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It's shocking that The Real Housewives of Orange County's first season is devoid of drama

  • "There are no catfights or thrown wine glasses or even glitzy overseas vacations where one cast member inevitably has a national news-making nervous breakdown," says Joan Summers. "It was told as vignettes of different women’s lives as they juggled divorce, marriage, motherhood, and partying; the original cast included Kimberly Bryant, Jo De La Rosa, Lauri Waring, Jeana Keough, and the O.G. of the OC, Vicki Gunvalson." As Summers notes, the first Real Housewives season was supposed to be a quaint little docuseries called Behind the Gates. "Yet after 1,545 episodes, 84 seasons, and 11 spin-offs—not including the international variants—The Real Housewives is inarguably the most iconic reality television IP in any network’s history," says Summers. "It has spawned roadshows, podcasts, websites, and social media frenzies. There are conventions catering to its sprawling mass, or there were before the pandemic, anyway. Its stars, the housewives themselves (who are not always wives), have shaped the language of memes online for a decade, birthing new screencaps and GIFs and catchphrases and retorts at an alarming rate. Most important, however, is how the franchise has shaped the business of reality TV with the model that The Real Housewives perfected: a cast of zany socialites plugged into recurring confessionals and trailed by glam squads, personal photographers, and at least a half-dozen controversies. Throw a rock in any direction and it’s bound to hit a look-a-like. What began as a peek into the world of the 'real' Desperate Housewives of an exclusive California suburb ultimately evolved into a premiere television destination, where personalities are built, packaged, and shipped out en masse. The vacuous cast members of that first season of The Real Housewives of Orange County were primarily concerned with the sort of cars their neighbors recently leased and whether their nemesis in the school pick-up line had a real Rolex or a fake. But the devastating recession in 2008 collapsed that universe and transformed the franchise into the juggernaut it is today. The show ultimately became less about simply having wealth, but the cutthroat and increasingly dramatic pursuit of it—the glitz and the grift that defines our era. Beat for beat, the arc of The Real Housewives of Orange County charts the sudden death of an American dream and its zombie-like rebirth. No longer did the aspiring suburban rich need to while away the hours of their life in a nondescript office somewhere in San Bernardino or suffer with the children while their spouses promised better lives in the future. With the expansion of The Real Housewives into cities across the country, why not start a purse line, rent a McMansion, and try that elusive luck on television."

    TOPICS: The Real Housewives of Orange County, Bravo, The Real Housewives Franchise, Reality TV