Before last night, I had never seen an episode of Southern Charm. What little I do know about the show, I’ve gleaned from the seemingly endless complaints about its very existence and three lengthy phone conversations I’ve had with Thomas Ravenel over recent months to discuss his misadventures. So, going into last night’s season premiere, my knowledge of the show consisted of three things:
1. It is a reality show filmed on earth — more specifically Charleston.
2. Thomas Ravenel and Kathryn Dennis are two of the main “characters” or whatever you call people pretending to be themselves on TV.
3. It is a very popular program that people absolutely despise.
I don’t say any of this to brag. I know a lot of people take it as a point of pride that they’ve never witnessed the adventures of T-Rav and the gang, but I suspect a lot of that hatred is undeserved. I guess a great deal of people dislike Southern Charm because it is dumb and pointless. The problem with this way of thinking is that most things are dumb and pointless. A vast majority of popular culture falls into at least one of these two categories, but you have to keep in mind that a large amount of entertainment isn’t intended to enlighten. ACDC is very dumb and very pointless, and ACDC rules — so everyone just chill.
Allow me to speak for my small corner of the internet and say, we are all very impressed when you comment “Where’s the real news?” under every Southern Charm article. But keep in mind that the people who appreciate you for the stupid things you like are just as important as those who want to discuss the finer points of modern humanity. Everyone needs their petty indulgences — and speaking of petty indulgences — here’s a layman’s look at the Southern Charm season premiere.
The season opens at Thomas’ new house. I do not know what happened to his old one, but I will assume that it was destroyed in a fit of rage during the last season finale. Maybe someone fashioned a mint julep into an incendiary device and used it to destroy his primary home? The new season is riddled with mystery.
Those who I assume to be the Southern Charm cast of characters is gathered for a dinner party. The camera continues to jump violently from person to person before centering on Thomas Ravenel, who has decided to make a toast, which seems like something that the types of people who have dinner parties do at dinner parties. This plan immediately goes to shit.
Ravenel begins to criticize his dinner guests one by one — reminiscent of the classic Dawson’s Creek episode when Dawson got drunk on his 16th birthday and told everyone off during his surprise party. That was the best. This is not the best. I was hoping this would be the point in Southern Charm’s season premiere when the viewers received a quick refresher on all the main characters and their major flaws. He manages to summarize the faults of a woman named Cameran and a man called Shep — which is a made-up name, right? No one is really named Shep. That’s the type of nickname you give an old circus performer who was kicked in the head by a donkey, but everyone seems to be cool with it, so whatever.
Ravenel’s dinner party quickly deteriorates into nonsensical shouting as everyone flees the scene in their golf carts — because of course they do. Then viewers are met with a title card reading “Three Months Earlier.” Wow. Is this like Breaking Bad, when viewers were slowly fed bits of a cold open until the show finally revealed what it all meant? What winding road will lead us back to Ravenel’s new home and the tumultuous dinner engagement that followed? Well, instead of an answer, we get a fishing trip.
Cameran is taking the impossibly named Shep on a boat ride around Charleston. During their fishing trip, Cameran learns how to urinate while at sea. Narrating her process of peeing into a creek, Cameran delivers the line, “I don’t have the luxury of having a penis,” as she lowers herself into the water. With that, I say, “You go, sister.” Within 10 minutes, Southern Charm has already touched on shameless public urination, and I don’t know why the trash life crowd isn’t celebrating it. John Waters would be proud.
After that brief bathroom break, Shep and Cameran begin to discuss Craig. Will Craig take the Bar exam? Has anyone heard from Craig since he moved? Has he finally cleaned up his act? I have no idea, but Cameran suggests the hashtag #NewCraig, which has me excited.
The episode then introduces Craig who moved in with his parents in Delaware to clean up his act, but he’s ready to return to Charleston. Craig bids goodbye to the family dog and promises his mother he’ll call at least once a week. This is #NewCraig.
