the real housewives

Porsha Williams’s Spinoff Is Housewives Damage Control

Photo: Bravo/Youtube

There is no Real Housewives maxim more consistent, more franchise-spanning than “own it.” The two-word admonition is most associated with the woman who made it her catchphrase, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Lisa Rinna, but the concept predates her and extends far beyond the West Coast. “Own it” is simply a reminder that being on a reality show means having to confront (on camera) the less polished aspects of your life: the divorces, the legal issues, the tabloid headlines. Housewives can often skate through a season or two unscathed, but eventually every cast member will find herself with a target on her back, and it’s how she handles her time in the hot seat that determines her future on the series.

Over the course of eight seasons on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Porsha Williams was dealt her fair share of controversy and general unpleasantness — her divorce from Kordell Stewart, which she learned about on Twitter; her false allegations of attempted sexual assault by Kandi Burruss, which was fed to her by another cast member who didn’t survive the dustup; and that time she thought the Underground Railroad was a literal railroad, which she put far behind her with her work as an activist for the Black Lives Matter movement. Porsha’s ability to weather the storm, and her personal growth both in front of and away from the cameras, made her one of the most dynamic and likable Housewives in any city.

On paper, then, a Porsha-centric spinoff feels like a sensible next step for Bravo and for Porsha herself, who has earned the right to step into the spotlight outside of the ensemble work of RHOA. In reality, however, Porsha’s Family Matters is a frustrating cop-out. Faced with a controversy it would be hard to wriggle out of — the accusation that she stole a castmate’s husband — Porsha decided to bail on the series when she might be held accountable in order to hash things out on the friendlier terrain of a spinoff that allows her to call the shots.

To be fair, it’s not as though Porsha’s Family Matters is papering over the drama. The series is largely centered around Porsha’s new relationship with entrepreneur Simon Guobadia, whom she first met when he was married to Falynn Guobadia, a recurring presence on the most recent season of RHOA. There’s no avoiding the reality of the situation even as Porsha and her new beau work hard to smooth over the timeline. They allegedly didn’t start DM’ing each other until Simon and Falynn had called it quits — Simon says Porsha DM’d him immediately after his divorce announcement, while she maintains that he made the first move. And yes, they technically did announce their engagement before Simon’s divorce from Falynn was final, but they swear they thought Simon’s marriage would be officially over first.

The most interesting thing about Porsha’s Family Matters is it’s a flagrant attempt at repairing Porsha’s image but isn’t all that effective as damage control. Porsha alternates between being genuinely wounded about the fans not understanding her new relationship (what is there to understand?) to saying, “Fuck everybody. Fuck what they got to say.” For his part, Simon insists “the engagement happening too fast is nobody’s damn business.” Porsha is at least still charming onscreen, and the flashbacks to some of her lower moments on RHOA help her recover sympathy amid her fraught situation. But Simon is uniquely uncharismatic, looking sleepy and dismissive in his confessionals. Generally speaking, if a Housewife’s spouse (or almost-spouse) gets a talking head, it’s because he has something compelling to say. Simon’s half-assed performance doesn’t exactly do much to counter the theory — thrown out somewhat obliquely by Porsha’s ex, Dennis McKinley — that she’s with Simon for the financial security his bank account provides.

Dennis turns out to be the surprising breakout of the spinoff. On RHOA, he was mostly just loathsome, another regrettable romantic choice who cheated on Porsha while she was pregnant with their child. On Porsha’s Family Matters, he emerges as the voice of reason, the only cast member (so far) who’s really saying what the audience is thinking. Dennis is right that no matter how Porsha and Simon work to contextualize the timeline of their relationship, Porsha looks like “the man-stealer of the century.” And who better than Dennis, a man who Porsha expeditiously tried and failed to forge a life with, to offer the analysis, “Porsha flies fast, and she crashes very hard.”

Dennis aside, there are certainly things to enjoy about the series, including well-deserved bigger roles for Porsha’s sister, Lauren, and mother, Diane, than either ever got on Housewives. But ultimately, the spinoff is as far from “owning it” as possible. While it’s true Porsha could have simply abandoned reality TV entirely, giving her a show of her own allows her to have her cake and eat it too: She gets to reclaim her narrative after some really damaging headlines on the blogs without risking a villain edit. Every Housewife can attempt a redemption arc, but you have to be willing to put the work in, and that means showing up even when the knives are out.

It’s impossible not to think about what season 14 of RHOA would look like had Porsha chosen to stick around. There’s no question that her nemesis (and expert behind-the-scenes producer/shit-stirrer) Kenya Moore would have orchestrated a confrontation between Porsha and Falynn, most likely inviting the latter unannounced to a cast gathering. The fights would have turned ugly, the shade vicious — even Porsha’s allies would have been forced to admit her quickie engagement to Simon doesn’t look good from an outside perspective.

Porsha had every right to quit: No one should be forced to face the music if they’d rather opt out. Kim Zolciak left RHOA behind when it was clear no one wanted to film with her anymore and put all her attention into her spinoff, Don’t Be Tardy. And when Lisa Vanderpump was accused of leaking a damaging story about another Housewife to Radar Online, she stopped filming RHOBH halfway through the season. Now she exists solely on her spinoff, Vanderpump Rules (and another one about foster dogs that seven people watch). These women found success on long-running Bravo series outside of Housewives proper, but even with those precedents, Porsha’s Family Matters is the most flagrant example yet of jumping ship for a spinoff.

That matters because Porsha’s choice to take her juiciest story line and address it solely on her own show could be the start of a disappointing trend. At a time when too many Housewives are walking away rather than dealing with the fallout of their latest missteps, it doesn’t seem like a smart move to give them the option of sidestepping their main series for a gentler, more tightly controlled spinoff. What’s to stop Erika Girardi from deciding she’s sick of battling Sutton Stracke over her half-truths on RHOBH and instead trying to negotiate an Erika-centric series with Bravo instead? What happens when The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’s Jen Shah concludes she’s too Shah-mazing to document the fallout from her alleged crimes on an ensemble series and should get a spinoff of her own? The end result is the original Housewives shows suffer — not to mention the fans who watch them.

It’s possible Porsha’s Family Matters will eventually deliver a satisfying conclusion to her lightning-fast man-stealing engagement story line. “I promise you one day it will all make sense,” Simon tells Porsha’s friend Drew Sidora in the premiere, and maybe he’s right. But letting Porsha and Simon dictate the terms of their story doesn’t just make for a mediocre series — in a larger sense, it’s reality-TV malpractice.

Porsha Williams’s Spinoff Is Housewives Damage Control