Here at the Real Housewives Institute, we don’t often spend a lot of time talking about the underappreciated underpinnings of any given Real Housewives franchise: the taglines. They are, after all, the vanity license plates that welcome us into these living car crashes week after week and this season of The Real Fisherman of the Sermon on the Mount has some especially egregious ones.
The best tagline, of course, is “I’m pint-sized, baptized, and highly prized.” There has never been a six-word summation of a human being’s physical, spiritual, and emotional state as succinct as this. That is why Tamra Barney Judge is a 50-year-old grandmother with visible abdominal muscles and the rest of us are sitting at home, drowning in double peanut butter chip chewy granola bar wrappers and our own despair.
Two taglines are competing for the worst. The first is Meghan King Edmonds’s “I can handle a baby and women that act like one.” This is going to annoy me every single episode because it appears that not one person at Bravo had a nun as a grammar teacher who hammered noun-object agreement into them. To be grammatically correct it should be, “I can handle a baby and women that act like them” or, better yet for parallel structure, “I can handle a baby and a woman that acts like one.” As it stands, her tagline is the blithely incorrect “10 Items or Less” sign of the Real Housewives universe.
However, the really, really bad one is the twisted logic of Kelly Dodd Frank. (What? She needed three names for symmetry.) “If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” What sort of linguistic Möbius strip is this? She is basically saying that she doesn’t want to hear from anyone unless they are telling her what she already told them to say. So, basically, Kelly Dodd just wants to play a constant game of telephone with herself? Or maybe she just wants everyone in the world to lie to her? But this is perfect Kelly Dodd (Frank) because it’s something that sounds funny, bitchy, and pithy at first blush, but upon closer scrutiny it just falls apart like a double peanut butter chip chewy granola bar left out in the sun. Is there anything more Kelly Dodd than that?
Other than the taglines, this is your basic catch-up episode with the whole cast and a reintroduction of Lydia McLaughlin, the former Housewife who seems to have prayed her way back onto the show. (Because she is a returning Housewife, she is exempt from the Eileen Davidson Accord and we can start passing judgment on her immediately.) I’m just going to come right out and say that I’m glad for the return of Lydia, a pterodactyl that turned into a princess. This show has gotten exceptionally dark over the last few seasons, so to have someone around with herky-jerking Vaudeville dances and spastic bird creature arm movements is just the sort of levity this whole enterprise needs. That she has a hot husband sure doesn’t hurt. I have no idea why they’re cruising around Newport Beach in a golf cart big enough to carry every one of Tiger Woods’s mistresses, but, hey, if that’s the price we have to pay, I’ll take it.
What I don’t like is just how Jesus-y this little corner of the Housewives globe is getting. I appreciate the Christianity of Chip and Joanna Gaines, who keep it mostly confined to their private life and only show up on my screen to perpetuate open floor plans and shiplap on unsuspecting Waco-ite gentrifiers. Strangely, though, it seems like the religious set is taking over reality television, whether it’s the Survivor contestants who want to pray before opening every coconut or the athletes on American Ninja Warrior who feel the need to run the course with Bible verses painted on their limbs. And, of course, Lydia’s husband is already training their son to be a Ninja Warrior. I would like to quote Chapter 15, Verse 37 of the Book of Grumble: “This is dumb.”
I guess Meghan King Edmonds is still on this show, but all we heard from her is that she has a baby and that her husband Jim is a very attentive father, even though he still treats her like she’s a summer intern from Sonja Tremont Morgan University, a scholastic enterprise whose motto is, “Learn From Our Mistakes.”
Now that we’re checking in on the Housewives, I suppose we should talk about the elephant in the room: Shannon Beador. Sorry, sorry. I couldn’t resist. That was a low blow. I will be much more sympathetic to her in the future because, let’s face it, we’ve all been where Shannon is. Sometimes life gets too hard, you get a little too big, none of your clothes fit, and you spend every waking moment thinking that you look like the world’s biggest otter stuck in the world’s smallest inner tube. I get it. That sucks and I hope that Shannon can find the motivation she needs (and that Tamra thinks she lacks) to fulfill her weight-loss journey. Speaking of which, one of Shannon’s best friends and castmates is a personal trainer. She might not be a Kardashian trainer, but why isn’t Tamra offering some help?
What most of us don’t have is a spouse as chronically unsupportive as David Beador. Shannon has no time to make dinner and is trying to find something healthy for the family so that she can lose weight and he’ll touch her again. When she serves a “quinoa bowl,” he says, “It’s fine. I mean, it’s no steak fillet. It’s just fine. What do you expect from quinoa?” I would like to put David into a cauldron, boil him down to his essential parts, let his hooves and ligaments and other connective tissues turn into a gelatin that I will use to make the world’s largest ambrosia salad, and eat it every day until I am fat enough to fill out Donald Trump’s golf shorts. He is just the worst.
Also maybe the worst is Kelly Dodd, who offered to pay for her mother’s vaginal rejuvenation because, I don’t know, that is what she thinks daughters do? Maybe that’s what she expects from her oldest daughter when she’s of retirement age. Who knows. Thank God for Bobbi, who is the first person ever on this show to actually turn down the procedure. What really makes Kelly the worst, however, is just how pathologically cruel and un-self-aware she is. She sits down in Vicki’s office and says that Tamra’s bodybuilding competition was a “parade of pigs.” Then, in the next breath, says, “I don’t know why we all can’t just get along and have a fun time.” Um, I know. Because you say unspeakably awful things about these people. Like they’re going to want to play a game of Jarts with you after you called her and all of her cohort disgusting animals?
This brings us to the chief concern of this season: the divide between Vicki and Tamra, the ever-flowing yin and yang of this series. I’m starting to see a bit of fatigue with these two that is reminiscent of what is going on with Ramona and Bethenny on Real Tom Fuckers of the Regency. These two have been together for the better part of a decade, fighting and making up, fighting and making up, like the destructive tide that rolls in and out everyday. At some point, however, one must get sick of the constant churn. Although there is an ostensible reason behind the fight — Tamra called Vicki a con artist for covering up Brooks’s fake cancer and Vicki spread the rumor that Tamra’s husband is gay — it’s really just ten years of two awful people treating each other like crap and finally being sick of smelling like the inside of a port-o-john next to the taco truck at Bonnaroo.
But their neverending push-and-pull, like a celestial tug-of-war or the arm- wrestling scenes from Over the Top playing on an infinite loop, is what drives this whole thing. We need Tamra and Vicki to keep going in order to stay interested. Sure, some things might change — Tamra’s gym is entirely empty, Vicki has fooled a new man into filling up her love tank — but the fundamentals are a constant. It’s the same screams reverberating in the same cavern, knocking loose little particles of dust that fill the air and choke all around them. It won’t be the death of us, it won’t even make us sick, but as we enjoy our spelunking, one day we will all wonder just how in the hell we all got so dusty.