Photo: Vulture; Photo: Bravo
Ah, finales, the leftovers you bring home but forget in the fridge of reality television. With (notable) exceptions, and especially for baby shows, finales are often merely the bridge to a reunion, but since I doubt Mr. Cohen is flying to Charleston anytime soon (not that the Southern Charm reunions don’t happen in New York City, but I digress), we’re left with this: the eighth and final episode of Southern Hospitality’s first season. Although saying “left with” makes it sound like this is a limp finale — that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Before I give you a post-mortem on where things stand and where I think the cards will fall in the weeks ahead for Southern Hospitality — stick around! I promise I’ve got some thoughts! — let’s get to our finale! We pick up where last week’s fight (the one we refused to write about because it was boring) between Bradley (not Joe Bradley) and Maddi left off, and we’re only mentioning it now because it ends with a banger of a quote from Maddi: “I really would just like to fucking move on. It’s Martini Monday.” Spoiler alert: I will now be using Martini Monday as an excuse to end every conversation I don’t want to have. If you’re on the receiving end of that from me, it’s not personal. It’s Martini Monday.
Mia and Joe Bradley (not Bradley) continue their courtship by talking shit about Maddi and her boyfriend Trevor, not a main cast member, not really a friend of, just the wart on your heel you got in a shower in college that you’ve tried to get rid of for a while but now have just learned to live with. Bravo: even if Maddi’s still dating Trevor in the present day, I would like to not see him on my screen should you choose to renew. On the other hand, Mia and Joe Bradley (not Bradley) have this adorable chemistry together that I love. More of that.
I’ve dogged Leva all season for crossing boundaries with her staff in regards to their perfectly harmless and very promotional social media behavior, but I’ve gotta say, I love watching her mentor and support these kids. She’s a delight in the way she commends Will for stepping up his leadership at Republic, she’s a delight in the way she treats the Republic staff to an end-of-summer yacht party, and she’s been a delight to watch all season long. You can tell this woman cares about her establishments and the people who work for her, and she’s producing the absolute hell out of her cast and their various storylines.
The show treats this as an aside, but there’s a quick moment of Lucía trying to swipe a customer’s credit card in the backroom of Republic, and when it takes a while to go through, Mikel very matter-of-factly says “Is their card not working? Are they broke?” I. love. Mikel.
Speaking of Lucía, we’re revisiting her relationship with Davon, the father of her child, and how Lucía stepped out on him at some point in the past. I need more Lucía in my life because she’s compelling, beautiful, and flawed, and her storyline has real weight, which is why it’s such a shame that producers had to cram it into flashbacks and nooks and crannies. We got so many self-absorbed monologues by Juhlilly about, I don’t know, butt masks and grape-flavored vapes. Lucía is the real deal, folks — let’s not hide her under a rock!
Grace Lilly, whose bedroom looks like someone with depression opened a Claire’s, is hosting another of her Cloud Nine theme nights at Bourbon N’ … wait, be quiet, fives, a ten, and some sevens are finally here. We’re speaking, of course, about Southern Charm’s reigning royalty, Miss Patricia Altschul, as well as Naomie (allegedly R.I.P., if the rumors of her second Charm departure prove true), Taylor, and schlub among scrubs, Shep himself. Do they get anything to do? No! Am I beyond thrilled to see them? You bet your ass I am.
It’s yacht party day! Mercifully, the editors bury one more Juhlilly “wavy, baby!” deep in the audio mix in this scene — we heard it, but it’s barely there, and that is very, very wavy baby, unlike Juhlilly shouting “I’m always wettttttttt” on the boat deck like the lead in a French Titanic parody that’s been re-translated to English.
Onboard the yacht, a very drunk Joe Bradley finally has his long-awaited come to Jesus with Maddi, in which he confesses his feelings towards her. Between slurred words, it’s actually a really emotional conversation between two ships in totally different orbits. Joe Bradley was nervous to cross a boundary with Maddi because he couldn’t read her feelings, he says; Maddi is pissed Joe Bradley didn’t speak up during her year-long break from Trevor, the guy who comes back to visit his high school long after it’s acceptable to do so (this is also a metaphor for his relationship to Southern Hospitality itself).
