It’s happening! After five seasons away, Heather Dubrow has returned to her rightful place as queen of The Real Housewives of Orange County. As a day 1 Heather fan, this is a dream come true for me. And one that I thought I’d honestly never see happen once she exited at the end of Season 11. Let’s be frank: the show has been on a seemingly endless downward spiral since she left — save for some elements of Season 14, which really enjoyed. (And Season 12 isn’t so bad in retrospect, especially after what we endured last year.) But she’s back to right the ship just like her yacht party in the Season 11 premiere, and Shannon Beador couldn’t be more thrilled about it. Not.
Heather‘s return is such a big deal that we don’t even get an intro or taglines this week. Because catching up with the Dubrows and their 22,000-square-foot chateau takes precedence after her instantly-iconic re-entry taken straight from the playbook of Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari. (If you know, you know. If you don’t, who are you?) Now, as an OG Housewives fan — we’re talking Season 1, Episode 1 of RHOC back in 2006 — it takes a lot to get me in my feelings. But wow, was I blown away by how much Heather’s kids have grown! For context, Coco was practically a newborn when her mom joined the series back in Season 7, and now she’s 10. Are we all feeling old yet?
Of course, the Housewives returning from last season are Gina Kirschenheiter and Emily Simpson. Both of whom give us updates on their respective lives during a Pilates workout. The most important news is that Gina cut her hair! Ok, not really. But she is rocking a short bob that’s a major improvement over what she’s subjected her follicles to over the last three seasons. Emily’s got a new chin. Her husband Shane Simpson finally passed the California bar exam, but only because they retroactively lowered the qualifying score due to COVID. Does that still count as an accomplishment? In more sobering news, Gina’s ex also pleaded guilty for the nightmarish domestic violence charges he put her through, and she’s now trying to move forward.
Then there’s Shannon, who takes her now-teenaged girls shopping for clothing that’s all too short, too tight, and too revealing to her mothering eye. She’s still happily dating John Janssen, even though we don’t see him this week. The weirdest thing is that now that Kelly Dodd has (thankfully!) been fired, Shannon’s forced to pretend to be friends with Gina and Emily. It’s her only recourse, essentially. And it just feels weird and forced. When the three of them go out to lunch later in the episode, it requires a strange suspension of disbelief to think these three women would ever socialize together in real life. Now that Heather‘s back and sending the show in a glamorous new direction, my bets are that Shannon will increasingly feel like the odd one out as the season progresses. But let’s wait and see…
We also have three new faces, though only two are holding oranges. And oddly enough, the first one we’re introduced to is Nicole James, who filmed full-time but for some reason isn’t even an official Friend of the Housewives. She’s a friend of Heather‘s and her exclusion from the official press materials and intro is particularly jarring because the main crux of the drama in the beginning of the season revolves around her. Because! It turns out she also happens to be an acquaintance of Shannon‘s from way back when their kids were in preschool together. And when Shannon eventually discovers that this old somebody she used to know has joined the show, she’s visibly less than pleased. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The two new Housewives are Dr. Jen Armstrong and Noella Bergener. Both of whom were actually connected to the show through Braunwyn Windham-Burke. So that’s gotta rub salt in the newly-fired ex-Housewife’s wound. Dr. Jen is an aesthetic M.D. who attended Braunwyn’s hail Mary of a vow renewal in Palm Springs last season. But now she’s introduced through Gina and Emily visiting her practice for a little cosmetic touch-up. She’s a born-and-raised Orange County girl whose husband Ryne Armstrong apparently never wears a shirt.
Noella, meanwhile, actually filmed with Braunwyn towards the end of last season, but she makes it clear in her first confessional that that friendship has since been declared dead and buried. While it’s not explicitly addressed this week, her marriage is also over. Which makes for a bizarre intro package. We meet her husband via a billboard advertising his ambulance-chasing law practice. And we only see her palatial home, young son and mom via flashback while she films at Nicole‘s house. She’s definitely stunningly gorgeous though, and is serving up all kinds of fashion heretofore unseen in the OC. So I’m intrigued. But also confused.
