Photo: Bravo/Casey Durkin/Bravo
The best part of this 15th-season premiere is something taken from the show’s original inspiration. Jeana Keough, friend of series creator Scott Dunlop and the first Real Housewife ever cast, voices vague platitudes while we see clips of recent destruction playing in the background. It’s just like the beginning and ending of every episode of Desperate Housewives, the show Bravo blatantly knocked off and then staggeringly outlived.
“They say seasons don’t change around here. But that’s not quite true,” says Jeana, the only O.C. original they could probably get on the phone now that Victoria Denise Gunvalson Jr. is still throwing a temper tantrum on her enormous kitchen island about getting fired. “There’s the winter of friendships past, the spring of new beginnings, the blistering summer of new romances, and the autumn harvest or reaping what we sow.”
These words conjure up the Ghosts of Housewives past and we see Vicki screaming about a family van, Tamra Barney Judge throwing a glass of wine at Jeana, Jo de la Rosa doing a doomed striptease for Slade Smiley, and Heather Dubrow saying “It’s not my fault” with an eon of dramatic pause between each word. It’s absolutely riveting. Then we see the opening of the women holding their oranges change year after year, one face morphing into another like the ending of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video.
This is an interesting note for the show to hit, and, like fourth-wall-breaking, one we’ve been seeing more often. It’s the Real Housewives reveling in its own nostalgia. It’s responding to the impulse of fans not only wanting to see the new episodes but reliving the drama of old, those charged moments of television that we’ll never be able to stop thinking about, those moments that, as the kids say, live in our minds rent free. This is a move that can only be practiced by a show with longevity. RHOC will celebrate its 15th anniversary in March, and something like this montage demonstrates that the show’s not only stuck in the past because its best days are behind it but because so few other shows can claim such a history.
The rest of this episode, honestly, is a bit unmooring. Without Vicki or Tamra this season, we are free of OGs. Shannon Beador is now the senior member of the House(wives) Ways and Means Committee, and she joined the cast in season nine. Without those lodestars in the cast, I don’t even remember what the allegiances were. Yes, Emily and Gina are strained besties (though they did not share a single scene together, so emphasis on the strained), but where are all the other battle lines? Do they even exist?
First, we need to check in with all of the ladies because a lot has been going on since last season. Most notably, everyone has a new house, and everyone has a new man. Should we talk about Shannon’s house or her man first? Okay, let’s start with the house, a spacious Colonial in Newport Beach that looks like it has plenty of room but isn’t the audacious palace she lived in with ex-husband, David. There is no basketball court with a Beador B in the center now that Shannon is paying the bills on her own (with generous spousal support). But there is a gym with a fake Warhol of Shannon’s face in it, both of which seem like a diamond-coated middle finger to David.
Shannon’s new man is named John, and he is handsome, fit, tall, and, most important, looks prosperous. A friend introduced them eight months before filming started, and they’ve been spending every day together since, even though he doesn’t live there. John also has three children, so we see a blended dinner with Shannon, Sophie (who is off to Baylor in the fall — OR SO SHE THOUGHT!), and twins Adeline and Stella, who are 15 and gorgeous. Like “watch out Gigi and Bella” gorgeous. Like “too short to be supermodels but will definitely have more Instagram followers than Brielle Zolciak Biermann” gorgeous.
We also meet John’s kids, Juliet, Jessica, and Joe, who is 22 and about a week away from signing on as a Corbin Fisher exclusive. (Please don’t Google that. If you didn’t get it, the joke is not for you.) I now realize that all of his kids’ names start with J, and probably his ex-wife’s does as well, and I want to give myself paper cuts with a million posed family-Christmas-photo postcards. They’re having a fun dinner and shooting Silly String at each other, and it’s great to see Shannon smile for a change.
Next up is Gina, who has a “townhome” in Rancho Viejo. Shannon comes over to visit and brings her nine lemons in a bowl, because nothing says “housewarming” like self-referential humor. Gina’s teeny-tiny three-bedroom is brought to you by HomeGoods. I swear there is so much “Live. Laugh. Love.” in this place that it seems like product integration. She’s showing Shannon around, and Shannon keeps saying “It’s nice,” but her face is saying “Get me out of this rattrap and back to the beach immediately.”
