Reflections on The Real Housewives of New Jersey by NMD
I remember the introduction to the Real Housewives of New Jersey: Teresa Giudice trying on swimsuits and talking about her little bubbies. I don’t think I remember any other first episodes of any of the franchises. This was the fourth version of the housewives franchise, the first to include related cast members, and by season three, the only franchise to have a full cast of married women. After falling for the Real Housewives of New York and Atlanta, I was unimpressed by the Jersey ladies. They were memorable, but not likable.
I suspect that Dina Manzo was the lynchpin of the group. Dina had experience with Reality TV, starring in an episode of My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding. I wonder if she reached out to her sister-in-law Jacqueline and her friend Teresa after being approached for the show. If so, she probably regrets it. Jacqueline dragged the camera crews over to her other sister-in-law Caroline’s place. Caroline was about the most unlikely Real Housewife they had cast on the franchise since the original OC ladies. She’s unapologeticly not botoxed, surgically enhanced, or stylish. Heck, the woman can barely run a comb through her hair. Shockingly, viewers took to her more than her coiffed younger sister Dina.
The fifth member of that original season was already in Dina and Caroline’s bad books by the time she was cast on the show. Like Ramona and Jill, or Nene and Sheree, the show needed some conflict. I don’t know if they learned about Danielle through hanging out in the local beauty salon, or if Jacqueline recommended her – but I don’t think anyone knew what they were getting when the brought in Danielle Staub. Dina and Caroline clutched their pearls at Danielle’s sordid past, but Teresa tried to be friendly with her until Danielle made the critical mistake of insulting Juicy Joe. When Danielle called Teresa stupid in the finale, Teresa’s Gorga Trigger was switched, and she literally flipped the table and established one of the marquis moments in housewives history. In many ways that was the beginning of the end of the Real Housewives franchises – as all ladies cast from that point on knew they needed to bring the drama to top Teresa’s ratings.
Producers of the show had an issue Season Two. Danielle Staub was very much on the outs. Only Jacqueline and Dina would interact with her – and only on a very limited basis. Who can forget luncheon Danielle threw for her daughter with the empty chairs for Jacqueline and Dina. Danielle was forced to film with new friends Kim P, Kim D, and Danny. The Kims turned out to be opportunists looking for screen time. Danny was a dangerous felon who took his role far too seriously. After a staged showdown, Dina left the show. I imagine Dina asking the other ladies to stand with her and force the show to toss Danielle. Or perhaps the rumors fed to Lynn (I suspect by Jaq) were true and Dina was dropped because the only interesting thing she did was talk to her hairless cat. Whatever the case, Dina quit the show and stopped talking to Caroline, Chris and Jacqueline, and even Teresa for a period of time. She made up with Teresa about the time Teresa landed a spot on Celebrity Apprentice, hoping that Teresa would choose her charity – Project Ladybug – for the show. Teresa didn’t, but she did manage to get Dina to film with her and take her side in Teresa’s feud with Caroline. One thing about the Laurita/Manzo ladies – they know how to hold grudges. They still aren’t talking to this day.
For New Jersey what was going on behind the scenes was more interesting than the on-screen, faux reality the ladies tried to portray. More than any other franchise they used social media and magazines to create public interest and sympathy. Perhaps they really are from small towns, because people seemed to KNOW about what was hidden in their closets.
Teresa was the first housewife to be outed as a complete fraud. While she bragged about her riches on TV, she was facing bankruptcy. Juicy Joe was revealed as a slum lord. He tried to hide a DUI, and his friends covered for him. He was caught driving with a false license. As all of this was unveiled behind the scene, viewers began to feel a sense of disgust at the over the top parties and lavish lifestyle, knowing that it was coming at the expense of others. Many viewers HATED Teresa during the second season and we all licked our lips with anticipation when we heard her sister-in-law would be joining the show and she’d no longer be able to cover up her criminal ways.
Who would have guessed that Melissa Gorga end up more hated than Teresa? I wouldn’t have called that one. Teresa had two things going for her – Melissa coming off as an annoying opportunist twit, and Teresa’s endless support and love for Juicy. Something makes us root for the underdog, and somehow with the producers lining up her own family to bring her down didn’t set well with viewers. Plus, by then we were full into the recession and bankruptcies were a dime a dozen among the housewives. Sure there were still other charges against Juicy – charges he’s still facing – but Teresa managed to be seen as a separate person than her liability of a husband. That she hasn’t left him yet speaks volumes about her sense of loyalty and family. He should have been kicked to the curb eons ago.
