By Ken Tucker
February 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM EST

Bethenny Frankel is arguably the best product manufactured by Bravo’s Real Housewives factory. She’s smart, funny, and self-aware. She’s also aggressive, argumentative, and drives a hard bargain, whether it’s with her Skinnygirl business or her marriage to Jason Hoppy.

Watching the Monday-night premiere of Bethenny Ever After, the inevitable sequel to last season’s Bethenny Getting Married?, I was also struck by Frankel’s gift for quick thinking and rapid-fire punchlines. She’s like an self-editing, walking, talking TV show; early on in the premiere, what began as a calm discussion about the need for drawing up a will rapidly escalated into a patented Bethenny screed about how Jason, should she die, was going to use her money to latch onto a new, younger woman. “I’m not leaving you one [f-word] dime for that whore!” she barked to a startled Jason. Yes, Bethenny can go from do-I-need-a-will? to how-dare-you-re-marry! in a matter of seconds — any stand-up comedian would be proud to sculpt a chunk of raucous material like this that quickly.

On the premiere of Ever After, Bethenny went with her husband Jason and their sweet little baby Bryn to Hazelton, Penn., to visit his parents. Whether she was shopping for a suitable bra (“The hounds must be leashed”) or was taken to a grungy Hazelton bar that Jason always enjoyed, Bethenney was a non-stop barrage of acerbic one-liners (“I feel like Jodie Foster in The Accused… There was maybe one set of full teeth in the bar”).

What saves her from soulless yammering is her vulnerable side: She clearly adores that baby, and she teared up with emotion when Jason’s old buddies toasted her with shots. I think it’s a measure of her being more rooted in reality than most reality stars that she engaged the blue-collar fellows Jason hangs out with, with genuine interest and curiosity…  and then, of course, alone with Jason, expressed herself with typical Bethenny frankness: “We could not be more different,” she said to Jason after their Pennsylvania trip. “Why didn’t you say you’re an alien?”

The true test of whether you liked Bethenny Ever After probably occurred during her conversations with her in-laws, when Bethenny brought up her desire to move to California. You could see the the faces of these nice people, happy new grandparents, fall at the thought of their new grandchild being taken thousands of miles away. There was no true reason to bring up what sounded like a very vague, half-formed idea about a West Coast move, other than to provide some drama for the cameras.

“Sometimes she pushes it too hard,” said Jason. That’s for sure.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d watch Bethenny Ever After every week, but the show did remind why she was the only “character” on The Real Housewives of New York City that ever made me laugh with her, instead of at her.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker