In any episode of Real Housewives of Orange County, right at the beginning and when we return from commercials, there are those zooming drone shots of a mountain covered with furze and then a house on the beach and then, like, three shirtless dudes playing volleyball. Usually I don’t even pay attention to them, my eyes glazed over and ready for whatever drama or slight domestic action we’re about to see. But this episode I actually paid attention.
I was thinking about those shirtless dudes playing volleyball, a little dose of hotness in this otherwise sun-bleached hellscape. They’re in almost every episode. We’ve seen them a million times. But what if they aren’t different guys playing different games of volleyball 22 episodes a year for 14 seasons? What if this is just one clip of three really hot shirtless dudes playing volleyball that they’ve been recycling for more than a decade and none of us have noticed? Or what if the producers hire the same guys every season to stage a game they can film for the B-roll and Bryce, Eric, and Josh get a check for a couple hundred bucks to be on the season? Who knows? We’ll never know. We don’t even think about it.
But I’m thinking about it now and that’s because the show is, well, it’s the show. The drama with Tamra is actually fairly interesting, like a smaller and dumber version of what happened to Lisa Vanderpump on the last season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Still, I’m not at all invested. This season has been an improvement over the last few seasons of this franchise, but I’m finding it hard to connect with anyone other than Kelly Dodd, and she makes connecting with her about as easy as getting a charge from a USB cord that is all frayed at the edges and the charge point is hanging on by the thinnest of doll hairs. (But, I mean, I really love Kelly.)
Tamra and Shannon take Kelly out to dinner to tell her that what she said about only wanting to go to Vicki’s funeral and not her birthday party was out of line. I’m with Kelly on this one, it is a total joke and, while tasteless, needs to be dismissed as one. It’s the kind of thing your inappropriate friend says and then you go, “Oh, Kelly, stop it. That’s not funny,” and then you all move on. The smarminess that Shannon Beador is smearing on this situation, like a knife full of peanut butter on a scorched bagel, is enough to make you choke. You can tell Tamra knows it’s a joke and a bit out of line, but doesn’t want to take the hard line that Shannon is taking. Of course Kelly tries to dismiss it as a joke and gets upset at them for even bringing it up and feels ganged up on because everyone is always taking the things she says out of context. I can see how Kelly would be frustrated with this situation.
However, what comes out of this dinner has less to do with Kelly’s behavior and more to do with Tamra’s. Tamra mentions that, at Vicki’s tea party, Braunwyn brought up something about how Kelly and her boyfriend Dr. Brian Reagan (AMA Ph.D. LGBTQIA) got in a fight and was talking shit about Kelly. Kelly then calls Braunwyn on the phone and she says she didn’t bring up the fight. Tamra calls her a liar and Braunwyn gets even more upset but stands her ground.
All of us canny viewers know, as this is happening, that Tamra is either lying or misremembering what happened. When she tells Braunwyn “the truth is the truth is the truth,” we know that her version of the truth and what she’s going to see when she watches the tape back are not the same.
Braunwyn makes this totally clear when she goes paddle-boarding with Emily, who should be a spokesperson for the One-Piece Bathing Suit Manufacturers of America Association because she looks so damn good wearing one. Braunwyn tells Emily about the call and Emily says that Braunwyn wasn’t talking shit that she was trying to “mitigate the situation.” Emily knows the truth, that someone else brought up Kelly’s “bar fight” and that Braunwyn was trying to explain what really happened to clear Kelly’s name.
Emily and Braunwyn decide to invite Kelly and Shannon out to dinner to set the record straight and clear Braunwyn’s name. When they all arrive to SeaLegs, a restaurant owned by a friend of Kelly’s, Braunwyn has Emily lay out her case. Kelly immediately sees that Braunwyn was doing the right thing and apologizes for taking Tamra’s side.
Then talk turns to Tamra and Braunwyn tells Kelly what we knew all along, that it was Tamra who brought up “the train” rumor, not Vicki. I do think that Vicki should get the lion’s share of the blame for this because Vicki started with, “I know awful things about her that I just won’t say,” which is what put Tamra’s train on the tracks. Also, when Tamra said it, it was in the spirit of, “Do you believe that this ridiculous thing could possibly be true?” Still, it was technically Tamra who said it on camera and put it out into the world.