Melissa Gorga. Melissa was like the kid in the back of the crowd with her hand raised saying pick me pick me. How frustrating it must have been for her when the cast got down to four and still no one looked her way. Clearly Joe Gorga will do anything for his wife – even calling his sister garbage and getting into a physical fight at his child’s christening to bring drama to the show and make sure his wife landed a spot as a housewife. Who is Melissa Gorga is the million dollar question. Is she a manipulative swinger who is addicted to coke, a housewife and mother with dreams of being a singer, or someone in between. I suspect option three.
One thing about the New Jersey ladies – they live in an alternative universe. Teresa was a virgin until she was married – a “good” girl. Melissa was not a “good” girl. Strike one. And there is some sort of tension between her and Juicy. Does he know something or (blech) did she have some sort of relationship with him? He’s a man-whore, so anything is possible. That would certainly explain the tension. Melissa needed someone to film with when she joined the show so they also brought in Kathy Wakile. Kathy also has the Gorga Trigger, but she hides it better than Teresa and Joey. We didn’t see it until the last reunion. Kathy talks quietly, but I no longer believe she’s a nice person. If she was she wouldn’t put up with that pig of a husband of hers – who is truly vile pond scum. Another piece of alternate reality is Kathy’s sister Rosie. Rosie “came out” to her niece and nephew last season. Are we supposed to believe that those children who seem intelligent had no idea Rosie was a lesbian? Alternate universe!
I have been up and down with Teresa. I took a class once where they talked about different parts of your brain, and people damaged in childhood tend to run on instinct alone. That’s what I think is going on with Teresa. She has a strong maternal instinct. No one can question her as a mother. She has a strong survival instinct. When cornered she comes out swinging, hence her vicious attacks at the reunion where she had no where to escape. But she is not emotionally intelligent. She has no empathy, and can not see things from someone else’s point o f view. She seems able to walk away from friendships and not look back. Her cast mates urge her to own her actions, and she stares at them dumbfounded. There is something missing in her.
I think Caroline Manzo would have walked away from the show years ago if it wasn’t for her children. The boys and her brother Chris are promoting BLK water and need the TV exposure. Those poor Manzo boys. A few years ago they did so well on Millionaire Matchmaker that Bravo toyed with giving them a spin off. Instead they got some webisodes. Yawn. Worse off is poor Al Manzo. He was grooming Christopher to take over the Brownstone – but what twenty year old wants to work 80 hour weeks and give up the screen time? Of course it’s hard to feel too sorry for Al. He’s the only househusband left that hasn’t been revealed to be a piece of crapola. Let’s hope this isn’t his season.
I have no emotional investment in any of these ladies. Teresa appears less awful in my eyes now that she’s been working hard to pay off her debts. She’s also very pleasant on social media and in her blogs, but she’s damaged. Melissa acts like a spoiled brat. I would like to know more about Kathy and Rosie’s childhood, but Kathy’s current life is uninteresting to me. Caroline needs to stop blaming Teresa for her problems with Dina. Why Jacqueline is still allowed to be on the show is an enigma to me, Surely her family can see how damaging it is to her. They really must need the money. I hope she holds it together as the season airs. I suspect her major issue with Teresa was that Teresa didn’t drop everything to listen to her work through her angst when she learned that her youngest son had autism. It was a major life crisis for Jacqueline, and Teresa was so absorbed in her own life and her own family battles that she failed to understand how much Jacqueline needed her. That opened a rift that is irreparable. They both feel betrayed, and unlike many other cast members from the various franchises, these two ladies really were friends. Jacqueline has the emotional maturity of a teenager, and thrives on gossip, feuds, and petty grievances. Somehow she never grew up.
As season five unrolls, let’s all take a deep breath and remember that this is a show. The cast are trying to show us some sort of sanitized, cleaned up version of their lives. The producers are trying to get us emotionally invested in the show so that we come back every week. The supporting characters are trying to grab a little screen time and notoriety. None of the cast are evil, and none are perfect. They are all flawed in their various ways and doing the best they can. Unlike characters on scripted TV, they can not shed their personas and go home at night. They have become the caricature that the producers have created.
At the end of the day none of their lives affect ours in any way unless we let them. I intend to treat this season as a game – looking for the cracks in the curtain so that I can peak backstage and try to see what is really going on. It’s a soft-scripted reality show and shame on us if we think otherwise.
And on another note – here’s a photo of someone who is already missing her twenty minutes of fame. The source is the Pacific Coast News by the way of the Huffington Post. What the heck is wrong with Adrienne Maloof? Midlife crisis??