Collage of Andy Cohen, Nene Leakes, and Kandi Buruss at Real Housewives reunion
Credit: Moses Robinson/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images, HelloGiggles

Author Michael Arceneaux discusses the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta—especially the disinterested Nene Leakes and the show’s waning ratings—and suggests how the reality series he loves so dearly can get back the fun energy it once had.

When I watched part one of The Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion, its greatest star looked like she would have rather been anywhere but on set. Like, I imagine that if Nene Leakes had been offered to instead go to an audit, attend jury duty, or hell, head into her own cremation and not be sued for neglecting her contractual obligations, then I’m fairly certain she would have elected for any of these alternatives to the reunion. She only conveyed two emotions during the first hour: absolute boredom or total contempt for most of her castmates, whom she repeatedly made clear were not her friends but merely co-workers.

As a result of her demeanor, select parts made for painful viewing. But in a roundabout way, her boredom offered a nod to the same lack of interest that viewers might be having.

When RHOA’s 11th season opened last November, the show made headlines for its ratings being significantly down compared to the previous four seasons. The November 4th episode—which featured Eva Marcille joining as a full-time cast member and the departure of Kenya Moore—netted 1.93 million viewers.

Only a year prior did the Season 10 premiere generate similar headlines for declining ratings—2.4 million compared to the previous year’s 2.5 million. It is indeed a steady decline from its Season 7 premiere peak (3.83 million). During the time of the Season 10 premiere, there was even talk that Bravo executives were growing concerned about the show’s fate. One wonders what they are thinking now.

In response to similar stories about the Season 11 premiere and the perceived decline of the show, Porsha Williams noted that 1.93 million figure only counted one key demo. More recently, The Real Housewives of Atlanta ratings have ticked up now that we are in end-of-season terrain. However, no matter how the numbers are flipped—favorably or otherwise—there is still something off about the show, and notably, this season.

Make no mistake, I’m not going anywhere. I will remain a regular viewer, but really, it’s time to shake this show up again.

Although I wasn’t expecting to see Mr. and Mrs. “Poison” share way too much about their marriage so fast, I don’t totally mind Shamari DeVoe joining the cast. She, if nothing else, made an effort to be engaging. I feel the same about new friend to the show, Tanya Sam, though I will say…wasn’t she supposed to be Nene’s friend? Nene spent half the season hating Tanya.

I don’t want to sound like I’m piling on Nene, but there is a singular force impacting the direction of the show. I understand that Leakes has been having quite the difficult season while she served as caretaker for her husband, Gregg Leakes, who had been battling cancer, but if the biggest star of RHOA seems disinterested in discussing the season, what does that mean about the future of the show?

The pretense of the show is that we are watching a group of well-to-do friends being messy as hell and drunkenly arguing over nothing, all to the delight of our group chats and social media feeds.

I can make peace with some of them seeming just as broke as the rest of America, but Nene, can you at least try to act like you care enough to be around? Nene is clearly vexed with her co-workers whom we are supposed to believe are her friends. At the reunion alone, she didn’t want to talk to Porsha, she didn’t want to deal with Eva, and she could care less about Tanya. She didn’t even really want to deal with Cynthia, her one true friend whom she now despises because Kenya Moore showed up at Cynthia’s launch party for her drink with Seagrams (that literally makes so much sense, I cannot stand it). Nene also threw shade at Cynthia for announcing her engagement; Nene thinks it’s a stunt to get rehired for the next season of RHOA, but you know what? So what if it is. At least Cynthia is still happy to be there.

Can Nene say the same? She is just…there. (And this cannot solely be about Kandi and Porsha going through her closet.) Nene talks so much about being the queen, but at this point, she’s like a dark cloud over the show.

Was Season 11 perfect? No. It definitely dragged at moments, but we did get some progress. Porsha and Kandi finally stopped bickering and subsequently sucking the life out of us. Porsha just had a baby, next she has a wedding to plan in addition to a three-part special on Bravo. Eva is married. Cynthia is indeed getting married. Shamari probably has at least 790 more secrets to share, probably right after you walk her to the bar. Marlo is Marlo, but again, at least she knows to serve her purpose on the show.

Honestly, with a few more slight adjustments to the cast, I think this show can get back to its peak. I don’t know if Kenya Moore or Phaedra Parks want to return, but I’d actually take Kenya back—despite her blocking me on Twitter for calling a thing a thing. I’d rather not have to hear about Phaedra’s old beef with Kandi ever again, but maybe Shamari or Kandi knows some other married R&B singer from the 1990s or early aughts who is down to the join the cast.

Or, actually, Bravo can just bring on someone who wants to be there and live up to program’s premise: a show about women who are truly in each other’s lives.

You know, someone willing to be a team player by being an engaged one.

I appreciate all Nene has done for the show—the catchphrases, the GIFs, the various wigs that gave us “Mary J. Blige’s cousin who hit the lotto.” But, but, but: I’m tired of watching her sulk and sneer for months on end. That is depressing, and frankly, something I would expect from The Real Housewives of Orange County.

I don’t know what’s wrong with the OG and self-professed Queen Bee, but if Nene Leakes plans to stay on the show—and based on a new interview, she claims that she will stick around—perhaps she should act like it? If not, maybe it’s time she leaves Real Housewives—for her own good and for that of the viewers.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.