The thought came to me while I scrolled through my Twitter feed and saw all of the unironic cry-face emojis reacting to Theresa Giudice’s reunion with her square-shaped husband after spending some time in jail: I’d make a really terrible Real Housewife.
To be fair, I did not watch Theresa’s triumphant return home because I’ve sworn off the Jersey ladies in much the same way I’ve also sworn off carbs. As I see it, the only real difference between the two – both of which are terrible for you and leave you feeling sluggish – is that I still crave one of those things desperately, though I can promise and swear that the thing I miss did not create an offspring I’m fairly certain is from another species entirely. What I’m trying to say (besides that I think little Milania will one day help to usher in the apocalypse) is that my reaction to hearing about this woman coming home was different than I think it was supposed to be. I did not cheer her homecoming. I did not pour myself a celebratory glass of Fabellini. I did not tear up and I did not tune in.
I’m sure Theresa would say I don’t like her because I’m jealous. Calling someone who hates you “jealous” is a very Housewives thing to do. Over in New York City, Luann is all but making commemorative tees that proclaim how jealous everyone on the planet is of her joy and she will shoot those shirts from a cannon while she performs one of her hit songs at her upcoming wedding. It appears that you cannot be a Bravo Housewife and not wholeheartedly believe the root of someone’s discontent with you is always predicated by a hungry green-eyed monster. It also appears you cannot earn a paycheck from the network without having to continually associate with the very people you can no longer stomach and you must do it while wearing a rather hideous jewel-toned cocktail dress.
Being on a reality show means you have to get dressed up and go hang out with people who plot against you like you’re all still in the eighth grade. You have to attend theme parties. My standard answer to a probing question I don’t much feel like answering -- Yeah, I’m not talking about that –- probably wouldn’t go over all that well at one of those parties and definitely would not fly at the Reunion. However, using the answer I employed the other day when speaking about someone I know well – She’s behaving this way because she’s an asshole – might very well get me a raise on one of these shows. That line would probably be used in the coming attractions for the season, but it would be misleading because I’d never actually get into it with the asshole. Assholes, you see, very rarely realize they’re assholes, even when provided with a color-coded flowchart that maps their asshole behavioral history. Not being on a reality show means I get to ignore assholes most of the time. But if I were an OC Housewife, I’d have to endure that never-ending conversation (yet again) as the asshole before me mimes the crucifixion (yet again) while both of us wear the closest approximations of polyester chic we were able to locate so we can fit right in at the seventies party neither of us particularly wanted to attend in the first place. It all just seems exhausting.
Speaking of total assholes who exhaust me, I look at Vicki Gunvalson and I cannot believe she has been on this show for eleven seasons and has seemingly learned so little about herself and rational human behavior in the process. It also stuns me that she hasn’t started to dress differently or mastered a new way to shriek so every Schnauzer in the neighborhood will not begin to howl whenever she gets angry. And it’s most difficult to believe that after going through a divorce and watching her friendships implode into a smoldering pit of ruins, she still doesn’t long for just the tiniest bit of privacy.
Vicki is the perfect Real Housewife because she never learns a blessed thing.
Someone who has learned a bit is Shannon, and I guess what she’s learned the most is how to enunciate during a verbal smackdown so we can all hear the insults clearly as they flood out of her mouth. This episode starts with a fucking bang as the music at the seventies party Shannon has thrown skids to a stop and the next shot we see is of Vicki and Shannon’s husband, nose to nose, berating the hell out of one another. From there we cut to Shannon telling Kelly to get out and a fight between them ensues after Kelly sneers, “Now I know why your husband cheated on you.” How did we get to this horrifying place where grown women heave terrible insults at one another while rocking afros and hot pants? Seems we have to go back in time just a little bit to find out where it all went wrong and while starting at the day Andy Cohen was born seems like it makes a good deal of sense, let’s contain the investigation and just go back forty-eight hours.
