There are plenty of breakout episodes in the Real Housewives archives. More than simple classics, these are the episodes that firmly establish the cast of characters and their relationships, usually culminating in some unforgettable, infinitely-rewatchable event. In this new series, Breaking Out, we’ll be looking back at these ground-breaking episodes to analyze and appreciate their brilliance, as well as their lasting legacy.
It only makes sense, then, to start at the beginning. Bonus points for my timing of getting this post up before Gretchen’s guest return to the OC tomorrow night. Before any tables were flipped, wigs were snatched, or Kelly met Bethenny, we were hanging out in the OC. The OG franchise once again trailblazed, showing us just what happens when you combine calculated mean-girling, tequila, and sleazy young men in “Naked Wasted.”
Stepping out of the time machine, we are now in the OC circa 2009. The only way you can really discern the difference from present day OC is the fact that this aired in standard definition and the extreme prevalence of Sky Tops in the talking heads. This episode is unusually stacked, so let’s check in with everyone’s solo material to set the stage. Not to worry: I’ll be recapping the dinner in detail in case you haven’t seen it since it first aired almost a decade ago.
The episode opens with Tamra taking etiquette classes with some stuffy old woman at the behest of Simon, of course. Tammy needs to learn how to be a real lady because she’s too wild and doesn’t hold her fork properly and it humiliates Simon. The premise behind the whole “Naked Wasted” dinner party is to show off all of her new etiquette learnings. Everything wrong in the Barney marriage is on display here: Simon is being a condescending asshole, trying to control every last aspect of Tamra and stifling her firecracker personality all to make her into his perfect Stepford Wife.
Oh, the Curtins. Such beautiful stoner souls, such terrible parents, such inept humans. Long before they become homeless, Lynne and Frank are out having a romantic dinner and discussing how great their kids are. As you’d expect, we then cut to Raquel at a bowling alley getting drunk with her friends because they are teenagers with no rules or boundaries. Masterful delusion editing is employed as Raquel gives a talking head stating she “parties with her friends as often as possible, whether that means drinking or just hanging out and talking” before cutting back to Lynne surmising that all the missing liquor from their home is being consumed by friends of Alexa and Raquel, but certainly not their daughters themselves.
Jeff, her fiancé, is currently in the hospital near death after his cancer made a big comeback. His kids are packing up to go home after they rushed out to see him in case it was for the last time. She drops them off at the airport and laments that she wishes they could stay. Later in the episode, she’s struggling emotionally since Jeff has given up hope on his recovery and now is waiting to die.
Jetting on over to Chicago, Vicki has gone home to see her family. Vicki’s family is comprised of super normal mid-western folks and they can’t handle what a strange, materialistic, plastic human she has become in California. There is a kerfuffle where one of Billy’s idiot friends pours an entire container of gasoline on a bonfire and almost lights himself up, but otherwise this is just a great character scene for Vicki. My favourite moment is her meltdown when she discovers her mother has bought her other sibling a gift (a picnic tablecloth) because she is the one who needs to know her mother loves her, and thus she needs gifts.
We are spared of any solo content this episode but I’ll fill in some blanks here for us, just for the sake of a complete flashback. Jeana and Matt are separated but he’s still living with her in spite of his abuse. The real estate market has crashed as of 2008 but Jeana is claiming she’s totally fine still and making a killing off of all the shortsales. Her and Vicki are currently at odds over one of my favourite little OC one-offs: Jeana encouraged Vicki to rent one of her properties to her fan Frankie, who has not been making payments.
The Dinner Party:
“Tonight I want it to be elegant. I wanted it to be about lighting, and scents, and fire, all the beautiful things in this world.”
Finally, we arrive to what we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the night of Tamra’s big party and everything is set up for success. Conveniently, a then 22 year old Ryan just finished bartender school and will be working the bar for the party. The attendees are Simon and Tamra, Vicki and Donn, Lynne and Frank, Jeana, and Gretchen. Tamra and Gretchen get into it almost immediately when they bicker about whether Vicki would enjoy the oysters that have been prepared. Tamra finally snaps “okay Vicki, you should listen to Gretchen” and everyone who knows what is about to happen starts shaking with anticipation.
“Tequila shots always lead to bad behaviour.”
Everyone ends up seated around the table, and Gretchen’s tipsiness level is steadily increasing of her own accord as she sips away at a cosmopolitan. When chef Brian Malarkey (of Top Chef fame) explains the menu has been created around tequila Gretchen shouts out “I love tequila!” (much to Vicki’s chagrin, who despises Gretchen getting any attention ever) and Tamra summons Ryan to bring her a shot. Everyone cheers her on as she swallows it back in one hit, and as conversation picks up Tamra whispers into Vicki’s ear.
“Gretchen was pretty fun that night. I don’t know if it was the alcohol speaking but she was definitely the center of attention.”
