining. But he told me that producers really follow the leads of the women and what they’re doing. For example, the trip to Morocco wasn’t producers “spinning the globe,” as he told me, but something some of them had been talking about independently since the first day of shooting.

He also talked about the media circus that surrounds the show and is even part of the show, from “mean tweets” to the gossip publications that run stories he said are the result of viewers’ anxiety about what will happen to characters they’ve grown to care about. In the case of The Real Housewives, I care about them all, because they are all so fantastically amusing.

* Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the July 14 episode as the season finale; the listings I referenced were incorrect, and the season actually ends next week. I regret the error.

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