Ladies of London is back! And I am so excited. Out of all the non-Housewives shows on Bravo, this one is probably my very favorite. Last summer I felt like it was Bravo's best-kept secret - it wasn't quite the breakout hit it deserved to be and it certainly wasn't long enough. So I'm positively thrilled that it's back for a second season. I love the show because it turns the traditional lifestyle-based reality show premise on its head. In nearly every other show on Bravo, from the Housewives to the Shahs to the Below Deck crew, viewers get a chance to learn about a unique and specific subculture within American society. Ladies of London flips the script by showing how American ex-pats and British aristocracy co-exist in a culture that's so different from ours, there's an ocean separating the two. In the land of tea and titles, everything feels decidedly foreign - the cars are on the wrong side of the street, the biggest celebrities are literal royalty and a weekend at an estate in the English countryside is your typical staycation.
Returning from last season are Brits Caroline Stanbury - the queen bee of the group - and Annabelle Neilson and Americans Marissa Hermer and Juliet Angus. Joining them this year are two ladies with legitimate titles: Julie Montagu (a.k.a. Lady Hinchingbrooke) who's been promoted to the main cast after spending last season in a recurring capacity and Baroness Caroline Fleming, a close friend of the other Caroline's, who happens to come from old-school Danish royalty. Caroline S.'s ravishing sister-in-law, Sophie Stanbury, also joins the cast as a Friend of the Ladies. Even before watching the episode, I feel really good about the cast this year. Bravo kept the best, most likable ladies from last season and replaced the others with more aristocracy. I have the feeling it's a recipe for success.
After a brief montage that touches base with all the ladies, the episode opens on Annabelle and Julie driving out to Mapperton, the family estate owned by Julie's in-laws the Earl and Countess of Sandwich. Annabelle explains in her interview that she and Lady Hinchingbrooke have become extremely close in the year and a half since the horse-riding accident that left her with a broken pelvis. When Annabelle was confined to a bed unable to move, Julie visited regularly, checking on her friend and helping as much as she possibly could. They eventually arrive in Mapperton and are greeted by Julie's husband Luke. Julie explains to viewers that as the oldest son, Luke is what's called the primogenitor of the estate and he'll one day inherit Mapperton, his father's title and all the responsibilities that come with being the future Earl of Sandwich. Julie's certainly living a modern Cinderella story, having been catapulted from a middle-class family in Illinois to the life of a British aristocrat entirely by chance. However, as an American, she's certainly not the demure English rose many in British society expect to be a viscountess.
Also having grown close since last season wrapped are Caroline S. and Juliet. Is it just me or do these two have a definite Lisa Vanderpump/Brandi vibe going on? Juliet visits Caroline at the office of her company The Gift Library, and claims in her interview that the queen bee is a good person to be friends with in London since she knows everyone. Juliet jokingly points out the American flag behind Caroline's desk, but when Caroline explains that Marissa gave it to her, Juliet goes stone cold. Apparently, things aren't quite peachy between the Americans, who spent Season 1 as best buddies. Juliet explains via confessional that when she first moved to London, Marissa helped her feel welcomed and settled in a new country, but eventually Juliet felt like she was constantly being put under a microscope and picked apart by her pal. Unlike with Marissa, Juliet can be herself around Caroline without her behavior being dissected. Juliet always feels like she has to apologize around Marissa and she's tired of it.
Cut to Marissa at home with her husband and two kids. Life has been pretty swell for the Hermer family lately. After getting her British citizenship last season, Marissa gave birth to a second son, started a new business and still kept things running at Bumpkin, her and Matt's restaurant/private dining room. While playing with the boys, Marissa brings up her plans for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday to her husband. She loves planning parties, likening the process to watching an artist create, and can't wait to have all the ladies to Bumpkin for a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. Marissa explains that if you're not born into British society, you have to earn your place on the guest list and she has. Marissa Hermer has arrived!
Meanwhile, Caroline is being chauffered across the river to Juliet's house in Battersea, which is apparently the New Jersey compared to London's Manhattan. Not even cell reception reaches this far out into the boonies! Apparently, Juliet and her family would be considered extremely well off in America, but in London it's basically "sh*t money" (her words, not mine). Once Caroline picks her up, the conversation turns to Thanksgiving. Being British, Caroline's not particularly excited about the holiday, and is hosting a cocktail party at her house in Surrey the night before. God bless America, but Thanksgiving means basically nothing to her. Juliet points out that the holiday also happens to fall on her birthday this year, and immediately launches into an excited ramble about Thanksgiving traditions in America, where family gathers at home around turkey, stuffing and football. However, if Juliet thinks Caroline will be putting her hand up a turkey's bottom this year, she's sadly mistaken.
