If there’s anyone out there who doubts that the Housewives shows can be great works of art, may I direct you to the first 30 seconds of The Real Housewives of Orange County’s 12th season premiere. We open with a shot of the beach — seagulls squawking, waves crashing. You can practically smell the salt water. And then the wind shifts and last season hits you like the sudden stench of rotting seaweed. We don’t see clips from last season, but we hear them — the guttural screams! The line-crossing insults! The brutal shouting matches! As we learned from Big Little Lies this year, nature shots + flashbacks + angry people with unfathomable tax brackets = prestige television.
This season, the housewives are still dealing with the fallout from some of the allegations flung late last season — in particular, Vicki’s claim that Shannon’s husband abused her (which Shannon has vehemently denied). Shannon says the stress caused by Vicki’s comments has led to her weight gain, and she speaks frankly of the toll that stress — and her quest to slim down — has taken on her kids (who have to eat quinoa bowls with questionable levels of tastiness) and her husband (whom she describes as emotionally “distant”).
It’s clearly an issue that bothers — she brings it up again later in the episode while dress shopping with Tamra and her niece — and the frankness with which she speaks about her issues makes for understandably moving television. But I hope she gets to have a story line that doesn’t involve her figure this season. Please don’t reduce Shannon to just her weight, Bravo! (My solution? Focus on Archie, the new canine addition to the Beador household. He doesn’t care about quinoa or emotional distance; he just wants to love and be loved. He is a Good Boy.)
Vicki, on the other hand, has no shortage of potential story lines this season. Her company is growing! Her relationship with Steve is getting serious! She’s loving being a grandma! Yet despite all that’s keeping her busy, even she hasn’t quite moved on from last season, either. She hasn’t spoken to Tamra in months, but within the first few minutes of this episode, she’s already taking shots at Tamra’s bodybuilding career (“who cares, go to work”) and accusing the other housewives of being jealous of her (“they’re not the popular girls, we’re the popular girls”). She tells all this to last season’s villain, Kelly, who can stir the pot like no other but seems to be playing it cool so far. The only thing I remember about Kelly from this episode is that she pitched her mom on vaginal rejuvenation. It almost makes me miss bats— crazy Kelly. Almost.
Tamra has taken the Vicki drama a little harder, probably because Vicki sharing a rumor that Tamra’s husband is gay trumps Tamra calling her a con artist. Tamra says the Vicki ordeal has brought her closer to her faith, and that, in turn, has brought her closer to season 8 housewife Lydia, who makes her grand return to the franchise by inviting Tamra into her Bible study. I missed a lot of Lydia’s first season, but I like her — mostly because I’m impressed by her ability to extract the dirt from other housewives almost effortlessly. At Bible study, she asks Tamra which of the other housewives she keeps in touch with, and suddenly Tamra is gossiping about Vicki and Kelly with abandon. During Bible study, it only takes one question — have you ever felt abandoned by God? — before Tamra is heaving and crying and opening up about her strained relationship with her daughter. If I met Lydia, it would probably take five seconds for her to get me to spill all of my darkest secrets. Why the CIA hasn’t hired her to lead their interrogations is beyond me.
Lydia offers to play mediator and asks Tamra if she’d be willing to go to lunch with her and Vicki and bury the diamond-encrusted hatchet. Tamra, taking the advice of her husband, Eddie, declines the lunch, but Vicki meets up with Lydia anyway. I’ll admit that despite my fondness for her, I was a little suspicious of Lydia’s intentions — there’s no quicker way to get a front-row seat to some entertaining name-calling and finger-waving than offering to play mediator. But every time Vicki scoffs at Lydia’s suggestion that her friendship with Tamra can be salvaged, Lydia — who calls herself “the friendship whisperer” — only doubles down on her efforts to find peace: “I think you guys hurt each other so much because you love each other.” It’ll be interesting to see if she can be the metaphorical Switzerland in this rift forever, or if she’ll pick a side. (If preview clips of an upcoming Lydia-Shannon showdown are any indication, I doubt Lydia will be eager to join Team Tamra anytime soon.)
P.S. It only just occurred to me that I forgot to talk about Meghan, but that’s only because Meghan’s story line is shaping up to be the most boring of all. Yes, her baby is cute. Yes, she’s been through a lot to have that baby. (And yes, between her daughter Aspen and her new dog “Girly Girl,” I question her ability to name things.) But my God, if we’re going to have to spend a chunk of each episode watching Meghan just coo at her baby and struggle with the buttons of her baby’s onesie, I’ll pass.
P.P.S. God, I miss Heather. Come back, Heather!