After a season spent enduring Ramona Singer in the Caribbean islands, the second season of Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip is back with a new cast — eight former Housewives, none of whom are currently employed on any of their original shows — and a vibe that fluctuates between chaotic and best and dark at worst. It's the "Ex-Wives Club" this season, and the ladies are getting messy in a hurry.
We kick things off with Dorinda Medley, who's hosting the ladies at her Berkshires manse, the mythic Bluestone Manor, site of various Real Housewives of New York City fights, clashes, meltdowns, and at least one LuAnn tantrum about having to sleep in the "fish room."
Making the trek to Dorinda's Massachusetts getaway (a brisk 90-minute drive from Hartford!) are Orange County originals Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge, Atlanta's Phaedra Parks and Eva Marcille, Beverly Hills' Taylor Armstrong and Brandi Glanville, and original New York City housewife Jill Zarin, who shows up as a special "mystery" guest in episode two.
As fraught as the first season got, with Kenya and Ramona getting into their first of many arguments on the airplane, the energy as the women set out for the Berkshires is muted to the point of disinterest. Nobody wants to vacation in Western Massachusetts (Tamra makes a show of not being able to pronounce Massachusetts), much less spend time with the other women. The Orange County contingent, of whom Taylor is now a member, are all actively dreading the trip; Vicki has just been dumped by her fiancé, Steve, while both Taylor and Tamra have had past dustups with Brandi and aren't looking forward to seeing her.
Meanwhile, Dorinda has prepared her home for guests with the maniacal zeal that in the past has always portended some huge blowup or another.
She's got a laminated card with house rules (no shoes upstairs!) and insists upon referring to herself as the "Lady of the Manor." This, in and of itself, presents a problem if you're hoping to watch the show and keep your blood pressure in a manageable range.
Housewives producers set this season at Bluestone Manor for a reason, and it's only partly because it's been the setting for many fan-favorite altercations. It's also partly a joke played on this cast of ex-Housewives that they're being punished by a Berkshires vacation instead of getting a week in Turks and Caicos.
Dorinda doesn't realize this, so she plays the part of hostess like she's just been elected President of this season, but with every underwhelmed arrival — Brandi complaining about having to sleep on a sofa bed or Vicki sourly noting the remoteness of the area (she likes to have a Home Goods nearby, apparently) — we're left with the utter certainty that at some point Dorinda is going to throw a tantrum about how she made it nice, and the stress of waiting for that to happen only makes the already bad vibes even worse.
So: the O.C. women barely want to be there, Dorinda is one extra martini away from going Dark Phoenix, and Brandi is her usual agent-of-chaos self, which in this case includes trying to "apologize" to Taylor by explaining how hard filming the second season of RHOBH (you know, the one where Taylor's husband killed himself) was for her, and telling Vicki to shut the f*ck up a good half dozen times. At least with Vicki it's mostly deserved, as the o.g. O.C. housewife is in a sour mood and even drifts into the anti-vax talking points she's become so infamous for.
Thank goodness, then, for the delegation from Atlanta.
Eva enters the house the one true ray of sunshine in this whole endeavor, thrilled to meet all these women who she's watched on TV for years (she even greets Brandi with "I watched you on Celebrity Big Brother!), and it takes her until the third episode to get annoyed by Brandi, which puts her in league with Job when it comes to patience. She and Taylor also get a moment to bond over their histories of spousal abuse. Phaedra, meanwhile, is the season's comedic highlight, showing off her gift for eccentric wordplay and taking a genuine delight in the dysfunctional personalities around her.
As for what all those dysfunctional personalities are actually doing out there in the Berkshires, it's fair to say that even they don't know.
Is this season just one big audition for one or more of them to get called back into active service? Dorinda keeps talking about how she's "on pause" with RHONY, which draws incredulous eyebrows from the other women, and yet… don't they all kind of think that? Is Jill Zarin — who enters in the second episode as an homage to her "Scary Island" party-crashing really not angling to get back onto the main series? Would Vicki or Tamra honestly turn it down if Andy Cohen came calling?
Maybe that's why the energy this season seems so off. It's like these women all feel like they want to get to the part where they get the career boost from being on this season without having to go through the part where they participate in the season itself.
Lucky for the viewers, most of them are prickly and/or unstable enough that they're going to end up fighting. We might luck into some good rubbernecking as Brandi and Vicki spar, Phaedra whoops it up from the sidelines, and Dorinda teeters on the edge of the slurring diatribe we know is coming. But throughout the season's first three episodes, it's a cast of ex-wives in search of a reason for being there. Hopefully they figure it out before Andy Cohen sends Danielle Staub in after them.
The first three episodes of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip Ex-Wives Club premiere on Peacock Thursday June 23. The remaining four episodes are set to release Thursdays weekly through July 21.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip, Peacock, Brandi Glanville, Dorinda Medley, Eva Marcille, Jill Zarin, Phaedra Parks, Tamra Judge, Taylor Armstrong, Vicki Gunvalson