'Real Housewives of New Jersey' recap: Girl, interrupted
Well, it’s happened.
The New Jersey Housewives, firing guns, hanging with Alexa Ray Joel, gifting each other Tank watches, muscling people out of parties and kaffee-klatching around island-sized granite islands, have finally bored their production company, Sirens Media, beyond reason. Sirens knows an audience will sit through a bunch of raggedy fashion shows and trumped-up tête-à-têtes if there’s real-life drama, like an actual divorce, at the end. (Nene and Camille! Good work.) But if the only real-life drama is going to be the Soul Diggaz wishing Joe Gorga would be swallowed by his own backhoe as he hurls sexual endearments at his wife while she struggles to stay on pitch, that’s not going to cut it.
And thus the brass of Sirens, lifting their snouts like jackals in an arid savannah, sniff for fresh blood on the wind. Are their any true challengers for their raccoon-eyed alpha dogs, armed only with defanged husbands, fur vests, lip liner and fresh manicures? Predators with anger-management issues, wide-ranging hunting grounds, and no families yet to protect — younger, wily predators, seeking their own packs to lead?
Why, yes! I’m glad you asked, because there are tons of daughters on "RHONJ" — daughters entirely lacking the media savvy to be as fake and unlikable as their mothers, armed with their own manicures, "careers" and dramatic arcs. So: Exeunt Albie and Chris; enter Gia, Victoria, Lauren, and (need you even ask?) Ashley, her perennial lavender slouch hat the distinctive plumage of a Top Difficult Daughter.
But before we get to Jacqueline’s bête noire, let’s address Teresa, whose photo shoot for "Fabulicious!," the sequel to her hit cookbook "Skinny Italian," was rent to shreds by her brood of ankle-nipping, ferociously uninterested cubs. In the first take, which was to feature the entirely family, the toddler ripped off her frilly hairband in protest, and bull Joe Giudice put an end to the proceedings with this bellow: “Tre, you’re making this a million years!” Next, attempts to hold the younger girls up amid the pots went awry as they squirmed to lower ground. Finally, only the sentient eldest, Gia, could be coaxed into staring devotedly up at her mother, then rolling her eyes and stalking off. Click. Good luck with that one in five years.
Next up was Kathy Wakile’s ripe beauty Victoria, getting ready to shop for a spring dance. Her father’s view of her as a doe-eyed innocent was somewhat belied by the series of seductive shots gracing the walls of her fuchsia room, where her parents, appropriately enough, chose to discuss her blooming sexuality. (Her father’s suggestion — “When a guy tries something with her, she’s gonna imagine my face instead” — was soundly rejected.) But Kathy was game to give her daughter the lowdown, which she imparted with difficulty at a local store while Victoria traipsed back and forth from the dressing room in a series of fashion mistakes. (There was actually an entirely cute, age-appropriate sequined number that suited Victoria perfectly in terms of color and cut. Victoria — you’re an autumn! No thanks required.) Her mother’s final words of advice as she held up Victoria’s choice— “Honey, when they see you in that, people are going to … think things” — was admirably countered by the daughter, who would not be dissuaded from a clingy, French blue fishtail monstrosity. “Well, Mom, that’s why I have a black belt.” Terrific! Let's wear that.
Next came (I think) appealingly zaftig Lauren Manzo, who brought her mother to tears as she confessed that even if she lost weight, she didn’t think she’d feel good about herself. Though Caroline wasn’t helping matters by discarding a bunch of clothes that no longer fit her lipo’d physique, she did put on her Lycra and hit the gym right along with her daughter, joining Albie, Chris and roommate Gregory on their kickboxing lesson, with even Jacqueline along for moral support. By the end, Lauren had rallied enough to taunt the handsome Gregory mercilessly on his too-loose shorts as she performed cross-elbow sit-ups. Lauren, rest assured, if the kickboxing doesn’t work out, making sport of men is an equally healthy pastime.
But the kicker, of course, is Ashley, the girl who has done nothing to earn my sympathy but now has it entirely. Sitting down at NYC’s Double Crown with Jacqueline and Chris Manzo, plus her absentee father and his surgeried wife, Ashley was greeted with taunts of “Lindsay Lohan” and “Princess” as she joined a panel supposedly assembled to respectfully discuss her future. (The last I heard, princesses didn’t regularly have to hear ungrateful they are.) The four actually drove the girl to tears as they shot down her plans to go to California, which are certainly ill-formed, but no more ill-formed than most 20-year-olds’ fumbling attempts to tear away. It’s pretty clear why they don’t want her to. If she fails far away — or, even more astonishingly, thrives — it cuts in on their ability to project all their flaws, failures and weaknesses on her. In the wake of their scuffle, Ashley silenced her former teen mother with one snap of her mighty jaws. "I don't have a baby at 20, so I'm doing pretty good." Carnage.
I have been a fan of the children of "Real Housewives" since the inception of the series, wondering how such grasping, vapid beings, seething with ambition and delusion in equal parts, manage to produce entirely charming offspring. (Does the Reality gene express itself postadolescence? Or are we finding the offspring charming largely in comparison to their progenitors?) But I’m most interested in the offspring of "New Jersey," who seem to clearly show the effects of bad parenting versus good parenting. Caroline may have had lipo (as has Jacqueline, certainly), but at least she’s going to the gym with Lauren and punching her weight. Kathy isn’t playing down her daughter's dress because she's jealous — she’s trying her best to protect her. These are good mamas, passing along valuable skills and knowledge with a minimum of surgical intervention.
On the other hand, Jacqueline and Teresa seem to think daughters exist for their own purposes, as adoring extensions at photo shoots or as grateful beings who bow to parental sacrifice before they can even stock a decent résumé. I’m willing to bet that in the future, Teresa’s daughters can weather her with a grain of salt, but Jacqueline’s weeping fit in the back of the Double Crown after Ashley's jab made me truly feel for her — struggling, probably, with enormous amounts of jealousy at Ashley for a freedom she never had the opportunity to squander.
Let’s hope they work it out. And in the meantime, Go west, young Ashley. Getting away from your family may not be the real problem. With your natural flair for drama, it might be getting away from Bravo.
-- Lizzie Skurnick