Arriving back in Charleston, our buddy Craig is greeted at the airport by his girlfriend Naomie. They’ll live together in a beautiful West Ashley home that belongs to Naomie’s parents. Looking out onto the creek that sits behind his new home, Craig asks if there are any alligators. Naomie then points out that only people from the North ask such things. This is her shibboleth, and Craig should be mindful not to out himself as a non-native. The two then begin to plan a party that will be the main focus of the episode, with the main question being, “Will Shep be invited?”
Establishing that cliffhanger, we then cut to exactly one million establishing shots of various locations throughout Charleston. The music during these moments seems to be selected at random. Big band, jazz, country — just throw it in there with a shot of some horses and a church. This show may have been made by a computer program.
After our brief tour of the Lowcountry, we meet Kathryn Dennis, who is pregnant. In case you don’t believe that she is with child, she holds up a zip-lock bag stuffed with 30 at-home pregnancy tests. Urine plays a major role in world of Southern Charm.
[image-4]Following our re-introduction to Dennis, the show brings us to the home of Patricia, who is basically Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. As she descends a staircase, I wait for her to ask for a close-up, but instead she begins drinking. Patricia lives inside of an Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds commercial, and I love it. This is definitely a woman who keeps a derringer in her stocking. During a conversation with a man named Whitney, who I am assuming is her son, Patricia mentions that Michael is on vacation, so she doesn’t have anyone to make her a proper drink. The show never explains who Michael is. Is he her husband? A butler? A live-in bartender? No idea. I guess it’s not important.
Back at the casa Dennis, Kathryn gets a visit from Cooper, who looks like a ventriloquist dummy given life. This is when the basic structure of the show becomes apparent. Every scene of Southern Charm is pretty much about two people sitting together and drinking, while they talk about two other cast members, who are also sitting and drinking. That’s most of the show, from what I’ve seen, which is fine. Moving on.
After we are provided a bit more backstory about the falling out that took place between Craig and Shep before Craig fled to the Northeast, the night of the big party is finally upon us. It’s time for everyone to meet the new Craig. #NewCraig
Everyone at this party hates everyone else — also, there is a valet. I think, “Wow, that’s fancy,” before someone on the show says that exact same thing. I don’t know who this person is, because Southern Charm has a cast of thousands, but I like her. I’m glad the show had the decency to point out that, yes, this is all very fancy.
[image-3]As the guests arrive, people continue to be surprised by #NewCraig and how he’s turned his life around. Having not seen last season, I am assuming that Craig entered into some Requiem for a Dream-style downward spiral that cost him everything. But now he’s back in Charleston! And everyone’s drinking out of mason jars! Someone says that Craig went from Slumdog Millionaire to the Fresh Prince of Charleston. This makes no sense at all, but, hey, mason jars!
What happens next caught me off guard. Referencing her pregnancy and isolation during the party, Kathryn makes an allusion to The Scarlet Letter. It’s not the most advanced literary reference, but I’ll take what I can get. Well done, Southern Charm.
This is just the first of two literary references that I counted during the episode — the second coming from Shep as he and Craig have a heart to heart to mend their strained friendship. This is very endearing. I’m glad these two buddy-roes were able to patch things up. Shep then quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “no second acts” line before announcing that Craig has proven the Jazz Age novelist wrong. Craig gets a second act. #NewCraig
The season premiere ends with T-Rav and Kathryn arguing about the color periwinkle. Thomas wants to paint his daughter’s new room with said color, but Kathryn spots that a woman at the party is wearing a periwinkle dress. She suspects collusion. It is then that Kathryn drops a line that forced me to reconsider my understanding of Southern Charm. She says these are the problems of people who don’t have problems. But the people on this show do have some fairly real problems. Thomas and Kathryn have a young child, with another on the way, and they can’t stand each other. Craig is attempting to reinvent himself after succumbing to the perils of decadence. Shep is a grown man named Shep.
While they may not be the same trials and tribulations that most of us face, these are real problems that I’m sure the show will explore more deeply. In the meantime, I will try to keep an open mind about Southern Charm and its fans. And I ask that you do the same.