It all starts so innocently. Shannon and her family go shopping for the perfect ensembles to wear to what will end up being a party drenched in misery. She’s looking for the wearable equivalent of a burnt orange shag carpet while David tries on a curly wig that makes him look like a very sad version of Mr. Kotter. Shannon decides to use this shopping excursion as a history lesson and expounds upon her knowledge of streakers in the seventies. Her daughter then turns the topic to a Sex Ed lesson and asks her father if he’s ever had a wet dream. Shannon dissolves into giggles while David calmly responds, “I think every boy goes through that once or twice.” Seriously? Shopping for synthetic clothing should always be this edifying an experience!
Also searching for garb to wear to the next place they’re all scheduled to fight are Tamra and Kelly. As they rifle through the racks of clothing, Tamra does her fucking job by asking Kelly how she feels about Shannon now. (I tell you, the way these nonorganic conversations begin sometimes makes me really giggle.) Anyhoo, Kelly thinks Shannon is kind of a “Negative Nancy” who simply cannot see the glowing awesomeness that is Vicki Gunvalson and that has to mean Shannon is blind because Kelly sees Vicki’s innate goodness. Besides, hasn’t everyone had issues with Shannon? To her credit, Tamra tells Kelly that her former iciness with Shannon was all her fault but Kelly is too stupid to care about such logistics. As far as she’s concerned, Shannon harbors grudges and that’s just idiotic and who even cares that Vicki lied and told her that her boyfriend was so sick in the dead of night that he needed an IV administered to him at his bedside? The real issue is that Shannon never brought over a fucking casserole and Kelly is outraged on Vicki’s account and all of this means that Kelly is officially dead to me.
Heather, however, is not dead to me. I love Heather. She’s obviously almost too ridiculous for words, but I mean that as a compliment. She’s thinner than thin, richer than rich, discusses building an onyx bar with a straight face and manages to appear classy in spite of the fact that she’s a Real Housewife. The woman is an enigma and I will worship her until the end of time. Into her holy home stumbles Meghan, who arrives with a bottle of champagne and is thus given access to the inner sanctum. Meghan’s a month into giving herself IVF shots and she can feel her uterus expanding even as she speaks. Unfortunately, her stomach feels particularly swollen today (while looking flat as can be) so she needs Heather to stick her with the needle. It’s a good friend who can and will do such a thing. In other impressive news, Meghan and Heather will soon be heading to Washington, DC where they will speak to lobbyists about funding, awareness, and prevention of colon cancer and all of that is fantastic, but the mood turns just a wee bit darker once Terry enters the room. Heather is annoyed at him because he just keeps working and working and working and sure, I understand that she feels slighted that one of his business trips will take him away on Mother’s Day, but I also can’t help but hear Ari Gold’s voice in my head at this exact second. Remember that episode of Entourage when Ari’s wife took him to couple’s therapy and his phone rang and she didn’t want him to answer it? This was his exact response: “If you want a Beverly Hills mansion and you want a country club membership, and you want nine weeks a year in a Tuscan villa, than I’m gonna need to take a call when it comes in at noon on a motherfucking Wednesday.” The guy had a point and so does Terry. He is financially responsible for building a behemoth of a mansion; he is not about to slow down his work schedule at any point in the near future, no matter what holiday he misses.
(By the way, my favorite thing about Heather’s fight with her husband is that she held a flute of champagne the entire time. The woman commits and I applaud her for it.)
Over in Vicki’s world, she is grateful that her daughter is out of the hospital and she is working hard to take care of her grandchildren. I’m a big enough person to give credit where credit is due, so allow me to say here that I think it’s lovely that Vicki is a good grandmother. And now that that’s out of the way, allow me to reiterate that I still really fucking hate her.
It’s probably about twenty-four hours before she screams into Shannon’s face that it’s clear why her husband cheated on her when Kelly and her daughter go get a manicure. Vicki’s best friend in the whole wide world makes sure to tell us that she’s a fun mom, but she’s also the kind of strict mom who won’t buy her daughter a new iPad when the kid doesn’t even use the Apple Watch she was given and I think we’ve all learned a great deal about boundaries so we can probably move on now.
