Before this season, I had never seen an episode of Southern Charm. What little I did know about the show, I had gleaned from the seemingly endless complaints about its very existence and three lengthy phone conversations I’ve had with Thomas Ravenel to discuss his misadventures. 1 Going into the 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.2
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.3 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.4 Just 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 Southern Charm.
The season opens at Thomas’ new house. I don’t know what happened to his old one, but I 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 are gathered for a dinner party. 5 The camera continues to jump violently from person to person before centering on Thomas, 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. 6
Ravenel begins to criticize his dinner guests one by one. I had hoped this will be the point in Southern Charm’s season premiere when the viewers would receive a quick refresher on all the main characters and their major flaws. Thomas manages to summarize the faults of a woman named Cameran and a man called Shep — which is a made-up name, right?7 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.8 Then viewers are met with a title card reading “Three Months Earlier.” 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 voyage, 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. Within 10 minutes, Southern Charm has already touched on shameless public urination.
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. We are told this is #NewCraig. Arriving back in Charleston, our buddy Craig is greeted by his girlfriend Naomie. The two soon begin to plan a party that will be the main focus of the episode, with the big question being, “Will Shep be invited?”9
Establishing that cliffhanger, 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.
The show then 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. 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.10 The episode never explains who Michael is. Is he her husband? A butler? A live-in bartender? No idea. I guess it’s not important.11
Soon the night of Craig and Naomie’s big party is finally upon us. 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!
The season premiere ends with Kathryn dropping a line that forces me to reconsider my understanding of Southern Charm. Discussing her own grievances with Thomas, 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.12
Until recently, I had drifted through life with only a cursory understanding of what Southern Charm is about. For me, the show was like a mysterious town that I glimpsed from the window of a moving train.
“What is that place?” I ask the porter.
“Oh, that is no place for you, sir,” was my only answer.13
What is this show, and why does it irritate some people to such an extreme? Looking at some of the online comments about the show, one complaint has stuck with me. After calling out Southern Charm for lacking class or intelligence, someone blamed the show for the perception that Southerners are all “inbred idiots.” First off, that’s a heavy burden to put on a reality show that premiered in 2014.14 Second, we have reached the point where every creed and color is represented poorly on the Bravo network. There is a Real Housewives set in every major city in the continental United States. We have all been brought together by our love of throwing drinks in each others faces and shouting, “You don’t know me!” As Americans, we are all just one big melting pot of degenerates. Now to the second episode.
I still have not figured out how any of the people on this show know each other or what they do for a living. I know Thomas Ravenel was a politician and his forefathers struck it rich by selling the family naming rights to a bridge, but other than that, I guess everyone else is just on this show for a living.
This episode gets started when Cameran announces that she wants to have a dinner party because she isn’t ready to bear a child for her significant other.15 Cameran says he’s “on call,” so he’s either a doctor or the understudy for a play. Again, Southern Charm gives its viewers information with an eyedropper.
Transitioning from real problems to what I now call “Landon problems,” Landon is an attractive young person who was able to afford a new apartment with the money she raised from her pop-up shop.16 Recounting her frontier days, she mentions living on a boat, which is only a thing that rich people and crab fishermen complain about. The next career venture that she pitches is starting a “travel-arts-wine magazine.” I guess this answers my question about what Landon does for a living: She comes up with bad ideas.
Luckily, the episode turns to Craig — our baby-faced Craig who is tasked with redemption.17 He meets with a man named J.D., and the first piece of evidence that Craig is in over his head is that he writes a check for $15,000 — What?! — to buy into J.D.’s company. The show chooses not to tell us what this company does because the show hates you.
Meanwhile, Cameran visits Patricia to ask how to throw a dinner party, but screw that storyline because Patricia has a hedgehog. Yes, she has bought an animal, named it, purchased her hedgehog a stroller, and is now ready to describe her hedgehog’s penis to a house guest. Turning back to Cameran’s dinner party, Patricia hooks her up with a cooking coach and says Michael will help out. Here’s a funny side story about Michael.
After the season premiere of Southern Charm, I asked who the hell is Michael? I knew he was affiliated with Patricia and he was on vacation, but beyond that I had no idea. Luckily, Michael chose to shoot me an email regarding his identity.
