In a wise move, reality star/best-selling author/businesswoman Bethenny Frankel returns to her Bravo show looking like less the a picture-perfect snapshot of success. And that’s a weighty accomplishment, given that much of her branding over the last few years has stemmed from transitioning out of a Carrie Bradshaw-type single city gal to a wife, mother, and extraordinarily wealthy mini-mogul.
For those less familiar, the former cast member of The Real Housewives of New York City managed to transition her career as a natural food chef into an empire churning out fitness-related DVDs, books, and the best-selling Skinnygirl brand of margaritas and sangria (which she then sold to Jim Beam’s booze empire last year, reportedly for more than $100 million). Now a brand all her own, it’s time to check in and see how wild success has changed the brassy Frankel.
Based on the season three opener, it appears money has done little to soften Bethenny’s harder edges. She remains a rapid-fire, intense personality, capable of steam-rolling almost anyone in her company while mocking her own celebrity spotlight all the while. That dance of belittling her own fame has served Frankel well in that it’s almost possible to believe she hates being famous as much as she claims. Except that bringing cameras into your home and business—including therapy sessions—means you clearly desire a certain, very specific kind of attention from the public. It so clearly reaches beyond just being seen as a well-known businesswoman, as she claims to want.
And Frankel has set the standard for confessional, on-camera intimacy. Fans of the first two seasons of her show know how much of her own past and current relationship she’s sliced open for public consumption. It wisely softens a women who would otherwise come across as too narcissistic to pause for critical introspection or any kind of self-reflection. Producers also know that Bethenny does best when paired with big personalities—as fans of Real Housewives Of New York will remember re: her former BFF Jill Zarin—who challenge her need for the spotlight. That probably has a lot to do with why she has sit-downs with everyone from comedian Lisa Lampanelli to Today Show co-anchor Hoda Kotb in the premiere episode. Wallflowers simply get trampled next to Frankel.
There’s plenty of checking in on the new empire, too, as when we see Bethenny’s cramped office inside the apartment she shares with Jason and their toddler, Bryn. That, of course, leads to a realization that the family and business has outgrown the space and must seek larger digs. To emphasize that point, there’s a lot of showing Bethenny surrounded by a cadre of assistants in her Skinnygirl Inc. headquarters, holding Bryn in one hand while signing copies of her book with the other. It’s important to drive home the fact that this woman is really, seemingly, doing it all.
Though she talks about wanting to enjoy the relatively late-bloom success of her life, Frankel remains fixated on much of the negative. Like all, good, Bravo stars (see: Rachel Zoe), great wealth comes with great neediness. In therapy and with friends, Bethenny repeatedly hammers the point that the public perception of her husband is annoyingly “too perfect.” She finds numerous ways to restate the fact that she sees herself as “the villain in my relationship,” and hints at the fact that her insisting on a pre-nup did damage. To all this, Frankel’s good pal Lampanelli notes that her own husband’s only care in the world is to “wash his enormous nutsack,” to the surprise of no one!
Bethenny and Jason ceremonially open up the doors to the season by landing their dream apartment. It’s a cavernous New York City fantasy, with giant windows on nearly every side, pillars, and a stately fireplace. And on the walk to visit the new abode post-purchase, a cluster of paparazzi stalks the two. It’s a reminder that for all the appeal of Frankel as the woman who really has achieved success in ways she never dreamed, she also instantly becomes a woman living a bizarro, rarified kind of life. And that’s just fine, given Bravo’s stable of quasi-accessible richies on parade. So long as the teary meltdowns keep coming, she’ll remain right at home.