The next day, the ladies all meet at Partridge's to shop for all the Thanksgiving necessities. Marissa will be making most of the food at home and then taking it around the corner to Bumpkin, where the dinner will be held in the private dining room. After settling the pie-making duties, Juliet immediately jumps into her argument that she doesn't want to have Thanksgiving in a restaurant - she'd rather have it in a house because TRADITION. Marissa points out that she has thirty other people coming to the dinner so it's not really realistic to fit all of those guests into her tiny dining room. Juliet's not budging, though. Just once, she wants things to be the American way; is that really so hard? In her interview, Caroline says that Marissa thinks of herself as queen host, but that London society can "smell a social climber from a mile away." To the queen bee, Marissa's effort reeks of desperation. Julie senses that the issue is really a competition between the two other Americans in the group, while Annabelle points out that the conversation is going in circles and the middle of a supermarket isn't really an appropriate place to have an argument over turkey. For her part, Marissa is confused. Is Juliet trying to take Thanksgiving away from her? Or is this some sort of friendship test?
The next day, Juliet visits Caroline at her house in Surrey to rehash the supermarket drama. Caroline points out that they basically walked into a situation that had already been decided: Thanksgiving was happening at Bumpkin and that was that. Juliet complains that she just wanted to start a new tradition this year, and accuses Marissa of always manipulating her way into getting what she wants. Turning on the tears, Juliet says she wanted to have the holiday at Caroline's house because it's so important to her. Remember it's her birthday, OK?! Caroline can't say no to the waterworks and eventually caves to Juliet's request, despite the fact that she couldn't care less about this American holiday. She also quickly points out that this new plan is most definitely going to upset Marissa, so Juliet needs to give her a heads up.
To break the news, Juliet meets Marissa at Bumpkin for a chat over Juliet spritzers (her signature drink of Sauvignon blanc with soda and ice). Marissa says she's excited about Thanksgiving but doesn't understand why Juliet was so manic and crazy at the market. What is it about Thanksgiving that sends her over the edge? Juliet once again goes into her speech about traditions and how it's the most special holiday and then drops the bomb that they're now doing it at Caroline's house. In her interview, Marissa explains that it's very frowned upon in England to go looking for a better offer and I'm having serious deja vu to last season's baby shower drama. This whole concept of trading up seems to be a regular problem among these London ladies. Marissa asks why the dinner needs to be at Caroline's house - her house doesn't feel like a home to Juliet? Oh and by the way, Marissa was throwing Juliet a surprise birthday celebration during the dinner. Yikes, this is sensitive ground. In her interview, Juliet claims that Marissa is hard to be friends with because she has a way of guilting you into getting her way. However, it looks to me like Juliet was being insensitive and rude and Marissa was just trying to be a good friend. Marissa points out that she doesn't think Juliet recognizes how much damage she's causing to her other friendships as she climbs further into Caroline's pocket. (OK she didn't say pocket.)
The night finally arrives for Caroline's cocktail party. As she's getting her makeup done by Luke the sexy makeup artist, Caroline commiserates about the mess she's found herself in the middle of all thanks to her good pal Juliet. First to arrive is Caroline Fleming, whom Caroline S. describes as a baroness, model, entrepreneur, host of Denmark's Next Top Model and an all-around MILF. It turns out the two Carolines lived together in their wild, younger days, living the high life as they dominated the London social scene. Marissa arrives next, bearing turkey hat gifts for Caroline and the kids, since they won't be attending her Thanksgiving dinner. In her confessional, Caroline S. says that Marissa thinks she's "Martha f***ing Stewart minus the jail sentence" and that she didn't realize she was competing for Thanksgiving, since she still doesn't understand what Thanksgiving even is. For her part, Marissa wonders what Caroline Stanbury has that Juliet wants so badly. From her perspective, it seems that Juliet is more than happy to trade her friendship for Caroline's. Who's the social climber now?
Eventually Juliet arrives, knowing she's created a bit of a mess. The elephant in the room is Marissa's hurt feelings, but Juliet refuses to apologize for what she did. Thanksgiving is just that important to her, OK? Juliet inevitably pulls Marissa aside at the party to talk about their issue, and Marissa promptly lets her friend know that it's rude to shop your birthday around to the most attractive bidder. Marissa wanted to make Juliet's birthday special because, as much as she's a giant pain in the a**, her friendship means something to Marissa, but that's all gone down the tubes now thanks to Juliet's selfishness. Marissa explains that she's sticking to her holiday traditions no matter what, but wanted to include Juliet's birthday to make her happy. This is the first party she's ever thrown where the guest of honor has decided not to show up.
Juliet goes on the defensive, petulantly asking if this is where she's supposed to give Marissa her sainthood back. Caroline S. watches the confrontation from the balcony above, saying in her interview that while the fight seems unnecessary, she kind of likes that the two emotional Americans are fighting over her. Eventually, she descends the stairs to break up the argument. When she interrupts, Marissa accuses Juliet of being irrational and says it feels like she's trading up for Queen Caroline. Caroline laughs this off, but you know inside she's just loving it. In her interview, Marissa explains that being friends with Juliet is kind of like a roller coaster. Sometimes it's fun but sometimes the highs and lows are just too much, and right now all Marissa wants to do is get off the roller coaster.
What did you think of the premiere? Did you love it as much as I did? I honestly can't wait for the rest of the season. Next week, TurkeyGate continues...