“I am Pat Altschul’s butler as you are not familiar with the show. I bring Mrs. A her medicine at cocktail hour. Also drive, cook, and manage the residence. And after 10 years with the family, I can state they are a lovely family to serve. Now you know who Michael is.”18
We then head to a bar to meet up with Craig and Shep — who is named after the sound a cowboy makes when he falls off his horse. Turns out Shep is very amorous and has invited multiple single ladies to join him for the evening. I don’t like where this is going. As my mother would say, Shep needs some hold-back pills.19
The rest of the episode mainly focuses on Cameran’s dinner party. She meets with the domestic coach that Patricia mentioned and the two go shopping for ingredients. Cameran gets called out for having what she described as “peasant salt,” which I find troubling. It’s 2016, people. We’ve got to stop salt-shaming young women.20
So in my second week of watching Southern Charm, I still have plenty of questions, and this episode just raises more. Everyone keeps mentioning Patricia’s flamingo party. What is this? Are live flamingoes roaming the grounds, mingling with guests? Again, I have no answers, and time is taking its toll.21
Much like previous weeks, the third episode begins with shot after shot of all the cast members waking up. No expense is spared in bringing us every detail of Craig’s morning ablutions. After he empties an entire bottle of hairspray on his head, Craig is ready to start the day at his new job. I watch this scene with the same bittersweet feeling that parents experience on their kid’s first day of school. To know Craig is to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body. Treat him well, world. Treat him well.
We then see Shep — the most popular name among men stuck in wells — Facetiming with his mother. He tells her that he wants to put an above-ground swimming pool on the roof of his home. Also, Shep may start working with Cameran as a realtor. With his expert knowledge of roof pools, I’m sure he’ll be a natural.
Catching back up with Craig, I learn from the door to his office that J.D. (his new boss) runs some manner of hotel company. If you remember, Craig paid $15,000 to work for J.D. I’ve had my crack research team look into this,22 and I have discovered that this is in fact the opposite of how employment works. He should be paying you, Craig.
Moving on, we then find that Kathryn has found a new house, but she needs Thomas to co-sign for the loan or escrow or something. I don’t really know how houses work. Fortunately, Thomas does, and he agrees to co-sign as long as Kathryn brings their daughter to his polo match. This episode seems to really focus on the complications that arise when personal relationships overlap with business. I begin to consider what this says about the characters of Southern Charm and people in general, but then we see Patricia struggling to assemble a plastic flamingo and I am undone. Patricia explains that the inspiration for the party came from an inflatable pool toy that she has. Oddly enough, her pool is not located on the roof.
From the revelation that is Patricia’s life, we move to Landon, who is golfing with her dad. During their heart to heart, she outlines her plans to launch a travel-arts-wine magazine. She asks her dad for some “help with investments” — which I imagine will be to “invest” in food and shelter — and he turns her down. Again, the personal and financial realms collide for our cast.
After all that, we follow Thomas to Patricia’s house. He has purchased her a gigantic candle in hopes that he can negotiate an invite for Kathryn to the flamingo party. The fact that I can follow the logic of that last sentence is proof that the show is changing me.23
Shortly after my column/recap/fever dream journal for the third installment of Southern Charm went online, something strange happened. While trying to inform readers about how the MLB draft will affect Mormonism, the Washington Post accidentally tweeted out a link to my episode recap to their 6.34 million followers. With this in mind, please allow me to tie it all back in with a common concern that I’ve noticed among those who hate Southern Charm.
It seems that many of the show’s most vocal opponents feel that it misrepresents Charleston in some dangerous way, and by reporting on the show in any fashion, we are making the problem worse. First, I think it’s important to remember — Southern Charm is not Freddy Krueger.24 It does not draw its power from our attention or fear. It draws its power from the sale of boxed wines and pregnancy tests. You can sleep soundly.
Second, and most importantly, is the issue of Southern Charm’s depiction of Charleston. This is a valid concern that I understand all too well. I grew up very close to where they filmed Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and for years, I have dealt with the stereotype that I eat whole sticks of butter to get ready for beauty pageants. I do not. At least, not since I hung up my crown.25
But say you are just some unassuming Mormon baseball aficionado who reads the Washington Post. You turn to your favorite news source to learn more about how America’s pastime is interfering with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you end up getting redirected to an article about a reality show set in Charleston, S.C. You keep reading, thinking you’ll stumble across mention of legendary Mormon first baseman Wally Joyner, but instead you just come across a retelling of a custody dispute at polo match. Does this misrepresent Charleston?
My answer is no. I say this because even though Southern Charm may not represent my experience of living here, I understand that there are many facets to the city. Southern Charm may depict Charleston in the same way that Gilligan’s Island depicts being stranded in the ocean, but neither show is really hurting anything.
This season’s fourth episode begins with T-Rav stopping by J.D.’s house to explain that the very pregnant Kathryn had to go to the hospital. In some Faustian bargain, Thomas thinks he needs to co-sign for Kathryn’s house to ensure the health of his unborn child. Thomas caps things off by saying that if he can handle prison, he can handle the final months of Kathryn’s pregnancy. Damn. That is some real talk.
The episode then brings us to Shep26 as he visits Craig’s new office. When asked about the new job, Craig says he is cool with the hotel stuff, but really thinks he can run with the bourbon side of the business. What?! The business involves both hotels and liquor? Is this Deadwood? Does Craig need to start figuring out Miss Kitty’s cut of the profits? I am lost with all this.