Across town in the saddest white Range Rover in all of the land are Meghan and Jim. She is rattling off her schedule as it relates to getting her body ready to have a baby with him and he is doing his very best to ignore her. His reactions are in fact so dick-like, it’s hard for me to type this part of the recap because I keep cringing, especially when Meghan asks if he would like her to continue sending him videos of her shooting a needle into her stomach and he says, “No,” but then tells her he’s just kidding and she dissolves into a million-watt smile because she’s foolish enough to believe his second answer was the truth. Oh, Meghan.
And now it’s the night of the party and Shannon and David have committed to the theme with a vengeance. She looks like a fortune teller who has just gone on a bender after a night with Liza and Baryshnikov at Studio 54 and he looks like a guy who tried out for one of the leads in Boogie Nights but was relegated to playing one of the men who stand around on the driveway and watch William H. Macy’s character’s wife nail the random stranger on the ground. But David has way more on his mind than a wig. Vicki Gunvalson was invited to this party and he is not pleased. He hates Vicki and Shannon tells us that Kelly will be coming and she is not her favorite and this right here is one of the top reasons why these shows are breeding grounds for insanity because what kind of people throw parties and invite guests they hate? What kind of person attends an event where they know most people there find them appalling? And what kinds of people do this so often with a straight face?
Since she has exactly one concrete ally at this point, Vicki decides to ride to the party with Kelly. She shows up in a kaleidoscope-patterned outfit that I’m positive just destroyed something important, like my corneas, but it’s nothing compared to Kelly’s husband’s ensemble. The guy is wearing a shirt that is shinier than his bald head and the whole look is sort of alarming, but let’s instead focus on the way Kelly appeals to Vicki’s swollen ego by telling her she looks twenty years old and so skinny and the way Vicki proudly tells us how popular she was in grade school. God, I can’t stand this woman. The three of them do some shots even though Kelly has already had three glasses of wine and it’s beginning to become apparent why the night is about to go the way it eventually did.
(Also: Vicki proclaims that she “needs to whoop it up so bad.” In turn, I would like to proclaim that my greatest wish is that Vicki Gunvalson loses her voice to a sea witch in the kind of barter that is irreversible until the very end of time.)
Shannon arrives at her party feeling dy-no-mite, but that glorious feeling will soon be shot to shit. Sure, there are lava lamps and pet rocks aplenty, but she invited people who hate her and there aren’t enough lava lamps in the world to mellow the inferno of fury that’s heading her way. (Before things turn nightmarish, can I just say how much I wish I could go back in time and have Shannon be my babysitter in 1978? I can just see her dialing my rotary phone while popping open a Tab…) Her guests begin to arrive. Meghan brings her mom and Eddie brings a gigantic wig as his plus one. Heather shows up looking like Roller Girl and Vicki shows up hoping that everyone can just forget the way she systematically betrayed them and they can all just hug it out because that makes perfect sense if you’re a fucking moron.
Shannon greets Vicki and Kelly with a Jello shot and all seems to be calm until one of Kelly and Shannon’s mutual friends – a woman who has become one with Botox – announces that the last time she saw Kelly, she was with her boyfriend and not her husband. To be fair, Kelly and Michael were separated at the time, but this woman saying anything seems like very bad form wrapped in a very bad omen. To take her mind off the uncomfortable moment, Kelly does a few more shots and Shannon invites her guests to start dancing until it’s time to scream bloody murder at one another.
The evening is going well. Tamra tells Meghan she’s forgiven Vicki. Meghan tells Tamra she doesn’t give a fuck about Vicki. Terry gets stuck chatting with Vicki and doesn’t saw off his own arm to get away from her. Kelly tells David he looks like a pedophile. Terry sits down beside Heather and tells her that he knows he’s being a lousy father these days and promises he’ll soon be home more with the family, a promise he’s made several times before. Heather’s response is calm, measured, and well articulated and it’s a great indication of why I can’t help but respect her.
