The Real Housewives of Orange County
All season I’ve been moaning, “Oh, this whole season is about coronavirus and I’m sad. Boo-hoo!” Well, finally there is an episode all about life in lockdown and, somehow, it made me nostalgic for some of the early pandemic struggles. Braunwyn has never had to do her own laundry in her house and couldn’t figure out whether or not her load was heavy duty. Listen, sister. If it lands on your face, you know if that load is heavy duty. Just ask any porn star, like Shannon’s stepson-to-be Joe, also known as Corbin Fisher’s Brockington. (How many times do I have to tell you not to Google that?) Or what about when Shane Simpson, a louse wearing a pair of stained sweatpants, actually vacuums the house? That was like when my husband, who has never held a mop before in his life, had to start helping with the housework when the cleaner couldn’t come because of lockdown.
It’s all so relatable. It actually made me a little bit fond of that time when we were all muddling through trying to make the best of our new lives while plagued with anxiety that we might get sick, that people all around us were dying, and that there was no end or good news in sight. Once the vaccine comes, are we going to feel a longing for that novelty all the time? Are we going to bake banana breads and play Animal Crossing and tell our kids stories about the Great Slowdown of 2020? God, I hope not. I can’t wait to forget just what the hell an R number is.
This is actually kind of a cool episode because it’s unlike any hour of Real Housewives that we’ve seen. Most of the women are taping themselves, either talking to their phones at home or in Zoom calls with one another. There are a few gatherings in the park and the women’s backyards, but mostly it’s them isolated with their families, dealing with their own issues.
Gina is just dealing with her kids and their schooling at home and handling this crisis like she handles every crisis: by getting a bad haircut. What is it with Gina and awful hair? She’s like one of those Barbie makeup dolls who had her hair hacked off by a 5-year-old with safety scissors and is trapped forever with an asymmetrical haircut that looks like a toilet brush.
Emily, of course, is my favorite here. When she’s getting the kids to help clean the house, her son Keller isn’t doing anything. “You’re going to be an awful husband someday if you don’t learn how to clean,” she tells him. That, right there, is how you raise some feminist kids. If only his father would behave the same way. Then she gets caught creating chip and Oreo crumbs all over her side of the bed and blames it on the kids. The only reason I would ever consider having a child is so that I could have someone to blame my crumbs (and farts) on.
Braunwyn is living in the middle of a circus of her own making, and that is because she had seven children while trying to convince herself she is not a lesbian. One of the older ones is on the Peloton, while two of the younger ones are trying to bash each other’s heads in with the vacuum. She sets hours for when the kitchen is open so that she won’t be pestered by the children (and Sean, who is not a child, though he is child-size) won’t pester her all day to make them things. “We live in a monarchy now,” she says, which is actually best for everyone. It’s got to be nicer than where I live, which is in a police state where every Oreo crumb is tracked down by my newly mop-addicted husbear.
At first it seems like Braunwyn’s house is kind of like summer camp, with kids just running around doing whatever they want all day and only needing adult supervision at meal and bedtimes. But it gets dark really fast. I’m talking darker than the inside of Siouxsie Sioux’s casket. I’m talking darker than John Oliver’s sexual fantasies about Adam Driver. She says she feels trapped in her life and trapped in her marriage. She wants to drink every day. Eventually she gets in a fight with Sean over the vacuum and she gets so angry that she smacks him. (So many vacuums. Was this episode sponsored by Dyson?) Then she tells us she’s hit him before. What? Braunwyn is here on television admitting to spousal abuse? I mean, staggering. Also ill advised. Also, get some therapy. Also, she’s in therapy, so also get some more. Also, Sean, get out. Also, somehow this is Dr. Deb’s fault.
Over at Shannon’s, it’s a police state where everyone has to live by her rules if they want to stay in her house. Normally I would tell Shannon that she’s being ridiculous and neurotic, but she actually does have lung problems, so in this specific instance I will forgive her. Everyone staying in her house can’t leave or see anyone else, which sounds like the start of a Danish horror movie where the woods murder everyone in an all-glass home. Anyway, John’s son Joe, a.k.a. Brockington, comes by for a few days and then goes down to San Diego to film a scene at the Sean Cody house. (Fine, I know you’re going to Google this, so if you do, use the code REALHOUSEWIVESINSTITUTE for 15 percent off your first month.) When he returns, she has to kick him out, and John goes with him, and Shannon thinks that her life, her relationship, and the planned reboot of Pretty Little Lies are all going to come to a premature end.