We then cut to Cameran as she joins two friends for a super-uncomfortable lunch. How uncomfortable? After being honest with her lunch companions, Cameran gets shamed for not wanting to have a baby. Cameran even goes as far as to say that she underwent genetic testing in hopes that she would find some terrible flaw that would serve as an excuse to not procreate. Is this seriously what it is like to be a woman?27
With all of that out of the way, it is now time to talk about something I’ve been awaiting for at least two weeks, at most a lifetime — Patricia’s flamingo party.
First off, Patricia mentions the importance of mathematics when arranging a cocktail tower. Remember this next time we need more funding for STEM. Next, Patricia asks if the fortune-teller for the party looks like a fortune-teller. This is an incredible question to ask. I would not have been so bold as to question the legitimacy of the fortune-teller’s attire, but it is clear that Patricia has been burned before.28
To give you an idea of what real power is, Patricia can say any random thing — such as flamingo party or hedgehog stroller29 — and it will become reality. It is this ability to bend the future to her will that makes Patricia so enchanting. I imagine when the fortune-teller tried to get a read on her, it was like staring into infinity — a drunk, pink infinity.30
The party soon devolves into a fight between Thomas Ravenel and Kathryn’s pal Jennifer. This spat plays out like the other episodes of Southern Charm that I’ve seen. Our cast of characters gathers at a party thrown for no reason, yet is nicer than most weddings. Two people argue to the delight of others. Then everyone rides home in a golf cart. In this way, I can say yes, Southern Charm is an accurate depiction of Charleston.31
Catching back up with the gang, we find Kathryn meeting with a gentleman named Cooper for lunch. I have long suspected that Cooper is Bill Mumy from the Twilight Zone, but that is most likely wrong.32 It is much more likely that Cooper was cobbled together out of discarded apple cores and given life.
We then find Whitney meeting up with Landon, who has planned a roller disco theme party for Shep. That’s right. Another party. Parties all the way down for Southern Charm.33
Next, the mystery is finally revealed that Shep owns a business called the Palace Hotel. At the bar/eatery, we see a whole new side of Shep, whose name is also the medical term for a skin tag.34
Cameran soon arrives to discuss the realtor business with Shep, but then some realness begins to shine through. Cameran has learned that Shep eventually wants to start a family, despite his playboy lifestyle. The show may gloss over this, but I think the relationship between Cameran and Shep illustrates something important about how men and women are expected to behave. In previous episodes, Cameran has made it clear that she doesn’t want kids, yet she feels compelled to host dinner parties to prove she is ready for the domestic life.35 Meanwhile, Shep has been out tom-cating every night, and he can casually assert that he wants a wife and kids when he’s done having a good time. This doesn’t make Shep a bad person any more than it makes Cameran a martyr, but it does tell you something about how society pressures men and women differently — and it all happened on Southern Charm.
Skipping ahead to the big roller disco party, Shep explains how he was a skateboarder who used to kick the shit out of roller skaters. Faced with the prospect of a booze-less party at a skating rink, Shep says he has become what he despised. At what may be Shep’s lowest point, we find another kernel of truth in the show. And this moment is a fantastic realization for us all.
While Southern Charm often unfolds like William S. Burroughs cut-up poetry, this week we focus on what happens when lofty career aspirations clash with reality. My brain, starved for some sort of rhyme or reason, grips this thematic thread like a child flying a kite in a hurricane. Hold on too tightly and you’ll get swept away in the squall. This is the dangerous game you play when you dabble in Southern Charm.
Starting off, we find Cameran calling Shep on their first day of working together in real estate. This scene takes place the morning after Shep’s birthday celebrations. He says he feels fine. A little hungover, but he’s always a little hungover, says Shep, which is less of a name and more of a cry for help.
Catching back up with Craig, we find our boy wonder in the office, sorting out the particulars with J.D. as the two begin planning a bourbon tasting. Craig says he wants the company’s bourbon to be the bourbon that non-bourbon drinkers drink. Poetry aside, this is an impossible statement. Craig has set himself up to fail.
Taking a brief respite from Charleston, Landon has traveled to New York City to pitch her travel-arts-wine magazine to a man named Lockhart Steele. Wow. That’s the same name that Tom Selleck gave his mustache once it became sentient. Landon gives Mr. Steele the pitch for her publication, which she says will include writing on travel, style, cutting-edge technology, snow polo matches (?), as well as safaris. Steele seems disinterested, but I would read anything that told me more about safaris and whatever the hell a snow polo match is. So, accounting for myself and Allan Quatermain, the magazine has at least two subscribers.
