Shereeleakes Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, with its showy elite and rampant consumerism, seems rather out of touch considering America’s dire financial situation.

Of course, after witnessing a distressingly obnoxious panel in which the Hotlanta housewives came off as high-priced harpies, this reporter admits to having great reluctance to even watch the show. The first episode, however, isn’t that bad  … or at least no worse then the previous two incarnations of the franchise set in Orange County and New York City.

What Atlanta has going for it is obvious: Predominately black women are shown to enjoy the same level of social and financial success as their white counterparts on the other two shows.

Although it’s not fair to judge these women in real life, on a reality show the rules are different. Just like characters in scripted shows, these women must be fascinating characters; whether they’re people we can identify with/admire in their manner or lifestyle, people that entertain us with their quirks or over-the-top ways or even people you love to hate.

Lisa Wu Hartwell and DeShawn Snow, the wealthiest ones being an NFL and NBA wife, respectively, are arguably the most grounded of the bunch because their focus is broader than just the Atlanta social scene and shopping.

Hartwell, who is of black and Chinese heritage, is admirable for her boundless energy and productivity. Not only does she own the real estate firm Hartwell & Associates, she also owns a jewelry line and a baby clothing line, is a new mom, acts, models, paints and writes. She’s a no muss, no fuss type, even when it comes to clothes. Although Hartwell is a good egg, she’s not that entertaining. In fact, she seems to have so much going for her, she invites envy.

Deshawn_2 Snow, on the other hand, has many of the same advantages, but her manner is so casual and at times unguarded that she’s easier to sympathize with. Even though we see her 15,000 sq. ft. estate and Snow going through the process of hiring an estate manager, we’re reminded of her roots when the estate manager mentions that Snow’s father had a special request for his visit: Bailey’s Irish Cream and vodka to be stocked. The whole exchange makes Snow giggle.

The others, however, are of the more conspicuous consumption variety, God bless ’em. NeNe Leakes promises to be as loud and crazy as Vicki Gunvalson, her Orange County counterpart, but without the work ethic. Sheree Whitfield is perhaps the one who’s shown to be the most aware of her appearance and status. In the first episode, she throws a birthday party for herself in order to get publicity. Instead of earning the respect, she loudly and colorfully demands it. She’s currently in the middle of divorce proceedings and refuses to settle unless she gets seven figures.

Naturally, no Housewives show would be complete without a rivalry, and Leakes and Whitfield’s friction drives much of the drama in the first episode. Caught between the two is Leakes’ friend Kim Zolciak, the only white Atlanta housewife featured. She owns up to being materialistic, which is good since her lifestyle is funded by her celebrity boyfriend, whom she keeps anonymous by only talking to him on the phone and referring to him as Big Papa. Well, it appears that if Zolciak wants an Escalade, Big Papa is only too happy to give her the checkbook for the whim.

Each of the Atlanta women have children, which is always interesting to see how they balance that with their social lives. Only Whitfield is single (separated) though, so perhaps the dating drama will be kept to a minimum this time around. It’s too bad. Quinn Fry’s dating dilemmas on Orange County, especially with the 26-year-old boy toy, were highly entertaining.

All in all, there are no real surprises in this third version of the franchise. There’s still an orgy of excessive spending, jockeying for recognition and questionable taste. It’s all a bit too familiar, and maybe, just maybe, audiences have finally gotten their fill of watching people richer than they are enjoy life more. While we’re strategizing on when to fill up on gas, how to stay gainfully employed and how to balance grocery shopping with eating out, it’s asking a lot for us to really care about those who write $68,000 checks for a car in one go, never wear the same outfit twice or have a bowling alley in their basement.

Kimzolciak So while The Real Housewives of Atlanta isn’t appointment viewing or even DVR-worthy, it’s not by any means boring, but you do have to be in the mood to watch.

How does this cast compare to the OC and NYC casts? Who do you hate? Who do you love?

Posted by:Hanh Nguyen