Her next-door neighbor Kelly took off and went to New York to visit her man Rick while her daughter Jolie was at her dad’s house and ended up getting stuck there for more than the week she initially planned. I appreciated what Kelly says about not being petrified of the virus. She says that she’s being guarded and cautious but isn’t cringing in fear inside her house, which was pretty much my opinion when all of this was going on. I also appreciated that she ate a hot dog in a deserted Times Square (helping small businesses and local eateries!) and said she’d been waiting months for that and didn’t make one double entendre about waiting months for Rick’s hot dog. Kelly would sooner show you her nipples than show some restraint. What I did not appreciate were her comments about how she couldn’t believe we were all shutting down at the expense of the economy. I give that more eye-rolls than the Times Square M&M Store has seen temper tantrums.
The one who really sounds crazy, though, is Elizabeth. “I don’t know if this virus is a man-made virus so that big pharma can make money or if it came from a monkey,” she tells us. Cue up my Chandler Bing voice so I can say, “Could you sound any more stupid?” I mean it’s neither, obviously. It came from a bat. Duh. Even Braunwyn’s daughter, who thinks you get coronavirus from eating boogers, has a better theory about COVID than Elizabeth.
Ugh, Elizabeth. Guys, I would rather get one of those flesh-eating-fish pedicures at the airport knowing that when you put your feet in that water it is full of fish shit, which is really just shit-out pieces of other people’s flesh. I remember I initially judged her as benign and inconsequential, but after all of this shit, I just want to write her off for good. It’s particularly weird because she started the season and just as she was getting to know everyone it shut down, so when the other ladies are hanging out in their backyards, no one is talking to Elizabeth. They sure are talking about her, though. Shannon thinks that she is full of shit, and Braunwyn says she doesn’t hate her, just that she’s annoyed by her.
Everyone thinks it’s a little bit weird that Elizabeth is always telling them different stories about what is going on. Even Kelly, her one friend on the show, says that she spreads little half-truths because she’s insecure. Everyone has a friend who does that, and you just know that whenever they come over to dinner to put out an extra saltshaker for all the grains you’re going to need for that conversation. As Braunwyn points out, it’s especially hard when you come into a high-stakes situation like the Real Housewives, where she must feel pressure to fit in, get along with everyone, and prove that she has the kind of wealth that the franchise is supposed to promote. (Unless you’re Gina and are sponsored by Home Goods and Costco.)
I love that the Housewives are going through all of this stuff at home and on their own and, when they congregate, they still have time to talk shit about someone and try to ruin her life. It goes even further for Braunwyn. She has so much time at home that she starts researching Elizabeth’s life and doing public-records searches and finds out that she is not only renting out her house on VRBO, she has also taken millions of dollars of loans out on it, probably to pay her legal bills. When she tells Emily, who I want to lie in bed with eating Oreos and watching Hallmark Christmas movies for about a month, Emily says, “I would be pissed if someone is digging up documents on me, but I would still like to see them. I am happy to read over them and give you my legal opinion.” It’s like Elizabeth said, “Objection,” and Emily, with a gavel that is just a pretzel rod stuck into a HoHo, said, “Overruled.”
Gina tells Elizabeth about this on one of their Zoom calls, and Elizabeth says she’s going to get to the bottom of this when all the girls go on a trip to Lake Arrowhead next week (after being tested for corona, of course). Things don’t go well for Shannon when she and her daughter Sophie go to get tested. Apparently, her twins, sick of being stuck in the house for months with their mother, a crockpot full of nails that has been left on high for 63 days, snuck out and went to a party where no one was wearing masks. One of her daughters tests positive, and Shannon, of course, is freaking out. “I don’t understand it,” she tells Kelly, who is trying to gin up some sympathy. “I’ve been so careful.”
That’s how this odd and insightful episode of RHOC ends. What I realized watching it is that Housewives is so often about keeping the world at bay. It’s these women in their gated communities and bubbles of privilege dealing with only domestic and interpersonal relationships. It’s them in these antiseptic and self-contained environments where there is no one poor, there is no one suffering, there is no one who has a problem that a divorce or vaginal rejuvenation can’t fix. Now they’re forced to face all of these outside pressures and we’re not seeing how the women react to each other; we’re seeing, possibly for the first time, how they navigate the world, and it makes me judge them a little bit more harshly, and love them just a little bit more.