Bravo’s Newlyweds: The First Year follows four couples who apparently have never watched a family sitcom in their entire lives. Nor have they discussed anything about post-marriage life, including where to live, the work-life balance or anything to do with money. “I don’t know what make believe world I was living in. I just literally thought after the wedding, poof! Amazing house, amazing car. It wasn’t that at all. We got married, and the struggle and the grind is still happening,” says Kim, who marries overbearing Alaska
Newlyweds, which shares part of a title with the MTV reality show featuring Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey but none of its guilty pleasure fun, is like Bridezillas if the cameras kept rolling after the last wedding guest went home. Four couples—Kim and Alaska, Indian pop star Tina and Tarz, Kathryn and money-obsessed John, and gay couple Blair and Jeff—are profiled in the first episode tying the knot and followed as they experience their first week of marriage. There are fights and tears and whole host of unreasonable behavior (Tina referring to her husband of about 20 minutes as a motherfucker during their wedding reception, after Tarz breaks her phone, is just one example), but a lot of it could be cured if any of these couples bothered to have basic conversations about their lives together. I guess post-bliss banality has never made for good TV. The show should supposedly tread on slightly newer territory by nature of its premise, but the only aspect of Newlyweds that doesn’t feel like a regurgitation of other wedding shows is that the wives aren’t the only shrill, shallow characters. Their husbands are pretty terrible too.
But let’s not confuse equal opportunity awfulness with gender equality. What Newlyweds accidentally becomes is a comment on the prevailing notion of what it means to be husband and wife (or husband and husband in the case of Jeff and Blair). Kathryn continually discusses how she is wholly willing to give up her part of herself to be with John, and that's exactly what he wants. “My fantasy of getting married really is to have a nice wife to take care of me, to do my cooking, do my cleaning and just be extremely supportive of my goals and ideals,” John says. Not only did she quit her job, but she’s shedding her past party girl life to be with her husband. Yet, she still worries about giving up her entire self in the name of wifedom. But that's exactly what she does. All day she shops and cleans because she has no idea what else to do with her time. She’s Betty Draper with a Long Island accent. Except I feel bad for her.
Kim and Alaska are the opposite. They reinforce their relationship with religion, but Alaska interprets that faith in the old school way, as submission. Kim has a problem with that. “I’m learning to not always talk back and be more of a submissive wife, but it’s hard for me to let go,” Kim says. But why does she have to let go? It’s hard to watch her try to keep her mouth shut when she clearly doesn’t agree. Even Tina and Tarz have their own weird gender issues, despite Tina's ostensible position as the family pants-wearer. At one point, Tarz equates his submission tactics with Tina to riding a bull, and Tina seems totally cool with that, which is problematic in oh so many ways. It’s disconcerting that the prevailing notion of the first two episodes is that these women not only believe they must submit, but find fault in themselves for not being able to.
There’s actually an interesting storyline with Jeff and Blair. While Blair’s family is supportive, Jeff has been cut off from his family since coming out at 35. The tension that creates is something that hasn’t really been explored as fully as it could on TV before, even as gay marriage becomes more prevalent. Despite his attempts at empathy, Blair has no concept of what Jeff’s going through, seeing Jeff's parent's refusal to send an RSVP card as more of a slight than just checking the no box. It’s a strange situation that more and more couples will have to deal with, coming to terms with the fact that their own family won’t accept them even as state governments slowly begin to. But Jeff relays his pain via wooden delivery, as if someone is feeding him an uncomfortable set of lines. Like most Bravo reality shows, Jeff’s hurt feels manufactured and calculated, even when it’s true.
- “I used to be a black plantation worker in a past life or a choir teacher in the 1950s because I’m gravitationally pulled to Savannah, Georgia,” says the overprivileged former boy-bander Blair. I can't tell if that's offensive, nonsensical, or both.
- Yes, Tarz’s company is called Pandoodle, which is a hilariously terrible name.
- Blair refers to the house he’s going to get married in as “total Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and is not worried about the implications of getting married IN A MURDER HOUSE.