This is new information for Kelly, who was blaming Vicki for it all along. Emily then says that when Gina got mad at her for setting her up on a date that canceled, it was because Tamra was assuming the worst and said, “like, it was a pity date,” not trying to defend Emily.
It seems like everyone at the table has problems with Tamra, except Shannon. Kelly says that what Tamra likes to do is throw bombs and then walk away and watch the drama happen. She’s not wrong. As opposed to early-career Tamra Barney, who would throw wine in someone’s face, throw Alexis Bellino out of a dinner party, or get Gretchen wasted so she would hook up with her son, late-career Tamra Judge is much more diplomatic and behind-the-scenes. She will plant these seeds between the other women but, as Emily says, always walks away with clean hands.
They all realize that Tamra is the common denominator in their problems, but not Shannon, who can’t see her bestie doing any of this. “She talks shit about you all the time,” Kelly says, adding that she has had hours-long conversations with Tamra about Shannon. Shannon’s mouth literally falls open like she’s going to catch a cream cheese–filled fish in it. Then the editors do Tamra dirty. They cut back to footage at the earlier dinner where Tamra tells Kelly that Shannon wanted her to come to that dinner and attack her. Then, while Shannon is away later, Kelly says, “I could say that Shannon calls us up at 3 a.m. wasted,” and Tamra says, “You could.” It’s two small but pretty damning examples of how Tamra seems to talk out of both sides of her mouth to just about everyone on the show. (And two instances where, since all three weren’t together, Tamra figured they wouldn’t use the footage.)
They all wonder what they can do about it and Emily says, “It’s never going to stop, it’s who she is!” She’s right. It’s also what the show is. Without Tamra keeping the feathers ruffled, there is no drama, there is no storyline, there is no interpersonal conflict. I don’t know what Tamra’s motivation would be to keep doing this stuff — it’s not like she’s saving her own ass by throwing others under the bus — other than to make sure that she’s crafting a great TV show. It’s just like Lisa Vanderpump, she wants to make sure that the people are entertained without them hating her. But unlike Lisa, Tamra made the mistake of doing her machinations while the cameras were rolling so it was easy to catch her. Maybe she’s getting sloppy. Maybe she just doesn’t care. Regardless, thank god that we have Tamra.
Outside of that main drama of the episode, there are a few other little things that I wanted to mention. The first is how good Gina looks when she goes to her therapist’s office. She has her hair up in a messy bun, a cute casual outfit, and just a smattering of natural makeup. She looks about 27 and beautiful. Then they cut to Gina in her confessional and she looks 43 and like her hair has been molded out of light yellow-colored Play-Doh. Who let Gina look so bad in her confessionals? Seriously, that’s when she should look her best and it is just dragging her stock down.
Seeing Gina talking to her kids about if they like that she and Matt are spending time together was rough. What was even rougher was Shannon talking to her kids about random drug testing. That is just the dumbest idea I ever heard. First of all, Shannon is not going to keep her kids from doing drugs. Kids are going to do drugs and that is just the way they world is these days. I mean, they might not, but they probably are. Having an open and honest conversation with them about drug use will probably go a lot further than “Just Say No,” which any D.A.R.E. graduate will tell you is an utter failure. Her strictness is only going to make it worse because now the girls know they can’t talk to her about it if there’s a problem or they have any questions. Also, the biggest druggie I ever met in my life was a girl who was random drug tested in high school. Just saying.
Finally there’s Emily and Shane. Deep sigh. What is left to say about these two? It’s just the same scene every time, Emily trying to get Shane to be honest about his emotions and him closing himself off behind a wall of lame jokes and stupid insults about how his wife should be able to eat French fries if she wants. I have nothing left to say about it. It’s just all bad. Like Emily in these moments, I’m just going to close my eyes and pretend I’m somewhere else. There is sun and surf and the random blasts of whistles in the distance. There is sand and the smell of Hawaiian tropic and random drunk people walking along the strand after too many mimosas at brunch. And finally, just where I want it to be there is a beach volleyball game and three men take their shirts off in unison as the Top Gun theme plays. This is my happy place, and you’re all welcome to join.