How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Real Housewives?

I was determined not to say anything about the interminable Real Housewives of New York reunion, but after watching the three-hour cackling death march, I couldn't remain silent. There's something very wrong with the Housewives, and someone needs to fix it.

Watching the Real Housewives of New York reunion was painful. It was awfully bad. It was like lying on the hood of your car at the end of a runway while a plane takes off just above you, but the plane is made of bickering, insults, and baseless accusations. Three hours of solid, unresolved fighting is sort of like eating a sundae for dinner. You think it's going to be awesome, but about halfway through, you feel vaguely sick and don't know if you can make it all the way through. And then the next day you're really gassy and never want to do it again.

But the problem with the reunion wasn't just about the reunion—it's about the show in general. This was just a capsule of the season as a whole, one marked by intractable fighting, ingrained allegiances, and convoluted slights, both actual and perceived. Four seasons in, watching the Real Housewives of New York is like watching trench warfare, the two sides (blondes versus brunettes) deep in their bunkers firing the same weapons over and over and over again, with no one gaining ground.

Maybe this is the nature of modern celebrity or maybe it's just the social proximity of these women. They all live in the same area and are scrambling for the same meager spoils of their fame. And then there's the Twitter battles and Facebook wars and fan blogs and hate messaging that goes on behind the scenes that has a definite outcome on how these women treat each other, but is never quite explained on the show. This just makes the neverending battle more ferocious, but also more baffling to those who don't follow every slight movement on the blinged-out Risk board these women are playing on. Whatever creates it, it's getting boring.

And it's not just New York. I couldn't stomach the current season of the Orange County franchise because the entire season was Tamra and Gretchen and their various lackeys rehashing a two-seasons-old fight that had something to do with something Tamra said to the press about Gretchen's fiance. It wasn't even something we saw, but some very public slight that happened because of, but not on, the show. Atlanta is just as bad, and the upcoming season is sure to be NeNe and Kim Zolciak twisting their necks up at each other and snatching at each others wigs over some silliness that's never explained. An argument is fun to watch for a bit, but two grown women calling each other names over a groundless hate is as annoying now as it was in third grade.

What made us watch these shows in the first place was not only the drama and the fighting, but also that there were fun and likeable characters in them. Remember when Jill Zarin was a fun Everywoman or Nene was a good-time girl just trying to get drunk and have a good time? Remember when Vicki used to shout "WHOO-HOO" at the top of her lungs surrounded by her friends? Now she's just sucked into someone else's drama, going through the motions because she forgot what life was like when there aren't cameras around. It used to be about groups of friends, now it's about a bunch of desperate fameballs playing King of the Celebrity Mountain.

The New Jersey pocket seems to have escaped this curse, but that's probably due to heavy recasting in season three. During season two they were venturing into the combative whirlpool with everyone teaming up against Danielle. Each episode was like a Groundhog's Day of the women fighting about Danielle and her acting like a lunatic. But when she was kicked off the show and replaced by Teresa's family members, things really heated up. The thing that differentiates it is Teresa can't avoid her family, so it's in her vested interest to make things work, and that struggle, with it's ups and downs and inescapable conclusions makes good TV. So does the jovial machinations of the Manzo clan. In fact, this show is as much about families—kids leaving the house, ungrateful stepchildren, sibling rivalries—as it is about women fighting, and it's a much better show for it. In fact, what it has become isn't even a Real Housewives show at all, but something better and different. It's like a trashy reality version of Dynasty.

So, is recasting the answer? It hasn't really worked for O.C., where the new girls get pulled into the same old fights between the Botoxed broads. The rumor on the internet (and God and Andy Cohen know how reliable those are) is that all the New York Housewives are going to be sacked and recast. While I'd be sad to see some of my favorites go, this might not be a horrible idea, and its success would be interesting to follow. It would finally prove which is stronger: the personalities that drive the show, or the format itself. Would people still tune in if Sonja and Ramona and Jill and Crackerjacks were no more? Will they still tune in for another season of them waging the same war yet again? Will they be curious enough about the new ladies to give them a fair shot?

Who knows! But the one thing that this reunion show made for certain was this: the life-span of the multi-headed monster that Bravo has created is a whole lot shorter than we anticipated.