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For those followers of Bravo's Real Housewives mega franchise who worried the brand could be losing steam after its snoozy Miami cast debut last week, the originator of them all―Orange County―sent an instant reminder as to why the show became a spinoff-spewing monster in the first place. Within minutes, this season's cast members were furiously at work doing what they do best: ripping open old wounds, spitting boozy venom, and shoving their enterprising new business ventures into the camera at every turn, with billowing blonde locks and bedazzled frocks already hanging like tatters in the aftermath.

Perhaps the biggest fallout from the last Orange County season was Tamra's divorce from her grumbling, scowling husband Simon. Like so many reality TV relationships―in what's a particularly common thread throughout the Real Housewives franchise―the two were clearly ripping apart at the seams last season, thanks to Tamra's newfound sense of freedom and, more obviously, increased celebrity through the show. There was essentially no doubt they would separate, given their fiery meltdown in the limo on the way to last season's finale party where Tamra hissed "You're vile. I want a divorce" on camera. In the premiere, we catch up with newly single Tamra, who declares (in what should definitely be a license plate frame for sale in Orange County) "I'm done being a trophy wife. Freedom makes me hotter." Free from Simon, she's dating a new man, living on her own, and, most importantly, planning a big, tequila-fueled party for all the Housewives!


Speaking of Tamra's new "hottie," there were several big reveals that strangely don't make it into the premiere. First and foremost, Tamra's new hunk Eddie was never shown, though she stated they're already in love, and the party she threw was apparently at his house, too. Guess he had to kill time at a double feature while his house was infiltrated with camera crews, drunk ladies, a full catering crew, and a shirtless, 23-year-old bartender. Also, Peggy Tanous, the newest housewife and longtime friend of last season's newbie Alexis, doesn't appear. Thin and blonde like the rest, it's hard to discern from the previews what makes her standout as a newbie, and Bravo's decision to keep her on the back burner for the much-hyped debut feels a little worrisome. Also, on Bravo's official blog, the 41-year-old former swimsuit model claims, "I didn't clash with anyone!" which is absolutely the antidote to good Real Housewifery.

Back in the O.C., Gretchen was busy promoting her new makeup and upcoming handbag line, even enlisting a real-deal Hollywood "hosting coach" named Marki Costello (who happens to be the granddaughter of comedy legend Lou Costello of Abbot & Costello, weirdly) to help her with all the on-camera opportunities that are, apparently, coming her way. Still dating the deliriously named Slade Smiley―which, remember, tallies as his third relationship with a Real Housewives of Orange County housewife―Gretchen was as giddy and put-together as ever but also not hiding her still-present animosity for Tamra, whom she feuded with all last season.

Before the drama could properly froth from everyone's mouths, Housewives tradition mandates we see our glamorous goddesses out and about, tending to their extraordinary lives. But in a less refined turn, Tamra decided to get some tattoos laser-removed, including a truly tragic yin-yang engulfed by squiggly sun rays on her lower back (Simon has a matching one on his shoulder) and her soon-to-be ex-husband's name tattooed around her ring finger. Cue the inevitable joke about divorce being painful!


There was also the catch-up with the Bible-thumping, impossibly proportioned Alexis. True to form, she was spouting off about Jesus before viewers even had a chance to applaud the fact she'd downsized from two nannies to take care of her three children to just one for this season. Baby steps! (Also, it should be noted that amongst the Real Housewives casts, the nanny-to-child ratio seems to be an increasingly hot topic ― viewers of the Beverly Hills season will remember when Camille Grammar was ostracized for having three nannies for her two kids.) Attempting to round up her children alone in her airy mansion, Alexis half-heartedly made an attempt to look upbeat while they whined and screamed, one even biting the other one. Not to be disheartened, she chirped, "Every day I wake up trying to do what Jesus would do."

When it came time for Tamra's (Thursday evening?) party, the tracks had already been laid for exactly what could and would go down: namely, Tamra and Gretchen's mutual hatred of one another bubbling over instantly. While chefs cooked up food in the kitchen and mixed massive cocktails (seriously, is this a Bravo thing that dinner parties need cartoonishly oversized cocktail glasses?), the girls infiltrated the house, turning it from a sunny backyard hang to a tension-filled sorority house on the brink. Showing up a bit "toasted," as Tamra described it, from their stretch limo ride to the party, Gretchen, Alexis and their cadre of assistant/friends instantly set the party off-kilter with outright snippiness: Gretchen toward her host and Alexis when asking whether her show nemesis Vicki would be showing up.

It wasn't until the shopping portion of the evening got rolling with the clothing line Royal Plush offering up racks of bedazzled workout gear and baseball caps for the sauced ladies to try on and purchase, that things took a sharp turn. In an attempt to maybe “zing” Tamra, Gretchen nabbed one of the bejeweled evil eye baseball caps (cultural and cool!) and made a quick crack about using it to ward off evil spirits like Tamra. The gasps and glare-shooting instantly squelched the attempt at civility between the feuding parties, and it was only an instant before Tamra was outside, heatedly relaying the incident to Vicki, who finally showed up after work.


It wasn't until Tamra confronted Gretchen (in front of her entire party) by asking “Were you calling me an evil bitch? Is that what you're saying?” to which Gretchen confirmed, “Yes, I totally kinda' was,” that the massive stash of fireworks on standby at Bravo's Real Housewives Nerve Center (manned exclusively by Andy Cohen) were lit and free to explode into the sky.

From there, the party fell apart, with Vicki and Gretchen digging at each other about “Slimy Slade.” Somehow, Gretchen even managed to get into a snarl with her new season BFF Alexis after she made a quick, lighthearted jab about Gretchen being a “princess” for not having to wake up to kids at 6 a.m. Even afterward, Alexis seemed to be going out of her way to hint in so many poorly obscured ways that Gretchen was three sheets to the wind and would regret her hostility the next day.

If this season's powder keg potential wasn't proved by the multiple housewife fights that erupted within minutes at Tamra's awkward “fashion party,” Bravo's tag line for the season sure sums things up tidily: “Even in Orange County, the sun doesn't always shine.” Stupidly simple? Sure. But this cast's ability to mix together embarrassingly flashy livin' with years of pent up resentment towards one another is what sets it apart from even the best Housewives spin-off. And while insurance saleswoman Vicki Gunvalson might be the only remaining housewife from the first season six years ago, newcomers like Gretchen only become more adept at tapping into what makes these shows a cultural phenomenon by blowing their hair out bigger than big, baring their claws earlier, and crouching even deeper behind the pleasant veneer of friendship and “business opportunities," waiting for the right moment to pounce.


Stray observations:

  • Apparently last year's facelift enthusiast Lynn hasn't returned for this season, perhaps to focus on the family's tumultuous financial situation?
  • Vicki seems incredibly excited about her description of Tamra having stuck a knife in her back and poured salt in the wound last season, using it repeatedly.
  • What is this “lathering up” term? Does it relate to stretch limos or booze or both happening simultaneously?
  • Who is this annoyingly helpful “C.J” who appeared at the party, smartly trying to help smooth things over between Tamra and Gretchen during their backyard blowout? Poor form!
  • Amex vs. Aaamex, who cares.
  • Will there ever be enough bedazzled fleur de lis on workout-related clothing to meet the demand?
  • There's definitely something wonderful a'brewing with Tamra's new lesbian friend/trainer, the buff, Brazilian Fernanda. Her decision to not move away from the camera and dance sexily and sing “Love Is In the Air” while Gretchen and Alexis fought in front of her was genius.
  • Best new cast member? Donn's new puppy!