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The Real Housewives of Orange County Season Premiere Recap: Son of a Gunvalson

The Real Housewives of Orange County

New Friend, New Flames
Season 14 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****

The Real Housewives of Orange County

New Friend, New Flames
Season 14 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Bravo

First and foremost, here’s to Victoria Denise Gunvalson Jr.: a hero to many, a villain to some, but a shrieking mainstay to all. There’s something about her not being in the opening that makes me a little bit sad. She isn’t here in her bright-blue dress on the orange background with a clever rejoinder like “Some say I’m not all there, but I’m fully engaged,” because, you know, she and Steve Lodge are now affianced.

Yeah, yeah, I know that I was going around saying that we needed to fire good old VDG Jr., but I only said that because I didn’t think it would happen. Now that she’s been demoted from Housewife to “friend,” I kind of miss her. Or maybe I don’t miss her per se, but I miss the sense of continuity, the sense that we’re all in this together, the notion that when the ship finally goes down, it’s going to be Vicki’s leaden body dragging us to the bottom of the deep, briny ocean.

She’s not gone forever, and maybe next episode, when Tamra has her barbecue and Vicki is invited, that old nattering anxiety will return and I will feel once again at home in the OC. But Tamra and Kelly’s exchange about Vicki being invited to the party makes me wonder if what happened to Vicki has something to do with Kelly. Kelly says she will “walk the other way” if she sees Vicki. Do you think production chose Kelly over Vicki? I don’t disagree with the decision, but that is a very bold move (and certainly one that NeNe Leaks should pay attention to vis-à-vis the return of Kenya Moore).

I don’t know if it’s because Vicki is gone or something else, but this whole episode felt really disjointed. Yes, we’re just getting back into the swing of things, but all of the women seem so isolated from each other. They don’t all come together once during the first episode, which is odd. This past season of Real Housewives of New York City started with the women apart in two separate groups in the Hamptons, ramping up a confrontation between Team Luann and Team Dorinda. Even though the two sides weren’t physically together, at least they were throwing barbs across the chasm of their separation.

The factions on OC seem much more disparate. Gina and Emily are on one side, mostly concerned with the fact that Gina got a DUI in the “offseason.” Surprisingly, this is not something that happens very often with our Housewives. Gina couches it as going to a “mom event” and having a few too many glasses of wine, saying she was feeling fine and was shocked she was over the legal limit. Then we find out that the passenger in her car had a roadie, and the picture takes on a bit of a salacious tinge, like Gina took a selfie of the moment using FaceApp’s ASU Sorority Girl setting, thereby giving her likeness to both Russian hackers and the Newport Beach Police Department at the same time.

I do love the little sister/big sister dynamic at play between Gina and Emily, particularly when Gina asks Emily if she’s disappointed that she got a DUI. “No. I mean yeah,” Emily says. Emily is no-nonsense and says, “You made a mistake, but don’t make one again because this could have huge consequences and you could lose your kids.” It’s the perfect response, and I wish that Emily could be this much of a hardass with Shane, her starving earthworm of a husband. Also, we discover this episode that Emily has a dog named Fisker and Gina has a chinchilla named Shaiya, so they can also bond over giving their pets stupid names.

The other axis on the show is Kelly and Shannon, a delightful odd couple of daffy broads that I would be happy to watch do just about anything. They share a brief conversation about Gina’s DUI, but that’s it. It’s like these two duos are operating not just on different shows, but in different universes entirely. And they somewhat are. While Emily and Gina are dealing with divorce and problems at home, Kelly and Shannon are swinging single ladies whose biggest problem is that Kelly bought an enormous Mercedes SUV the color of beer cheese sharts.

We see Kelly and Shannon go for a night on the town at the Quiet Woman, where they both now get a 50 percent discount for the amount of Housewives fans that have been packing into the joint ever since they got in a fight there two seasons ago. Shannon even invites one of the dudes she’s dating, Ken, a.k.a. “Babe,” because he’s the first person to ever call Shannon babe. The two of them start necking right there in the restaurant (you know Shannon calls it “necking”), and all of the OC fans who showed up at the Quiet Woman that night get more than their money’s worth.

Kelly also has a new man: Dr. Brian Reagan, M.D., who says his full name and qualifications at least ten times during the course of the episode. It’s so bad it’s almost as if his name is Skinny Girl or The Agency. Their visit to his office is sort of ridiculous: First he plugs himself, then he plugs some jeweler where he bought Kelly a pair of earrings. Then we see him talking to Shannon about her trademarked FaceTight and NeckTight procedures she just got a few days before. They’re just like a face-lift, but with much less downtime. I don’t know, based on the footage of Shannon being driven home by Kelly with her face looking like a sack of rotted plums, I don’t know if the downtime is that inconsiderable.

The whole visit is like some kind of commercial for Dr. Brian Reagan, M.D., who seems less like Kelly’s boyfriend and more like an advertiser. Was there some kind of contract where he had to get a certain amount of airtime talking about his practice? Also, would anyone want to go to a cosmetic surgeon with a step-and-repeat in his waiting room? That’s sort of like going to a therapist who is willing to go on a reality-TV show.

Along with these two duos there are two islands standing alone in this archipelago of a reality show. There is Braunwyn, the Kylie Minogue look-alike new girl who is already giving my spell-check a workout. And then there is Tamra. Good old reliable Tamra, who has now gone full circle and moved into Coto de Caza, the “double-gated” community that was the basis for this show in the first place. I was gagging over the footage from the first couple of seasons of people talking about Coto like it hasn’t been in fashion since Sky Tops. That footage was so grainy and awful, like something out of a horror movie, like the ghost of Jo De La Rosa was going to climb through the television and tell you that in seven days you’ll be dead.

Yes, Tamra bought a new $2 million house even though she had a house custom-built for herself last year. Whatever. It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. It seems like Tamra’s story line this year is at least going to incorporate that her oldest son Ryan, a grown gentleman with an inner-lip tattoo, and one of her younger sons, Spencer, are not talking. It seems that Ryan is a MAGA-hat-wearing, Fox News–watching, “Lock her up”–chanting Trump supporter and Spencer is reasonable. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t editorialize. Spencer is not a xenophobe. GOD, I’m so bad at this. What I mean to say is that Spencer is more liberal than Ryan.

Apparently Spencer called Ryan a “racist” because Ryan supports the building of Trump’s wall. Ryan thinks that he is not a racist and is no longer talking to Spencer. I do believe that Ryan considers himself not a racist, however, he is supporting a policy that seems to be stemming from racism, whether overt or subliminal. Does that make him a racist? I don’t know. What I do know is that these arguments are dividing families all over the country and it’s very real and relatable that this is happening to Tamra.

That said, I adamantly do not want this in my Housewives. It’s like a brownie trying to deliver you a daily dose of fiber. I want my Housewives to be about yelling at each other, about bumbling through life trying to make a show, about getting wasted and making a fool of yourself on a bar in Puerto Vallarta. I do not want my Housewives to be about politics or real-world issues or anything approaching honest, genuine emotion. This is supposed to be an escape, and if the division that is rending the voting population asunder can be found even here, well, there is no place left to hide.

Real Housewives of Orange County Recap: Son of a Gunvalson