What TV Gets Right About Rich Older Women, According to the Real Housewives

What TV Gets Right About Rich Older Women, According to the Real Housewives

The cast of ‘The Real Housewives of New York City,’ including Luann de Lesseps, Ramona Singer, Sonja Morgan and Dorinda Medley, introduced viewers to the lifestyles of Manhattan’s wealthy.

Photo: Thomas Concordia/Getty Images

Before there was a “Sex and the City” spinoff, “The Real Housewives of New York City” offered a peek into the lives of wealthy Manhattan women and the aspirational lifestyle that the original HBO show made famous. 

The scripted sequel, “And Just Like That…,” now in its second season, re-connects with heroine Carrie Bradshaw after two decades. The original show, though not without its heavy themes, basked in wild dates and luxury shopping sprees. The new series finds grist in aging, loss and losing step with the times. Viewers, including Real Housewives who see their own glam ambitions in these iconic characters, are split on whether “And Just Like That…” paints middle age in a way worth envying.

The spinoff’s first season was criticized for its depiction of women in their 50s, with plotlines that included hip surgery, widowhood and alcoholism. The second season, which kicked off with a sex montage, is trying to get closer to the verve of the show from the ’90s and aughts. (“The Real Housewives of New York City,” meanwhile, returns with a new cast this Sunday on Bravo, though most members are closer in age to Carrie in the Cosmo-and-tutu era of the ’90s.)

Ramona Singer, famous for sipping Pinot Grigio and coining “Turtle Time” as a term for cutting loose with her girlfriends, craves more of the original show’s zest. “I’m 60-something, I act younger than them,” she says. “I can’t dance on tables. I’ll dance on a chair. The last time I danced on a table I broke a wrist.” 

In the new season, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) continues to move on after the death of her husband Mr. Big (Chris Noth) while pursuing a new career in podcasting and occasionally sleeping with her pleasantly bland audio producer. In the show’s expanded and diverse cast, careers and love lives and sexual orientations are in various stages of flux.

The ‘Sex and the City’ spinoff finds grist in aging, loss and losing step with the times.

Photo: Craig Blakenhorn/HBO Max

Dorinda Medley, whose best-known Housewife line is “I’ll tell ya how I’m doing: Not well, bitch,” says the sequel speaks to women her age. 

“These are women that have been through a lot of twists and turns and marriages and divorces and deaths,” says Medley, 58, who like Carrie is a widow and who, also like Carrie, is now pursuing a new career in audio. She has a SiriusXM show. 

“The thing about women of our era is we’re not afraid to start over,” she says.

Some Real Housewives say one element the sequel gets wrong is the dating. In real life, the men asking out well-to-do Manhattan doyennes tend to be younger, less established—and broke.

“We offer wealth and social currency, we’re in the sky lounge when we fly, we’re first-class this, five-star that,” says former Housewife Eboni K. Williams, 39, speaking from Lake Garda in northern Italy, where she traveled solo because she didn’t want to settle for a man who can’t pay for his own fantasy vacation. “The theme that warms my loin is the man that’s super ambitious, that’s achieved the things I value.”

Like Carrie, she yearns for more. “Would I have preferred to be here with a man I love and we make passionate love until the early morning? You’re goddamn right I would.”

Eboni K. Williams, a former Real Housewife.

Photo: Charles Sykes/Bravo via Getty Images

While she calls it well-intentioned, Williams says the show’s depiction of diversity is also a stretch. In her experience, the social worlds of wealthy white women and wealthy women of color aren’t as seamlessly intertwined. Though decades have passed, the largely white makeup of the original show “pretty accurately reflects the general segregation that we find ourselves in socially,” she says.

The randy Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, has not been in the reboot, though she is expected to have a cameo this season. De Lesseps misses her energy. “There’s no naughty,” she says. 

De Lesseps, 58, relates to the show’s depiction of strong 50-something women. “They’re in the power seat,” she says. But she’s also eager for Carrie to find another husband. “I want her to walk down that aisle again because I’m a hopeless romantic,” she says. “It’s all about me, darling.”  

Singer, 66, who renewed her marriage vows on “The Real Housewives” but ended up splitting from her husband anyway, connects to the luxury on the show—she noted she’d just bought $1,200 shoes for half off—and the lifesaving nature of female friendships. She’s become pals with younger women she hopes to bring into her old age. “I know I’m going to live to 100,” she says. “Friendship with women is a really important thing.”

Another really important thing? Hustle. “Plug my podcast, ‘Turtle Time with Avery and Ramona,’” she says, “because I think it’s relatable and it keeps me young.”

Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original “Sex and the City” column on which the series was based, sees industrious women as the thread connecting the “Sex and the City” and the “Real Housewives” franchises. “The thing about the Housewives is that those women are very successful, hardworking women,” she says. “New York is one of the few places where you can come as a woman and be ambitious and be successful and find lots of other women who feel the same way.”

Bushnell goes so far back with these reality TV stars that she recalls attending the 1990s wedding of future Real Housewife Kelly Killoren Bensimon. Bushnell’s date was none other than former magazine executive Ron Galotti, whom the author calls the inspiration for Mr. Big.

On a recent night in the Hamptons, Bushnell dined at a Japanese restaurant with former Housewives Singer and de Lesseps.  

“We talked about what friends talk about—dating, single life, manifesting,” says Singer. In other words, they talked about what women on “And Just Like That…” talk about. 

Perhaps the most meta moment of connection between the two franchises occurred in a recent episode of “And Just Like That…,” when a Real Housewife entered the fictional world of Carrie Bradshaw. It turns out Carrie might be frenemies with real-life outspoken New Yorker Bethenny Frankel. 

“When I was single I almost rented a house in the Hamptons six times but I always found a reason not to,” Carrie tells friend Seema (Sarita Choudhury) over drinks. “Was that reason always Bethenny Frankel?” Seema asks. “Ha ha,” Carrie replies knowingly.

Frankel was quick to note the moment on Instagram. “When you’re off TV for years…AND JUST LIKE THAT…catty housewives are still talking about you,” she wrote, posting a clip from the show and a video of herself pouring her new “Forever Young” brand rosé into a teacup. 

“And Just Like That…” moved on, and so, seemingly, did Frankel. She’s since been on Instagram unboxing a designer item—a golden Chanel purse shaped like a birdcage. How to describe it. It’s very Carrie.

Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com

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