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Reality show drive-by: The Real Housewives of Orange County
The eighth season kicks off with tension between former BFFs Vicki and Tamra — and then one housewife becomes a grandma
 

The real test to see how deep one's Real Housewives roots go is very simple and requires knowing only one name: Vicki Gunvalson. That's because Gunvalson, an insurance agent who likes to loudly screech "wa-hooo!!!" when she's having a good time, is the only remaining cast member from the very first season of The Real Housewives of Orange County. It's hard to remember a time before Kim Zolciak's weird wigs, Lisa Vanderpump's dog Giggy, or before a group of housewives from various epicenters of nouveaux riches flooded our collective brains. And, astoundingly, the Orange County franchise has now been on the air for seven years, managing to spawn legions of imitators. But for true fans of the stalwart series, the sun-soaked, Southern California incarnation has panache that's hard to top.

For it's eighth season, things kick off at a dizzying pace, which is often the case when catching up with the housewives because a new season usually means shakeups in casting. Over the years, a staggering 16 women have rotated through, opening up their McMansions and delivering catty barbs for our viewing pleasure. This season hangs onto its five primary housewives — Vicki, Heather Dubrow, Gretchen Rossi, Tamra Barney, and Alexis Bellino — and will likely add a sixth at some point, according to previews.

Vicki's story leads the first episode, as she has wisely kept herself in the eye of the storm. Of course, more storm means more drama, and more face-time with those sweet, sweet Bravo cameras. Vicki kicked up dust with nearly everyone last season, including her newly married daughter, Briana. Much of Vicki's bitterness is brought on by her hasty divorce from her husband, Donn, and her subsequent romance with a cartoonish Southerner named Brooks. Most of Vicki's friends and family felt Brooks' attraction to her was inspired by her deep pockets rather than her charm, which didn't sit well with fiery Vicki.

Yet Vicki seems more relaxed and slightly more together this season than she did in season seven. With Briana's baby on the way any day now — married and pregnant within a year! — Vicki is excitedly readying and renovating her faux-Mediterranean estate. Mom and daughter seem to have smoothed their rough edges after last season, and the plan looks to be for Briana, her new husband, and their newborn baby to live with Vicki.

In way bigger news, Vicki completely overhauled her face! We're talking chin implant, fat injections, and more. Certainly a lot to take in. She seems happy, though, and she makes the smart move of coming clean about it right away. Agreeing to incorporate it into her storyline is much wiser than denying it and letting the producers decide to do with it what they will.

Meanwhile, former actress and all-around perfectionist Heather is getting ready to host the first event of the season. Squee! These soirees are always the focal point of a great Housewives episode, so it's good to see that they're not beating around the bush. Bravo has clearly perfected the show's formula, learning over the course of seven years exactly when it's time to get these feisty camera hogs tanked up on rosé at a dinner party (i.e. immediately.)

The episode also checks in with a few more key players. There's the delightfully outspoken Tamra, whose life has also evolved considerably since joining in season three (making her the housewife who has been on the series second-longest). Since popping open a fake clam in Bora Bora to discover her engagement ring, Tamra and her sweetie Eddie have moved in together. There's some weak conflict between them about décor, but it looks like the real drama in Tamra's life is with Vicki — over Tamra's very vocal beef with Brooks last season. Through a few more plot machinations we learn that Gretchen's boyfriend (and former Real Housewife husband) Slade Smiley has a new job as a radio deejay.

Then, in an unexpected turn, we speed right toward a major event: Briana goes into labor! While it might sound a bit un-Housewives to go with something so, well, wholesome and upbeat for a premiere episode, it's a treat for any longtime viewer to get a peek into the delivery room. The close-up on newborn baby Troy and his teensy sneeze is also a nice respite from what we know will be months on end of angry blondes yelling at each other.

Through all of this, clueless Alexis floats somewhere in the ether. She's clearly on the periphery of this social circle. Convinced she was the target of bullying last season from the other housewives (she even recites the dictionary definition of the word in an interview), she has a overly orchestrated, and awkward, conversation with her loathsome husband Jim about all the reasons she's happy she wasn't invited to Heather's upcoming shindig, a clambake. As if anyone should celebrate not being invited to a Dubrow clambake.

Leave it to Heather to turn the New England tradition into an Orange County spectacle, with a half dozen event planners buzzing around an ornate table perched on her backyard bluff that overlooks the Pacific. But before we can see the housewives partake in this Northeastern pastime, we're left hanging as the episode ends. Don't fret, though. In the next episode, there will be drama: Former friends Vicki and Tamra arrive around the same time, and they'll be sitting across from each other at the table. Juicy stuff. Overall, Bravo pulled off an impressive opener of a series that refuses to go gently into that good night. The Real Housewives has dug its heels in as sharply as these women wearing their fast-sinking stilettos on Heather's beachy bluff. Thank goodness for that.

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Jessica Jardine is from Northern California and has written for The Onion's A.V. Club, FILTER, BUST, Backstage, and Metromix.com. She is also a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles and owns a Calico Persian cat named Beyoncé.

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