The first course is just being served and Gretchen is well and thoroughly wasted. She starts moaning when she tastes the food and just making a general ass of herself. Surprisingly, Simon seems to be pretty amused by her rapid devolution and Donn is going shot for shot with her. Lynne and Jeana are both visibly concerned. Tamra is absolutely brilliant throughout this dinner, I don’t even know how to put it into words. Every time Gretchen starts humiliating herself, Tamra chimes in with “you’re funny, you’re so funny Gretchen” to egg her on, all while smiling and winking to Vicki. She keeps Gretchen from ever realizing that everyone is super uncomfortable with how drunk and wild she’s getting.
“At the table I gave Gretchen a little warning about Ryan because he’s a manwhore.”
A chair has emerged from the sidelines and Ryan is now seated next to Gretchen, and her arm is around him. We see Tamra give Vicki the subtlest of nods. More shots are being poured, and Gretchen is downing them all like a champ. Jeana is trying to surreptitiously steal the shots away from in front of her but for everyone she snatches away, another is put down in its place. Lynne pipes up and says Gretchen probably shouldn’t drink anymore. Tamra helpfully points out that Gretchen has been in a hospital for 8 months and she needs to relax and have some fun. Gretchen agrees.
“Gretchen was so wasted. I have never seen anybody that wasted in my entire life…other than myself once or twice.”
Dinner has ended and everyone is milling about in the back patio near the bar. Gretchen is acting a fool while everyone cringes in second hand embarrassment. I don’t think I can underestimate what a sleazy creep Ryan is in all of this, and his weird trollish face really help. He’s the kind of guy I’d end up with at a party while I’m blackout too, so no judgments Gretch. Everyone is preparing to leave for the night and Jeana and Lynne both try and take Gretchen home with them. Tamra informs them that instead, she’ll be spending the night. There’s a great little incestuous moment here where Gretchen gets Ryan to admit that his mother is hot and he likes her because they look similar. Ryan and Tamra have always vibed as too close.
“We were in the kitchen and all of a sudden I turned around and Ryan and Gretchen were gone. I have no idea where they went.”
Gretchen has to go potty and Ryan follows her into the bathroom. The door is closed but they’re still mic’ed so we hear through the door as Ryan makes his move on Gretchen. She admits he “totally turns her on” but she can’t cheat on the very nice man she’s engaged to. Technically the episode ends with a dramatic “to be continued” but we’re going to spill over to the next episode for the conclusion as it is very brief. Gretchen keeps shutting Ryan down and finally he exits the bathroom alone, and Gretchen stumbles out separately a minute later.
Deferring to the expertise of my early OC expert Taylor: prior to season 4, RHOC had served as a predominantly boring look into the lives of wealthy families in the gated community of Coto de Caza. The focus was on the individual family dynamics and there was way less interaction between housewives. With the introduction of Tamra at the end of season 3, we see the show slowly evolving into modern day housewives: a show about middle aged women who love to terrorize each other over petty shit. “Naked Wasted” was the final push the show needed to really soar to greatness. It was controversial, it was dramatic and every other franchise has since followed in its footsteps. Tamra’s perfection throughout the dinner cannot be overstated. Every quotation in the above recap is a directly pulled from her talking heads, which she used to narrate her destruction of Gretchen in such a compelling tone I can’t even describe it. It’s deadpan, and faux-innocent but inflected with so much of her personality. Tamra’s a fucking legend, and this was our first glimpse.
Gretchen had been getting clowned all season. She was younger, pretty, and engaged to a rich guy twice her age – an easy target. Her edit was pretty generous in season 4, she seemed like a genuine girl trapped in a no-win situation with her dying fiancé, far from your typical golddigger. Tamra had been getting in “hold on to your daddies” digs for weeks and it was clear they weren’t going to be friends. Now, after the viewers watch Gretchen struggle with the knowledge that Jeff is going to die for certain, she’s being encouraged to drink well past the point of no return while Tamra’s sleazeball son is macking on her just for some mean girl fun. It comes out later at the reunion that Tamra had a friend who supposedly knew Gretchen was cheating on Jeff the whole time, and she was trying to expose her true nature. Whatever the reasoning, plenty of viewers will always hold it against Tamra as one of the dirtiest housewives plays ever.
It’s a bit hard to reflect on this without bias in 2017. Full disclosure: Gretchen is one of my most hated housewives. She’s an annoying, whiny, thirsty famewhore with perhaps the single most annoying voice/laugh of any housewife ever. She inflicted four more seasons of Slade onto us, including that proposal with the terrible song she recorded. All of that being said, of course Tamra went way, way too far. The saving grace is that she didn’t end up banging Ryan so I don’t need to deal with the ethical concerns of that reality. In the end, she got drunk and made a generic fool of herself, honking around being loud and annoying like the Gretchen we’ll get to know in the next four seasons, and that’s all that happened. I’m going to embrace the entertainment guilt-free.
Have you re-watched “Naked Wasted” since it’s original airing? If not, you might as well pour yourself a shot of tequila and get to it. Do you think Tamra is a date-rape accomplice and you’ve never looked at her the same way? Share your thoughts in the comments below.