So, we all know that “The Real Housewives of Orange County” will be returning for an 8th season on April 1 (insert for April Fool’s Day joke here). The question is, how many of us care? And is plunking just one new housewife into the mix enough to keep this branch of the franches alive?
Canadian Lydia McLaughlin will be joining the cast, and I can’t say what I saw of her in the promo wowed me. She seems to suffer from Cynthia syndrome by way of Porsha (see “Real Housewives of Altanta”) in that she’s completely overwhelmed by the harpiness of these women and, sadly, out of her depth as well. However, on paper she’s perfect. She brings to the table two young children (boys aged 4 and 2), a jewelry line, and a pedigree (her father is the founder of NTV, which is a Canadian news channel). She’s also the managing editor of Beverly Hills Lifestyle magazine and claims to be friends with Alexis, neither of which is really a feather in her cap. That she looks ten years younger than everyone else doesn’t help, but suggests where Bravo is headed — away from middle-aged, overly-Botoxed women and younger moms.
Joining McLaughlin will be her pal Alexis Bellino (who didn’t quit the show after all), Gretchen Rossi (and boy toy Slade), Vicki Gunvalson, Tamra Barney and recent addition Heather Dubrow. Former cast member Laurie Peterson is also set to come back, though I’m not entirely sure how or why, except I’m sure she’s on deck to make everyone a little miserable.
While I’ve watched the show plenty in the past, and have a fondness for Heather and her exasperated, smarter-than-these-bimbos vibe, I’m not sure the addition of a West Coast Porsha is enough to get me excited about this show again. Vicki may be the only surviving member of the original cast, but I think that mostly stems from her willingness to scream like a wild orangutan given the slightest opportunity, not because she continues to bring something interesting to the table.
That Vicki is still putting up with this crap at her age is just starting to be a bummer, to be frank. While the recent divorcee is determined to defend her sketchy boyfriend Brooks, there is something more depressing than fun about watching a woman of her age stand by her man. If she were thinking more clearly (or listening to her adult children) she’d acknowledge this guy was meant to be a rebound fling, not a keeper. These are mistakes that women make when they’re younger and can drive plenty of drama. When there’s a Norma Desmond scent of desperation to them, they’re no longer good TV.
Alexis has never really emerged as more than a pretty face with angel wings and a tolerance for hypocrisy, while the marketing powerhouse that is Gretchen and Slade seems to be focused on baby making this season, which suggests most of the drama will be off camera (hopefully). Though I have a soft spot for Tamra (who was Heather before there was a Heather), I’m not sure I can stomach watching her chase after fiance Eddie to make him set a date for their nuptials. Given that they’re starting a gym together, their future seems pretty intertwined. Why the desperate need for jewelry and a big party? Oh, right, because it’s something to fill up air time on an otherwise tired show.
Heather, who seems poised to follow in NeNe Leakes’ footsteps given the number of sitcoms I’ve seen her in lately, has a clear reason for being on this show — she sees an opportunity to give her acting career a second life after kids. But watching her roll her eyes just isn’t enough to keep me tuning into the hijinks of the other women, who seem to be creating the same fights with the same people for yet another season. The return of Peterson suggests a need for more narrative drive, but the reality is that after a few seasons (Alexis joined the cast in season 5, Gretchen in season 4 and Tamra in season 3), these women are clearly treading old ground, looking for any scraps of disgruntlement they may have missed along the way.
The aging of the “Real Housewives” franchise overall is a tricky one, and one that doesn’t have an easy fix. Dismiss the entire cast and find new women, and take the chance that lightning won’t strike twice. Keep some and add a smattering of fresh blood (Bravo’s current approach) rarely livens things up sufficiently (there’s only so many Yolandas and Kenyas). But increasingly, I think that, instead of expanding the crazy-married-women formula (there’s now a “Married to Medicine” show), attention needs to be paid to revamping what’s become incredibly, painfully rote (all the girls go on a trip! Someone has a party! Repeat, repeat, REPEAT). It can be done. I mean, these shows are scripted to death anyway. Add some vampires. Just kidding.
That being said, I think there could be a way for the show to have its cake and eat it, too. While on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” we’ve seen recasting forced mainly by the voluntary exits of cast members (Camille Grammer’s hasty semi-retreat after a season of image rehab comes to mind), she’s still popping up on the show. Vicki could be a similar presence, and I’d be more comfortable with the oldest Housewife taking on an avuncular role anyway. The show is also trying out new housewives without really trying them out — Marisa Zanuck is on most of the recent episodes, but without the title and intro we associate with “real” Housewives. Orange County needs to show some of the old blood the door — but not actually push these stars out completely. Less Vicki, Gretchen and Alexis (and, yes, even Tamra) wouldn’t be the worst thing ever, and would leave plenty of room for the franchise to test drive some new talent.
And if that doesn’t work? Vampires.
Are you going to watch the eighth season of “The Real Housewives of Orange County”? Do you think a new housewife can save the show?