Unfortunately for Joe Bradley (again, not Bradley, who we will cease to reference here), his confession immediately backfires when Leva takes her staff to Republic to continue the party. Trevor’s there! Maddi’s upset! Word gets around to everyone about what Joe Bradley said! Trevor, an ingrown hair you should’ve tweezed weeks ago, pulls Joe Bradley out for a mano-a-mano (mano-a-floppo, I guess?) and tells him if he crosses this boundary again, they’re going to have “an actual problem.” I’d argue the actual problem is all the times Trevor cheated on Maddi, but that’s just me!
And then Mia correctly flips out on Joe Bradley after he tells her, grossly, “I got over Maddi with you.” Baby. Ba-by. I’m gay and even I know not to tell a woman that. And I was just starting to fall in love with Joe Bradley as a TV character! Mia tells the other women that Joe Bradley’s essentially been love-bombing her all season. Maddi tells her he confessed his love to her on the boat. Mia tells her he made out with her in her car — after the boat confession and ensuing tears. Boo! Hiss! Joe Bradley must die! Or maybe not that, but Joe Bradley must pay!
Mia and Maddi stomp out of the bathroom to give Joe Bradley the absolute fucking business. The entire time, Leva’s watching and listening, and Mikel is screaming so loudly in the background that the sound editors can’t erase him from the proceedings. This is a very, very good finale fight and one that ends the season on a total high and sets us up for what’s to come. Bravo, Bravo!!! Bra-effing-vo.
So! Freshman seasons, let alone freshman spinoffs, are hard. You have to convince your audience to come along with whatever personality you’re spinning off (Leva: beloved in this household, polarizing if you read Instagram comments, which I highly recommend you do not); you have to introduce your newcomers in a pilot that makes you want to stick with them; and you have to give your loyalists enough meat off the bone in a tight run of episodes to convince them to get loud enough to demand a second season, and to get their friends to watch, too. Bravo has, it must be said, given plenty of new shows breathing room even if their first seasons didn’t hit. There’s never been a bad season of Summer House, for instance, but our Hamptons friends didn’t start drawing the sorts of eyes and attention network execs like to see until word of mouth buoyed the series into Must See TV territory; ditto Southern Charm itself, which, unlike Summer House, was always Must See TV, ever since its humble, hot mess beginnings.
Though I worried at moments, I think I’m in the clear to say that this show, my little Hospitality Werq-ers (circle back to me on this nickname in season two) will be returning. Just last week, NBCUniversal senior VP of current unscripted production Kathleen French shouted out our little engine that could in a sweeping state of the union interview with The Hollywood Reporter, shining a light on the cast in a way that says, to me, renewal is imminent: “Our series Southern Hospitality is very representative of what’s happening in the South right now. This is a diverse cast of a close group of friends, and sexuality and diversity is just who they are. I don’t think it necessarily is something that is acknowledged as being different.”
And here’s the thing: Southern Hospitality has earned its sophomore season. I know I’ve given Juhlilly grief all season for being as vapid and fleeting as the cotton candy she melts into prosecco at her theme night. I’ve said Bradley (fine, we mentioned him once more) is too boring for the show. That the editors need to give us more Lucía if they want us to care about her. That Leva’s blurring some work-life boundaries with these kids. That Joe Bradley has a nice butt (still true). That Mikel is a star (doubly true still). But at the end of the day, Southern Hospitality and all its stars constitute one of Bravo’s biggest, messiest, most compelling debut seasons in recent history. I’ll miss them in the off-season, but I have the utmost faith they’ll be back before you know it — I hope you will, too.
In all sincerity, thanks for reading along with these recaps every week. It’s been a blast reading all your comments, and I hope we find another slice of heavenly trash to bond over again soon. And to Juhlilly: I don’t hate you. I think I just want to be you.
• “I don’t give a fuck if there’s rain. I’m not there to get tan. I’m there to eat lobster.” — Here she is, folks, this season’s MVP: Emmy, queen of confessionals, queen of in-the-moment retorts, queen of peanut butter, and just general legend who I cannot wait to see more of next season.
• Our second unblurred butt of the season, and this time, it’s TJ’s! Good for Bravo and good for these hot youths for stripping down for the deserving fans.
• “Bitch, they got crab legs!” — Mikel, our other MVP of the season. We don’t deserve this man. The star power he has shines brighter than so many of our favorite Bravolebs. I hope they give him a raise.
• The revelation in this episode’s final minutes that Mia — our Mia! — was the woman who messaged Taylor to tell her Shep had tried to kiss her at Republic. Imagine the sound of one million chef’s kissing their fingers.