Gina’s house has a “boys’ bedroom” and a “girls’ bedroom,” and they are crammed full of bunk beds like they were stolen from the set of Das Boot. That’s because Gina is also playing Brady Bunch with her new man, Travis, who is the most Travis-looking person that you will ever meet. He is handsome, with a full beard and more than a bit of a belly. If he liked dick a little bit more, the North American Homosexual would call him a bear. This helps explain something that must be addressed and that makes me a little uncomfortable: Gina got fat. Thankfully, she acknowledges this herself, because otherwise I would feel a little bit bad bringing it up.
Because that’s the thing: Gina is not fat. She is just bigger than she was before. She is still pretty and a totally acceptable weight, but she is … noticeably bigger. I think when she was with Matt, he was the type of man with a killer body who thought a kale salad with mango on top was a treat. Now she’s with Travis, and he’s the type of guy who says “Why don’t we each order our own pizza.” Know what? I would much rather be with a Travis than a Matt, sure, but I am also not on television letting millions of people judge me. (And thank God for that, because my COVID weight appears to be waiting for a vaccine before it decides it’s time to leave me alone.)
Kelly did not get a new house, at least not yet, though she is moving doors away from Shannon and Braunwyn, who live literally around the corner from each other. She did get a new man named Rick Leventhal, and he is a Fox News reporter and (deep sigh) yeah. Kelly seems great, though. She’s getting laid on the regular, as she will tell us every opportunity she gets.
Braunwyn has the same old man, who is wearing the same old stupid man jewelry (at this point, it feels like a personal slight), but she has a giant new house that is 8,000 square feet and has a gym, a theater for the kids, a meditation room, a pirate-ship playscape in the backyard, and a nightclub in the basement. Is there anything sadder than a nightclub in someone’s suburban basement? If you want that life, then move to a city and go to a real nightclub. Don’t furnish your basement with a bunch of black lights and write “Cheers to Bad Choices” in neon on the walls and use it, like, once when you move into the house and then never again.
Everyone has a new friend named Elizabeth Vargas. Due to the Eileen Davidson Accord of 2012, we cannot judge her for five episodes. However, she is getting a divorce from a Norwegian fish magnate she says is a billionaire (though the incredibly reliable Celebrity Net Worth says he’s only worth $200 million, so maybe he’s not?). She is both Kelly and Braunwyn’s friend, so she has some natural connection to the group. Let’s see how this goes, shall we?
Now that we’re all up to speed, the drama of the episode is about whether Kelly and Shannon can be friends again after Kelly called Jim Bellino, a mylar balloon of an orangutan, after he sued her and Tamra for talking shit about his business on a podcast. This is a dumb fight because everyone knows Kelly only did this to get back at Tamra and that Kelly was collateral damage. She only did this after Tamra was talking to all sorts of people with dirt on Kelly, so if Shannon really wants to be mad at someone, she should be mad at Tamra.
Braunwyn gets her two new neighbors together at her house and gives them shots so they can start anew. Kelly even brings a gift for Shannon, a deck of Uno cards, because the Tres Amigas are now down to Uno. That is an amazingly sick burn, and that is why Kelly Dodd will always be a great Real Housewife, even if she is … marrying a Fox News reporter.
Throughout the episode, including at this meeting, everyone kept talking about Braunwyn’s drinking and how she’s wasted all the time. Kelly says she has never known Braunwyn to turn down a drink, and Emily says that the reason she never got close to her was because she was wasted all the time. “You can’t have a deep, meaning conversation with someone who can’t stand up,” she says.
As all this was coming out, I kept thinking, Oh God, they’re setting us up for a season of fighting about whether or not Braunwyn is a drunk. It’s going to be like Dorinda all over again. But then it took a turn. Braunwyn tells Emily about how she was hiding alcohol and secretly drinking and how she got so wasted at Kelly’s bachelorette party in Miami that she was shaking if she didn’t drink. It’s rare to see Housewives take accountability for their drunken behavior. The only time we’ve ever really seen it was when the court mandated Luann go to AA, and even then, a few weeks after her probation was over, she was back on the sauce at a charity event and getting drunk for the rest of the season.
It will be interesting to see more of Braunwyn’s sobriety journey, particularly around a group of women that not only like to drink but often celebrate their drunken antics — much to the delight of those of us watching at home. As the beginning of the episode showed us whispers from the past, the end showed us some echoes from the future, and they were, surprisingly, quite powerful. Braunwyn looked at the camera and said, “My name is Braunwyn, and I’m an alcoholic,” and for a minute everything fell away and I was left with something deep inside, like a small ember of concern.
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