I find myself trying to come up with a dozen ways to justify this statement, but I think I just have to own it: I watch the Real Housewives of Orange County. Even more, I used to love it. The ladies were perfect California oranges: sometimes sweet, often tart, always juicy. It was my go-to for time on the elliptical or for anytime I wanted to remember that somewhere in the world, people still care about doing their hair and makeup.
But now I’m behind on the show and struggling to care. RHOC, in particular, seems to be wrestling to figure out how to keep things fresh in its millionth (well, 12th) season. It’s the longest running of the Real Housewives franchise, and not only does it feel tired, it feels depressing. In three years, the show has rotated eight new women into the lineup, trying to find a group that will gel. This season, they even recast Lydia — remember her from Season 8? She’s so quirky that, while she might be a fun real-life friend, she’s completely unrelatable as a TV star.
Bustle recently pointed out that the show is best when there are genuine friendships and shared history among cast members, but “at this point watching RHOC is like watching seven different shows in one hour-long episode.” So, the real question is, what’s keeping the longtime series regulars from getting their friends to sign up? These might be a few reasons.
The Vicki problem
I really try not to come down hard on other women, but there is no way to discuss RHOC and not bring up Vicki Gunvalson. As the only cast member who’s been on the show since the start, she likes to call herself “the OG of the OC.” To me, she’s not just the original, she’s a total hot mess. The show keeps her around because she incites drama, but her unrepentant attitude about her own behavior is so sad I want to change the channel. Who thinks so highly of themselves that they can afford to just let friends fall by the wayside rather than apologize, let alone try to change?
At least she’s toned down the full-out screaming, and her massive flub with ex-beau Brooks — whose cancer fake-out was figured out by everyone but Vicki — has tempered her arrogance. But only slightly. During the Season 11 reunion, she actually told Shannon to “get off my show,” a statement that turned my stomach with its conceit.
In 12 seasons, Vicki’s been through a divorce, welcomed two grandkids and fought with every single cast member, but we have yet to see her go through any real growth. And therein lies the problem. We watch TV dramas because we get invested in the characters’ arcs, how they grow and develop and change. When it comes to Vicki, we’re starting to think there’s little resolution to make us feel like our time was well spent.
The scenarios are dull and contrived
If you’ve watched any of the Real Housewives shows, you know that, after a while, a scripted rhythm naturally develops. In other words, the show becomes predictable and obviously stage-managed.
Don’t believe me? Here’s how it always goes: A new cast member joins and is introduced at a party or meal. The new cast member throws their own shindig so we can get to know her. The new cast member will then either befriend or face off with one of the show’s regulars. Sides will be taken. One housewife will plan and take all the ladies on some kind of out-of-town trip — you know, to bond. Someone will throw a big, season-ending party. At one of these last two events, there will be a major emotional throwdown.
That’s been the plot for 12 years, and the OC ladies are the worst victims of it. Some of them have jobs, but we never see them at work. We don’t hear about community activities, charities or anything interesting. Just family drama, friendship drama, cocktails, medical procedures (on-screen colonics, really?), more cocktails and lots and lots of lunches.
If any serialized TV drama ran the same plot for that long, it would be canceled in Season 2. Why are we letting RHOC get away with it?
It’s damaging to relationships
E! did a full accounting of the marital and relationship breakups on all the Real Housewives shows and discovered that 50 percent of couples have broken up on RHNYC and 33 percent have called it quits on RHOC — and that’s just among romantic partners, let alone family and friends.
In Season 11, Tamra Judge lamented the loss of her relationship with her daughter, who decided to leave her mom’s house and move in with her dad. Of course, Tamra blamed the troubled relationship on her daughter’s refusal to get it together. She didn’t consider that maybe her daughter didn’t want her whole life aired on a TV show. And this season, even her son’s troubled relationship with his wife is being played out in the Judge kitchen for all of America to watch.
Divorces and breakups happen for lots of reasons, but having family, marital or even friendship problems go down in front of a TV crew cannot be beneficial. Everyone gets camera-ready, the scene is properly lit, and then they’re directed to sit down and talk it out. Imagine how hard it’d be to really open up and be vulnerable when you know every word you say will be edited, then watched and judged by a million people!
The number of relationships lost during the run of the entire franchise is heartbreaking, and in the OC, there are few positive relationships left.
When I first started watching, the OC Housewives reminded me of wild party guests: capable of anything, even embarrassing themselves. But now they’re more like the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. We know exactly what’s going to happen, we know they won’t care about it and we know it will leave everybody cringing.
So, the final question remains: Is it time for this Real Housewives gang to return to their real lives and ride off into the California sunset?