I can’t help but be a little bit in love with Bethenny Frankel. The former Real Housewives of New York castmate and self-described HBIC of a multimillion-dollar business who’s also “a bit of a clown” remains one of the few ex-Housewives who’s emerged from the franchise — twice, in her case — with her reputation not only relatively unscathed, but even strengthened. Bethenny is nothing if not extraordinarily calculated, from knowing the right moments to step away from the TV show that made her famous to pettily announcing her engagement just last month on the same day Bravo dropped the RHONY Season 13 trailer.
The Skinnygirl lifestyle mogul seemingly hasn’t had much trouble peddling her many products, but Bethenny’s attempts to move past her appearances on reality TV (The Apprentice, Housewives, Skating With the Stars) — memorable as they were — to a showbiz project all her own haven’t yielded similar success. In the mid-aughts she filmed three seasons of a docuseries about her marriage to Jason Hoppy, a relationship that would ultimately prove disastrous and traumatic, and in 2014 her talk show, Bethenny, was pulled by Fox after just one season.
And yet Bethenny just couldn’t stay away from reality TV. She returned to Housewives after a three-season hiatus, and as much as the other RHONY ladies don’t want to admit it, she almost single-handedly revived the series. In choosing to leave again back in 2019, Bethenny perhaps risked losing relevance — but she also stood to gain in continuing to establish and solidify her brand outside of Bravo and its particular toxicity.
Now Bethenny is once again returning to reality TV, this time on The Big Shot With Bethenny, which premieres today on HBO Max. It’s a fun premise: Someone who herself was once an aspiring entrepreneur fighting for a successor spot in Martha Stewart’s empire on The Apprentice (she came in second) is now in charge of her own empire, searching for a new member of her executive team from a pool of hungry hopefuls.
I don’t know if I was really expecting too much from The Big Shot With Bethenny to begin with, not least because I find girlboss-y careerist culture actively off-putting. In our age of Way Too Much Television, Bethenny joins other women entrepreneurs like Jenna Lyons, whose show Stylish With Jenna Lyons is also on HBO Max, in the evergoing name-brand revival of Apprentice-like reality TV competitions. Judging from the trailer, it didn’t really feel new, or necessary, or particularly interesting. And yet, because this is Bethenny — hilarious, cutting, sometimes infuriating Bethenny — I watched it. I suppose that’s what HBO Max is betting on: Bethenny’s sheer star power, and all of us missing her on our screens (especially after this last season of RHONY; woof).
But just because someone’s star power gets you in the door doesn’t mean you’re gonna stick around. if I wasn’t reviewing The Big Shot, I doubt I would have made it past a couple episodes.
The show kicks off with a cocktail party where we get to meet the contenders; the catch is that they don’t know Bethenny’s staffers are mingling among them, judging how they act when they think the big boss isn’t around to see. It’s an eclectic bunch, from a woman who’s extremely passionate about her sock business to an annoying-right-off-the-bat influencer/DJ named Nicole Rosé (though, like most of her cohorts, she hates the term “influencer” — she feels it’s “inauthentic to who I am,” which is really a content creator). The stakes are raised when Bethenny fires four people immediately based on her first impressions, which seem pretty arbitrary, tbh.
Something I love about Bethenny (besides how obsessed she is with her two silly little white dogs, Biggy and Smallz) is that she’s a tough bitch who’s quick to cry, qualities I’d like to think we have in common. She always gets emotional whenever she has to give someone the chop after a social media or web-design contest (the contests are snooooozy, by the way); it’s a humanizing component to the male-dominated ruthlessness of this genre, popularized by a certain former president.
Her outfits are great, as always. Though I never got truly invested in who was going to win this thing, I was grateful to Bethenny for piquing my interest by continually turning looks, from a sequined silver tracksuit that should definitely not work and yet just does, to her delightfully poofy pink 50th birthday minidress.
But the point of the show is who’s going to secure that top spot. And it’s just kinda hard to care. You want certain people to succeed because they’re trying to take care of their families in an unkind world — in the way you want everyone to be able to provide for themselves and their loved ones — but no specific personalities really rise to the top. Milokssy is probably my fave, a take-no-shit working mom (the women of color in general are all the most competent and deserving, IMO). The only real passion I can muster about this show is that I’d rather Nicole Rosé, with her mile-a-minute influencerspeak and her many statement headbands, stop harassing me via the sheer force of her extraness through my television.
Anyone who was hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of Bethenny’s fiancé, whom she met on a dating app, will be disappointed. Bethenny had seemingly learned after her second stint of Housewives that reality TV has nothing at all good to offer relationships.
That’s one of multiple ways the show doesn’t really offer us anything juicy. There’s a little bit of drama, which obviously involves Nicole, and insipid debates about whether saying or doing something mean to another woman means you’re an enemy of feminism. ("Real queens lift each other up,” Nicole explains in a confessional, “and I'm a fucking queen.” Yeah, OK.) The show also nearly hits at something compelling whenever Bethenny or the contestants themselves accuse each other of only being on the show to become famous — that their life’s passion isn’t really hawking Skinnygirl collagen drinks. But those conversations never go anywhere interesting. Kinda like the whole show.