To get the disparate threads of the cast together, Heather decides to throw the first party of the season. But there are some inexplicable choices on the part of editing and production in order to get us there. First, we’re robbed of seeing Heather and Shannon‘s first on-camera conversation in real time. We get it via flashback instead. And it’s over the phone. Disappointing. Heather makes it clear in her confessional that she and Shannon were “never close, close friends.” And I was just waiting for Shannon to bring up the Super Bowl party she wasn’t invited to after Heather left the show. But instead, she pretends she’s just thrilled Heather has invited her back into her orbit. (Again, she’s not.)
Next, Heather randomly meets Gina and Emily off camera during a chance run-in at Javier’s with Shannon. (If you don’t know the historical importance of Javier’s to RHOC lore, I don’t have the time or word count to school you.) You just know production were kicking themselves for missing this moment. Particularly since Shannon and Gina were apparently wasted, and Heather was left to pick up their tab. All of which gets explained after the fact at the trio’s lunch the next day. Which also takes place at Javier’s. After connecting the dots about both knowing Nicole, Heather leaves the table for a second. Opening the perfect opportunity for Gina to spill the dirt Shannon has on her and Heather’s mutual friend.
Apparently, Nicole once sued Terry Dubrow. But Shannon‘s adamant that she doesn’t want Heather finding out this piece of gossip. Perhaps more specifically, she doesn’t want Heather finding out that it came from her. Either way, it’s confusing. How would Heather not know this information. You’d think if she told Terry, “Oh hey, my friend Nicole is joining the show, I’m about to go film with her,” he might have…I don’t know…brought it up? And why would Heather be friends with someone who filed a lawsuit against her husband anyway? Regardless, Gina wants to get the story out in the open. But Shannon stares her down with ice daggers, reminding her that they apparently made a pact not to bring it up. Just like the pact two seasons ago about the train? Because that one worked out so well…
Instead of spreading gossip, Shannon‘s forced to endure an impromptu tour of the Dubrow Chateau, porte cochère and all. While Gina‘s blown away by the opulence we never got a completed glimpse of last time Heather was on the show, Shannon is visibly seething inside with envy. The salon and the podcast studio and the champagne doorbell and the towel warmers all remind her of the life she had with David Beador. Which was also back when Heather was last on the show. And now, she has…a rental and a company shilling frozen salmon filled with cream cheese. Oh, and don’t forget the lemon tinctures. My how times have changed.
The night of Heather‘s party finally arrives, and all the women waltz into the Dubrow Chateau in their fanciest outfits. Introductions are made all around — weirdly the host, whose husband is arguably the most prominent plastic surgeon in all of Orange County, isn’t familiar with Dr. Jen. And Noella, wrapped in layers of fuchsia tulle, meets the three veterans alongside Nicole. (Again, if you sued someone, why would you go to their house for a party, but OK.) Meanwhile, Gina and Emily are stressed about the secret because Shannon‘s been working overtime behind the scenes to stir up trouble. Apparently, she wants the two of them to find out everything they can about the lawsuit. Likely so that when it comes out, her hands are clean.
And suddenly, we flash forward to bits and pieces of the party that follows. We see Gina dropping the bomb. Emily storming out in a rage. Nicole being confronted. And Heather threatening to kick everyone out as she pulls a “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” and shuts down filming. Are you ready for Episode 2?
TELL US – ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS I AM THAT HEATHER’S BACK? WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF DR. JEN AND NOELLA? WHY DO YOU THINK NICOLE ISN’T AT LEAST FRIEND OF THE HOUSEWIVES? DO YOU BELIEVE SHANNON’S UP TO HER OLD POT-STIRRING TRICKS?
[Photo Credit: Bravo]