The Real Housewives of Orange County is officially back for season 15, sans a few of its longest running stars, and it is truly worse than ever. What began as a show about the utterly petty squabbles of suburban stay-at-home moms and insurance saleswomen soon evolved into a network-defining cornerstone, birthing countless spinoffs and revolutionizing the reality television industry in the process. 15 years later, it is still a show about petty suburbanites, but with an extra sprinkle of coronavirus denial and Trumpism.
I did not think that The Real Housewives of Orange County would become more unwatchable without Republican furies Vicki Gunvalson or Tamra Judge, who were axed earlier this year after a tumultuous last season. The season 15 premiere, shockingly, proved there is still quite a ways to fall before this show hits the absolute rock bottom of hell itself. Filming began in January, right at the precipice of the pandemic, when reports out of China detailed a new virus that was causing pneumonia-like symptoms in the Wuhan province. The specter of those reports looms large over the first episode, as cast members breeze about Newport Beach, California, without a mask in sight or a care in the world. More than anything, I found it hard to reckon with just how fast everything spiraled, with statewide lockdowns, mass unemployement, and protests soon to follow. But let me put a pin in that, briefly.
The latest iteration of RHOC includes only one new addition to the lineup of conservative suburbanites. Joining Kelly Dodd, Braunwyn Windham-Burke Shannon Beador, Emily Simpson, and Gina Kirschenheiter is ex-billionaire’s wife and self-styled entrepreneur Elizabeth Lyn Vargas. Introduced quite early in the episode, Vargas announces that her ex-husband is apparently billionaire Bernt Bodal, former CEO and shareholder of American Seafoods and previous Undercover Boss contestant. Vargas boasts of private planes, choppers, and yachts, and according to friend Kelly Dodd, a bunch of gorgeous mansions. She’s also the founder of Edge Music Network, which is a company I could glean very little about. Apparently, it hosts music, or maybe it streams music videos? Who knows. The most important thing here is that she is getting a divorce from Bodal—something about a mistress, I believe—and is opening up an animal rescue.
More important than Vargas’s businesses is the company she keeps. She is introduced via the hellish tag team of Dodd and Windham-Burke at her bachelorette pad in Newport Beach, where the three hail a teenager off the road, inform him how horny they all are, and then check to see if he is actually underage. He is not, but there isn’t much joy to be found in the three of them heckling that poor 18-year-old with their sexual frustrations. (Vargas’s new boyfriend won’t have sex with her because she is still married, apparently.)
Elsewhere in the episode, Dodd introduces viewers to her now-husband, Fox News reporter Rick Leventhal, who is most notable for having spent much of the pandemic tweeting about how much everyone should calm down concerning coronavirus. Concurrently, Dodd also made the news for pretty much the same thing. The two appear made for each other! Other things to note: They apparently have sex three times a day, she’s attracted to Leventhal because he’s 60 but reminds her of a 29-year-old, and a boardwalk carnival psychic told her he would buy her a 10-carat ring. Ok!
Everyone also moved into a new house this season. Producers took care to shockingly contrast the size of Windham-Burke’s new palace—featuring a sex dungeon with “CHEERS TO BAD CHOICES!” written on the wall in both cursive and glow-in-the-dark paint—and Kirschenheiter’s modest and utterly relatable townhome. During the house tour, Shannon Beador takes care to hide her disgust at Kirschenheite’s obvious lack of extravagant wealth just a little bit. (Not before running back to Windham-Burke later in the episode to snark about how small and sad she finds it.)
It’s the housing situation that really distills how increasingly out of touch this show has become. There is something sinister about the Southern California Housewives’ obvious display of riches and yachts and McMansions. Like their voting preferences, it all feels so Trumpian: A rotting facade hiding an increasingly violent American landscape, where wealthy CEOs turned suburnanites hole up in their sprawling new developments while they wait for the world to end around them. Where soccer moms post QAnon conspiracy theories on the neighborhood watch Facebook group, or disseminate Instagram hoaxes about child trafficking, or march to the grocery store and brutalize low-paid essential workers over mask mandates. The suburban cities whose well-to-do white women overwhelmingly voted for the promises of violence made by Trump during the 2016 election.
Much has been written about the many befuddling responses to the pandemic out of the suburbs these last eight months. Watching RHOC’s premiere, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the worst is yet to come.