By Jake Perlman
October 05, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT

Caroline Manzo left The Real Housewives of New Jersey after five seasons of extended family drama, backstabs, and betrayal. So naturally, the next logical move would be her own Bravo spin-off—aptly and cleverly titled Manzo’d with Children.

The format of the docuseries conveniently has the makings of a classic network sitcom. With three kids in their mid-20s, Caroline and husband Al don’t suffer from empty nest because sons Albie and Chris have moved back home to save money for their growing black water empire BLK and daughter Lauren has taken the traditional route of staying under her parent’s roof until she gets married to longtime boyfriend Vito… next summer. Sister-in-law Jacqueline appears as the wise-cracking neighbor brought in for added color commentary and laugh-track-ready one liners.

It’s been almost exactly a year since Caroline last appeared on Bravo, and although not much has really changed, Caroline’s mind-set definitely has. As with the Housewives franchise, Manzo’d with Children plays out in a series of vignettes strung together for one loose story line. In the back-to-back 30 minute premiere episodes, Lauren tries on wedding dresses for Glamour magazine before the kids all challenge Caroline to take some bigger risks in life and take a flying trapeze lesson. “That’s called doing something stupid,” she says. (Clearly, Caroline isn’t a fan of the idea.)

But it’s the playful interactions and harmless bullying between the Manzos—which made us fall in love with them in the first place—that will satisfy any Housewives super fan. When Lauren suggests she tries Botox on her armpits to prevent from excessive sweating, Caroline suggests deodorant instead. Hearing Caroline hyperventilate before swinging around on the trapeze, you can’t help but laugh along with her kids below.

As much as you love them though, the Manzo’s bag of tricks can get pretty old pretty fast. Albie and Chris have made every “gay best friend” joke there appropriately is to make about their old roommate Greg, who visits from San Francisco in the premiere to help Lauren pick out her wedding dress since he is a bridesman. And poor Jacqueline is used almost solely as a Botox punching bag—because we just saw that face barely move an hour earlier on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, she doesn’t add much.

The early flaws of the show focus a little too much on the children in the title and not on the person who is Manzo’d with them, Caroline (Al isn’t even in the first episode). The best parts are Caroline’s confessionals, which—after years of experience—mix her acute sense of observation and quick wit. Instead of regaling us about their own lives, a much better idea would have been to make the Manzos the newest addition to Bravo’s second season of The People’s Couch. The family’s personalities are too strong and overpowering for their own good at this point. It’s not that you don’t care to see Caroline and Co. on TV anymore, it’s just that the situations feel much more staged than the last show they were on (and that’s saying something). They would be better served if Bravo just hired a writer and made it the sitcom it’s trying so hard to only kind of be.