Virginia Sherwood/Bravo
May 06, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Having watched the latest season of The Real Housewives of New York City with mounting dismay (can someone please just hit Simon in the back of the head with a shovel?), I’m grateful to Bravo for the tawdry reward of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. It’s only one state away, but Jersey is, thank goodness, a whole different world.

Yes, there are some Housewives franchise trademarks: the swooping shots of the wives’ palatial houses, and the footage of shopping sprees in which recession-hit merchants try to keep saliva contained in their mouths when a Housewife barks, ”I’ll take that and that and that!”

But unlike the Housewives in New York, Orange County, and Atlanta, the Jersey girls keep it both real and in the family. The majority of them are related by either blood or marriage, so family friction is added to the usual jostling to demonstrate just who has the most money to spend on gaudy chandeliers. Jacqueline, whose ”heart is as big as her bubbies,” says one woman (”bubbies,” ”boobies”: they’re all the same in New Joisey), is an in-law to sisters Caroline and Dina Manzo, who have each married one of Jacqueline?s brothers. (Following this?) Teresa — ?I want to get breast implants, but my husband, he?s more of an ass guy” — is best friends with Dina.

Every show needs a villain, and in this case, the doozy is the 19-times- engaged Danielle, friend to Jacqueline and, apparently, no one else: In the premiere, she?s not invited to the ?girls? night out.? Danielle is single and adventurous — in an oddly cautious way. For instance, we see her arrange a blind date with a guy she?s been having phone sex with?for two years. (I don?t think the phrase ?fear of commitment? does justice here; I agree more with Teresa?s assessment: ?He sounds like a psycho to me.?)

On its lacquered surface, New Jersey is The Sopranos with five variations on Adriana. But dig a bit under these women?s verbal clichés and you glimpse lives that are rooted in an earthier, more clear-eyed view of the world than the other Housewives series. In this show, being nouveau riche doesn?t necessarily equate with garish taste: It sometimes means the gals understand what it?s like to have to earn the privileged existences they lead.

No one’s ever going to confuse this happily crass reality show with David Chase’s masterpiece, but it’s a brain tickler. When Caroline says she doesn?t mind if her son Christopher opens a strip club as long as it’s ”a respectable strip club,” your mind goes bada-bing! B+

The Jersey housewives and extended clans keep the Garden State interesting.
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