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‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ recap: Tre Down

October 16, 2011 | 10:44 pm

It was a sparse, self-conscious scattering of Housewives in the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, N.J., last night for the Real Housewives of New Jersey’s live reunion—more like guests at a party huddling around the dregs of a bowl of Cheetos than the pride of female lionesses we’ve become accustomed to seeing, all doing their best to scratch each other's eyes out while @BravoAndy whips through his damning set of index cards. 

So, let’s start with the dresses. Teresa, who would face the most blows over the course of the evening, came appropriately attired in a slit-to-here gown with a silver breastplate, her hair pressed into battle wings. Caroline, who had told @BravoAndy that she was going to come in pajamas, settled on a demure black one-shoulder, while Kathy went for a demi-diva look in Kelly green satin. But it was Melissa who ruled the stage, rocking a demure coral belted number, slicked-back hair and spike heels, a sparkly Betty Draper by way of the Garden State Parkway. 

But despite the Housewives' bling, it was conspicuous absence, not their presence, that ruled. All the Housewives shows are subject to cast fluctuations (New York just gutted its current troupe to make room for three new Housewives), but New Jersey has always been prone to the most defections, beginning with Caroline’s sister Dina, then the reviled Danielle Staub, finally culminating in Jacqueline. She hasn’t left the fourth season, but didn’t attend the evening’s festivities because she was too upset, Caroline told us, by Teresa’s recent “betrayal.” What betrayal, you ask? They couldn't tell, as Teresa smirked, reminding Caroline they were still filming the fourth season. “Remember?”  

Now we do! Yes, smirked Caroline, her former friend and defender! If only at the behest of their publicists, most Housewives make an effort to make amends with their frenemies in the months between the show wrapping and the reunion show airing. But Teresa had apparently only increased the rift she’d caused with the publication of her “joke”-filled cookbook. Now, alienated from her former friends Caroline and Jacqueline (“They jumped ship!”), and equally on the outs with Kathy and Melissa, she was suddenly open to digs from all quarters, Kathy and Melissa stoically deflecting Teresa’s stream of insults while Caroline revealed the ones she’d been dropping about them the whole time.

Bravo did introduce some levity, creating my favorite montage ever, which isolated each instance of “youse” over the course of this season, then expanded it to all manner of gaffes, misnomers and linguistic invention, ranging from Caroline’s mispronunciation of “envelope” to Melissa’s switchout of “wench” for “wretch” in “Amazing Grace,” to Teresa’s inquiry about her book’s “ingredientses.” (We former English majors have to take our pleasures where we can.)

But Teresa's crimes ruled, because they were LEGION. Forget calling Caroline 1/16th Italian, or telling Melissa not to join the show because everyone would make fun of her forehead. (“No! I was sayin’ everyone makes fun of MY forehead!”) Teresa had apparently told Caroline that she didn’t want to make up with her brother (“You’re a LIAR!” “I’m not a liar, Teresa.”), as well as bragged that every husband got into house-flipping because of Joe. (If they did, they certainly managed it better.)

And it didn't stop there. Right on screen, she told @BravoAndy that she and husband Joe hadn't dropped their bankruptcy plea because otherwise they would have been convicted of fraud. "No, that's not true," she smiled. “Well, it’s all in the public record,” Melissa remarked, which Teresa seemed to take, unwisely, as a defense. Unfortunately, there was no faux-help to be found on the “My Jewish friends” incident, in which Teresa intimated that Jewish wives cared more about money -- thus cementing the Jersey Housewives as the only cast to insult @BravoAndy about being Jewish AND gay.

But unlike vilified Housewives in other reunion shows, it was hard to feel sorry for Teresa, who seems to address everyone else’s emotions with the delicacy with which she shoved Andy down into his chair at the previous year’s reunion. “I’m always saying Jewish men make the best husbands!” she told @BravoAndy, refusing to apologize for the "My Jewish friends" comment. “You do say that,” he allowed, much the way you might tell someone who’d recently gained 60 pounds that her shoes looked OK.

Still: commentators everywhere (*cough* in my living room *cough*) seem to agree that this season has been particularly limp but that it was hard to pinpoint the cause. Was it the faux careers? The forced getaways? The interminable staged sit-downs? Either way, viewers (*cough* me *cough*) were left feeling that the true show was happening behind the scenes, while we watched a clumsy form of Garden State kabuki, plastered make-up, punitive footwear and all.

We won’t know what Teresa’s grand betrayal was until the fourth season airs. And on the fried meatball battle with Caroline, we can’t tell whether she’ll emerge victim or victor. (Fashion victim, certainly.) But, as Melissa would say, Praise Jesus! Viewers, we can rejoice. Whatever was happening backstage, all those shows? It's finally (oh, c'mon, I have to say it!) On Display.


"Real Housewives of New Jersey": Photo negatives

Complete coverage of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey"

Did Jacqueline Laurita, "Real Housewife of New Jersey," call it quits?

--Lizzie Skurnick


Photo: "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" cast. Credit: Bravo