Fast-forwarding to the big bourbon tasting, we find Craig trying to insert himself more heavily into J.D.’s business affairs. Craig, thinking he is ready to lead the entire division, is hurt that he didn’t know more about this side of J.D.’s company. I wish J.D. was in the rum business, so I could write, “You’ve got to walk before you can rum, Craig,” but I can’t do that with bourbon. Craig even goes so far as to say that even though others in the room have much more experience in the manufacture and distribution of liquors, he is “smart as shit,” and this should cement him as the next in line to lead a bourbon empire. As Craig has so handsomely demonstrated, humans are able to accept the fact that they understand a vast number of things, but then assume that they probably know the rest by extension. As a reporter I speak to so many people who know so much more than I could ever imagine. People may consider journalists as nosey and intrusive, but I like to think that the best of us are simply fascinated by how much knowledge is out there. And that’s why I’m willing to watch this show and listen to what these people have to say. Because everybody has a lesson. Even if it’s just knowing when you’re ready for the bourbon business or getting roof pools off the ground.36
I.e., Getting hit in the face. ↩
Like Donald Trump, Jimmy Fallon, and the music of Coldplay. ↩
Nietzsche would have loved reality television. ↩
E.g., Sports. ↩
Inexplicable parties will be a common theme, I soon learn. ↩
Another common theme on the show. ↩
This is known as a Charleston goodbye. ↩
It turns out the worst thing you can be in the world of Southern Charm is not invited to a party. ↩
Lean times indeed. ↩
Oh, how wrong I am. ↩
Or there will just be an endless string of theme parties until the heat death of the universe. ↩
It is at this point that my veil of sanity begins to slip. I had gazed into the abyss. And the abyss had begun to gaze into me. ↩
A year remembered for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the ice bucket challenge, and the death of professional wrestling legend the Ultimate Warrior. ↩
Looking back, Cameran’s “I don’t have the luxury of having a penis comment” says a lot more than I believe she intended. This woman seems to be under a lot of pressure to fit into a certain box. ↩
Charleston’s third-most thriving industry. ↩
As I continue to watch this show, I begin to forget important things about myself. My old hobbies and interests seem foreign now, like a fading memory of childhood friend. I find myself becoming more and more enamored by Craig and his quest. I pray that Craig is there the day Southern Charm is finished transforming me into the person that I was always meant to be. ↩
Mic drop. ↩
So far in my life, I’ve only ever heard the phrase “hold-back pills” spoken by my family. As far as I can tell, it is not a regional expression, just the way my family decided to describe the antidote for being a horndog. ↩
I believe Beyoncé addresses this exact issue in her new song entitled “Put It on the Rim (Margaritas, Not Misogyny).” ↩
Can one develop Stockholm Syndrome from a TV show? The more I see of this world and the longer I spend with it, the more I become entrapped. I watch the train leave the station and wave goodbye to my former self. ↩
My research team consists of a feral raccoon trapped in my apartment and a mirror that I scream questions into. In their defense, they do work for college credit. ↩
Trying to wrap your mind around this show is like trying to lick your own elbow — it seems easy, but is only possible by severely changing who you are. ↩
Far fewer bladed finger weapons. ↩
Little Miss Georgia Peach 1994. ↩
Which is the name one might give a cartoon dog or a folksy death-row inmate on The Andy Griffith Show. ↩
I am told that it is. My apologies, all women. ↩
Fun fact: When I was a kid, a fortune-teller and friend of the family named Cookie told me that I would lose an eye in a terrible accident. She may have said more than this, but the eye stuff was all that really stuck with me. The lesson in all this: The future is a nightmare and fortune-tellers shouldn’t speak to children. ↩
Call-back to Episode 2. ↩
A possible name for Nicki Minaj’s next album. ↩
Tis a silly place. ↩
Mumy is remembered for such classic Twilight Zone episodes as “It’s a Good Life,” “Long Distance Call,” and “Time Enough at Last to Gossip About Everyone in Charleston,” in which he played a man who lives through nuclear war to find that he has no one left to talk shit about. ↩
This is of course an allusion to the “Turtles All the Way Down” story shared in Stephen Hawkins’s A Brief History of Time, the inspiration for which comes from a party Patricia threw in the 1983 celebrating tortoises and infinite regress. ↩
Shep is also the name of the fictional drug used on an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210, which led to popularity of such phrases as “Let’s get Shep’d up” and “Just a little Shep will do ya” in the early ’90s. ↩
Just not domestic bathrooms. ↩
In my quest for knowledge, I worry I have become something else, but my fear has given way to comfort. Transformed anew by this examination of Southern Charm, no longer am I concerned with the worrisome goings-on of everyday life. The show has opened my eyes to what really matters: theme parties, day drinking, and promoting your own wine-arts-travel magazine. Like a newly formed butterfly shedding its cocoon, the freedom is exhilarating and I am as light as air. My emotions are best captured in the inspiring final lines of George Orwell’s 1984: “O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother Southern Charm.” ↩