Joe, a construction magnate described as ”juicy” and ”built” by his adoring wife, dines with his family on the terrace of an Italian restaurant. In the middle of the meal, Teresa — the aforementioned spouse — begins wheedling him for permission to get a boob job. Their three cute daughters, dressed like a troupe of trained poodles, are blithely oblivious to the conversation. While most American kids are being ordered to butt out of discussions about layoffs and foreclosures, Joe and Teresa’s kids need only be troubled by Mom’s hypomastia.
”Happy wife, happy life,” Joe declares after some deliberation. Even though he’s an ”ass guy” (again, Teresa’s description), Joe is generous enough to give Teresa his blessing. She smiles. The kids smile. Everybody is smiling. Suddenly Joe — an average you-know-what from north Jersey — seems awfully wise. Matter of fact, Joe seems downright sage. His wife looks happy. His life looks happy.
Those of you who watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey (OWN IT!) know that I’ve just recapped a scene from a recent episode titled ”Casinos and C-Cups.” Now, I’ll pretty much watch a reality show about anything. (”Anything” includes, but is not limited to, the following topics: multiple births, offbeat cake decorators, unusually small people, unusually large people, emotionally unstable brides, and Kendra Wilkinson.) And yet I’ve somehow missed all the previous seasons of the Real Housewives series. Skipped Orange County, bypassed Atlanta, allowed New York City to whiz below my radar, ignored the accompanying ”reunion” shows, even though they promised to be every bit as ”juicy” as Joe. It just didn’t seem like my bag. Until now.
I can’t stop thinking about the Jersey Housewives, with their boobs and their baubles, their granite countertops, their tennis lessons, their mammoth SUVs, and the children they collect and display like charms from Tiffany. It’s not that the women themselves are that fascinating (though I will confess to loving Caroline Manzo, the tough-talking den mother of the gang). Rather, I’m fascinated by their lifestyles. I mean, first of all, the word ”housewife” is a relic unto itself, long since banished to America’s linguistic dustbin along with ”kept woman” and ”trousseau.” All the full-time moms I know would wince — or laugh — if someone referred to them as housewives. The term conjures up a tired image of a martini-swilling, bonbon-popping shopaholic. It’s all so Jackie Collins, the antithesis of the ”reality” Bravo purports to depict.
Maybe it seems so alien because I don’t know anybody like Caroline, Dina, Teresa, Danielle, or, uh, the other one. (The Rules of Television dictate that the least bitchy member of a reality ensemble cast is always the least interesting.) For instance, Teresa announced in the first episode that she and Joe were building a new house because pre-owned homes are, in her words, ”gross.” For real? I mean, a few channels over on TLC, the entire Duggar family is running around in used shoes and Teresa can’t deal with a used house?
And then there’s Danielle, the most scandalous of the group because she allegedly used to be a stripper and once got arrested for extortion, or something, and she dated a smirking 26-year-old who wears Ed Hardy like it’s not hilarious. In another recent episode, Danielle got lip injections on camera, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. It was like that scene in Beetlejuice where Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis distort their faces monstrously in order to frighten the new inhabitants of their house. Caroline, always my favorite Housewife, looked like she was going to toss her cannolis right there.
And yet, despite the choreographed silliness and tacky interiors, I feel the slightest twinge of envy when I watch the Housewives. Being fiercely independent is exhausting at times. Who — male or female — doesn’t occasionally dream of being pampered and powerless? Besides, like Teresa, my tastes run to ”Italian fabulous”; I can truly appreciate the beauty of a gold-and-onyx toilet. Still, I could never see myself as, say, a Real Housewife of Hollywood. The lifestyle just isn’t worth the trade-off — and besides, I like my gross old house.