I’ll admit it.
I enjoyed a deliriously happy 2-season relationship with Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County — until my fellow thirty- and fortysomething ladies bid their goofy little twentysomething pal, Jo, adieu and summarily had their turf invaded by a parade of giggly bleach-blonde trophy wives and earthy, defeated-looking brunettes who seemed to render Gina, Vicki and Lauri as disdainful, annoyed and territorial as I was. We stopped talking about the gall of our overprivleged children and the cluelessness of our never-present husbands over backyard barbecues, and started getting pissy about Botox and nightclubs.
I didn’t actually the live fabulous O.C. lifestyle — I just looked at it — so I tuned out and moved on. And skipped the New York bunch and the Atlanta wives altogether — because when you say “single socialite” or “Countess du Anything,” I do not say Housewife. I say, “Do one load of whites and then we’ll talk.”
Presented with the press materials for Bravo’s newest installment of the Housewives, I knew I had found me some dames with whom I can hang. I mean, I even was a housewife of New Jersey for a couple years in the ’80s … except for that we lived in a crappy apartment in Collingswood instead of a Franklin Lakes estate, and I drove a ten-year-old Toyota instead of a convertible anything. But I hit the casinos and the shore from time to time. And I can play some tennis.
So when an invite to take part in a pre-premiere conference call with a few of the Jersey girls crossed my desk, I was pumped. When they said we’d be talking to Caroline Manzo, the built-up-by-her-bootstraps businesswoman and tough-talking mother of three, and Jaqueline Laurita, Caroline’s sunshiny, Vegas-transplant sister-in-law who is that rarist of housewives — a housewife — I was a dab disappointed.
“Sell that show, people!” I thought to myself. Match our table-thumping, “me and moy fam-uh-lee ah thick as thieves!” Manzo matriarch Caroline with phone-abusing, “love me or hate me,” star-@#$%ing, former model, outsider Danielle Staub, while the other girls go to Starbucks to talk boobies and tennis, and … you know, game on!
Wise move, Bravo. We would have never gotten off the phone.
From the moment the show rep introduced the ladies, Alpha Caroline grabbed the conversation and shoved it into fifth gear, leaving Jacqueline Zeta Cheerful to speak only when directly spoken to by the occasional sympathetic reporter. Was Caroline at all embarrassed by (or even aware of) that? No ma’am. Did Jacqueline seem to mind? Not a bit. I get the feeling she’s been to a family gathering or 500 and knows her place in the conversational pecking order just fine.
Turns out, the girls were already in the process of becoming Franklin Lakes’ most famous faces before the New York and Atlanta series even took to the screen, so they had no idea the competition — or the expectations — they were facing. They just thought it looked like fun.
And when the word around the Market Basket, the local gourmet grocery, was that the show’s producers came to town looking for specific kinds of gals, their response? A big fat so what?
“We are who we are,” Caroline says, “and that’s what I think New Jersey is. We tell it like it is. We are about family. And I think in New Jersey you get such an eclectic mix of different cultures, and different levels in life, and that’s everywhere. So, like, you know, the stigma with the Sopranos — I get it. Sopranos was great and I guess that’s what going to sell the show, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you see the group of us.”
“And we’re not trying to represent the town and represent the state — we’re just representing ourselves,” Jacqueline adds.
Accents and all — for all the cash piles and Black American Express cards in the world can’t save their speech patterns from a good Jersey vowel-twisting.
“When I hear my voice I want to crawl under the bed,” Manzo admits. “But, guess what? Now you learn – ‘All right, Caroline, you have a tough voice. Don’t say that because it doesn’t sound right coming out of your mouth!”
But for Gawd’s sake — and mine — keep right on talking!
Real Housewives of New Jersey premieres tonight on Bravo at 11pm ET.