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The Real Housewives of Orange County or 'Tuesday Nights at Dysfunction Junction'

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My teenage son and I have a bonding ritual. Every Tuesday night we eagerly await the next episode of RHOC. In an age when many contend there's a "generation gap" (there's always a generation gap) something like RHOC can truly minimize the distance between the generations. It's a marvelous show to analyze psychologically and that's what we do. The stories themselves are pedestrian because, for the most part, the characters are pedestrian, but it's the way these mundane people can actually turn something that would normally bore the hell out of an audience into something psychologically engaging. So, these are some of the things we talked about after last night's episode.

For example, Heather, the newest of the "housewives" (though none of them ever do any housework so the notion of housewife is a bit disingenuous) has decided to terminate her "acting career" and become a "stay-at-mansion mom." Throughout her short-term career as a RHOC, she's constantly alluded to her "acting career" though regardless of the number of TV series she had bit parts in (most memorable of which are the television "classics," Jenny and That's Life) somehow she still believes she's an actor. But at 43 she has about as much chance at attracting engaging roles as Dustin Hoffman has in doing a remake of The Graduate. After all, she is not now nor will she ever become Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeiffer. She is by all perceptions a major dilettante. From her seeming self-deluded notions about her acting and singing abilities to her superficial approach to opening a restaurant, she is a leading candidate for OC Dilettante of the Year. In order to avoid directly accepting the fact of life that acting is over, she decided to indirectly accept that fact of life by changing her name from "Kent" to her husband's name, "Dubrow." Apparently, that decision of name-changing was a kind of tacit acceptance that her acting days were over. At least it's a start.

Next, there's Vicki. Now Vicki is probably the most solipsistic character on the show. There's probably no situation that she can't turn into it being something about her. It's absolutely astonishing how she can do that. It's a tremendous feat. Her daughter's illness became how it affected Vicki; her daughter's marriage became how it affected Vicki; Slade's alleged child-support problems became something to do with Vicki. You name the situation and, inevitably, it will center on Vicki. I'm surprise she never suggested bin Laden's death didn't affect her somehow. Not only that, she's constantly in a state of denial. When her daughter talked of the possibility of "cancer," Vicki didn't want to hear it. If there's a surprise of any sort, Vicki doesn't want to hear it. If her daughter questions the sincerity of her new boyfriend, Brooks, or his domestic history, Vicki doesn't want to hear it. She seems to approach these situations not unlike the Nicole Sullivan approached the Vancome lady. If you don't know who the Vancome lady is, I can't define it for you. In other words, if Vicki can't control everything (one need only recall her elaborate unilateral plans to re-marry Donn) she either denies its existence or doesn't want to hear about it.

Of all the characters, Alexis is probably the one most out of touch with reality. Besides the fact she believes Costa Rica is in Mexico (a major bonding moment for me and my son since it took us many minutes to recover and help each other off the floor) she's a dilettante second only to Heather even though she doesn't know what the word means. It's not that she's "shallow" (as Tamra calls her), but naïve. So, if one combines naïveté with denial, then one is doomed to failure. She jumps from her clothing line, "Alexis Couture" (which she implicitly suggests will soon be in competition with the likes of, say, Versace) to her television career (which is staggering in its ineptitude and couldn't be helped even with the assistance of Demosthenes) only emphasizes how out of touch she is with the "real world." In that sense, she's in a circle of denial even Dante couldn't have imagined.

Now Gretchen is a unique case. She too has a rather inflated view of herself (especially when it comes to singing "Fever" à la Peggy Lee [may she rest in peace] and performing as a Pussycat Doll), but she too is kind of in a state of denial that deals primarily with her "partner," Slade. Now one has to suspend one's disbelief that anyone outside of a Dickens character would be named, Slade Smiley, but he does exist; however, if he were a Dickens character then surely he'd be spending most of his time in Marshalsea Prison. What's rather astonishing about Gretchen's denial is that she thinks something is going to change with him and his backstory of alleged child support avoidance and financial mismanagement. If the bromide attributed to Einstein that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is true, then Gretchen is, quite frankly, 'insane.' But if one shades off a little of that alleged insanity, then what one is truly left with is yet another case of denial.

Lastly, one comes to Tamra. What my son and I find most refreshing about Tamra is her frankness though, at times, it's not necessarily based on evidence. As the cliché goes, she's entitled to her opinion, but not her facts. But anyone who's gone through a divorce with young children has to empathize with her situation.The fact her ex-husband was a troglodyte who obsessively tried to micro-manage her life would drive anyone to the courts, but, and perhaps because of that, she's had some significant self-esteem issues. Perhaps, that's changing with the removal of her plastic boobs and the acceptance of her real ones. What seems delusional to us is how Tamra (as well as Gretchen, Alexis and Heather [Vicki being the sole entrepreneur]) has no clue about what it takes to research, prepare, open and maintain a business. Tamra wants to open either a bar or a gym yet she has no experience in either and going to a gym owner and asking rather superficial questions is not a business plan. Vicki said as much about Heather's ill-conceived idea about opening a restaurant. So, in that sense, Tamra too seems to be in a state of denial.

Of course, this analysis is based on how the editors of RHOC edit the film. My son and I have often marveled at how creative the editing team can be especially when it comes to editing what Alexis says. It's a bit like discovering a cornucopia of gaffes. But what I'm thankful for is that their dysfunctions make Tuesday nights one of the highlights of my week. So, with that in mind, keep denying, girls, keep denying. It makes my day.