And then things start to sour. Vicki and Kelly are, in Tamra’s words, “fucking wasted,” and the only thing more annoying than Vicki Gunvalson in general is Vicki Gunvalson with tequila flowing quickly through her bloodstream. There was no way any of this was going to end well, but what happens next is still pretty unpleasant. Sitting with Tamra, Jaci (the woman who previously knew Kelly), and some woman named Nina who clearly sees this moment as an audition to hold a Swarovski orange in the opening credits, Shannon asks what the story with Kelly is and Jaci begins to explain just as Kelly and Vicki walk over and hear Kelly’s name being said. As she insists they’re just trying to find Vicki’s purse, things escalate quickly when Nina says something about Kelly and Kelly responds loudly and drunkenly and like she took a pill that dissolved whatever bit of class might have at one point existed within her. A stranger talking badly about her? Kelly will not take this lying down – or stumbling – so she approaches the couch where Shannon, Jaci, and Nina sit and bellows, “Tamra said you were talking about me!” and right then is when everything implodes completely.
“You look like every average Newport Beach chick,” Kelly slurs to Jaci (she’s not wrong) and then begins calling Shannon “Mrs. Roper.” “Did I insult you when I came to your party?” Shannon thunders before just saying, “You know what? Bye-bye,” and she attempts to throw Kelly out. But anyone who believed Kelly would leave quietly has not been paying attention to how many drinks she’s guzzled, to say nothing of whatever she might have ingested in her closet bar back home. “This is the worst party ever,” Kelly trills as the bald husband who would not allow her to divorce him chides Shannon for not looking appropriately seventies and the entire thing is so bizarre that I almost can’t even describe it.
“You are so fucking dumb!” Kelly blusters to Shannon and everybody gets quiet except for Vicki who announces, “Shannon’s in her glory right now.” This statement – which also sort of makes no real sense – is followed by David telling Vicki to shut her fucking mouth and that she lied about cancer and everyone knows it and all of this is going down while Vicki wears a skirt so short that I think I can see her cervix and David is rocking a curly wig made out of something that’s definitely flammable. And it’s still not over. Shannon bursts in at that moment to complain to her husband that Kelly and Michael are being horrible to her and he will of course deal with defending her honor the second he’s done calling Vicki a scumbag.
“He’s the one that’s the scumbag,” Vicki explains. Um, can we agree that they’re both scumbags and just move on?
As they are finally almost done creating a scene, Kelly, Michael, and Vicki go to leave, but not before Kelly proves that she’s in this fucking thing to win it and turns around and yells, “No wonder you cheated on your fucking wife.” Those are fighting words and Shannon has been poked enough at this point that she’s ready to destroy Kelly. It just so happens that she’s heard some rumors about Kelly cheating on her husband and she decides to announce it to the masses while Kelly screams that she’d never be friends with Shannon because Shannon is too ugly to have to look at and Shannon screams back that she should have another fucking drink. And what does Vicki do? She slides into the limo with the two people on the planet who rival her for being voted Most Horrible – and then she calls the guy who would win that contest by a landslide. That’s right: Vicki drunk-dials Brooks on camera and rambles to his voicemail that he needs to make things better for her. Not a bit of it makes any sense, but at least we all finally have some visual evidence of what psychosis looks like in action.
Back at the party, everyone has all but sobered up because of Kelly’s sheer awfulness, but Shannon and Tamra have found a way to salvage the fun. The two put on streaking costumes and careen through the party giggling while Kelly sits in the back of a limo with the husband she might have cheated on and the new best friend who totally sucks sweaty balls and she sips water while maintaining that she was just attacked and she gazes out the window of the car unsteadily while Vicki wonders how long it will take for Brooks to call her back.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.