‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey’ recap: Photo negatives

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Not to get all Susan Sontag on you, but, as we give a slow clap to the last episode of the New Jersey Housewives’ third season, I wonder how the show itself will fit in everyone’s family album.

Most of us over 30 reading this post have a few dried-out snapshots from birthday parties and VHS tapes of piano recitals left in our possession. (There’s no cord in existence to connect my VCR to my TV, thank God.) But since this here Internet -- if only you could see me rocking in my chair with my corncob pipe! -- hit the scene, an ever-expanding parade of our selfhood marches through Facebook, Picasa and YouTube. For the first time, we’ve designed a system to save everything forever, for everyone, everywhere: the Web.

But having your entire family’s life exposed to millions on TV adds a teeny twist. It’s one thing to pose for a picture and stick it on Facebook -- and quite another to have Bravo choose the pictures it would like to show. So put your hat on, postmodern deconstructionists. This ‘RHONJ’ sendoff was about the portraits the Gorgas, Giudices, Manzos, Wakiles and Lauritas would like to leave us with, and the ones they actually did.


And can we begin with anyone less than the ingenuous, delightful Kathy Wakile? From the beginning, Kathy has been the one to show up makeup-less while hanging around with the fam, as if to say, ‘I know I have to wear this one-armed sparkly thing for close-ups, but this is Christmas morning.’ She was happy enough to dabble in that catering plot line for an episode or two, but the only part that truly seemed to matter was to her was when her children bought her a computer to help it along.

And Sunday night’s episode drove me -- and, as I learned in my ritual viewing of ‘Watch What Happens Live’ after the show, @Bravoandy -- to L’Oreal Lash Out mascara-smearing tears. It was Victoria’s prom night, and Kathy couldn’t keep herself away from her Canon, snapping pictures of Victoria getting ready, squealing when the date pulled up, and weeping as Victoria came down the stairs, ‘Clueless'-style, in a sparkly mini to which Rich Wakile immediately objected. (Side note: Thank GOD that blue monstrosity somehow got the boot.)

As Kathy clicked away, talking about wanting to preserve every moment, you wanted to remind her that, actually, you know, the whole deal, corsage to nuts, was being captured by Bravo’s cameras. But it didn’t matter. As Victoria and Rico Suave headed off in their stretch limo to the dance, Kathy confided in Rich that her main goal, whether her kids needed her or not, was to be IRL present for every event. ‘Open a can of tuna!’ she smiled to the camera, wiping away her tears. ‘I’ll celebrate it!’

Quelle contrast to Teresa, who, as we all recall, once instructed Gia to smile for a snapshot post-hurling because, as Teresa put it, ‘You look pretty.’ Sunday night, she proved her deep connection to the family unit by hiring two photographers with tickle wands to scream like banshees in order to get a picture of the entire clan smiling on her couch. Papa Gorga, symbolically enough, had just had an operation, and kept telling the camera that he couldn’t see. No matter. After they finally got a shot of everyone, flanked by a sweetly smiling Melissa and Teresa, we got a close-up of Teresa post-session, her face as brown and set as an Anasazi ruin. ‘Melissa says she wants to get back to how the family was before.’ Tips head terrifyingly, narrows eyes. ‘I hope she means it.’

But, in a wonderfully ‘Dangerous Liaisons'-esque twist, Teresa’s much-ballyhooed cooking tome, ‘Fabulicious,’ hit the shelves, and that whole “means it” thing flipped right back at her like a vengeful crepe. Apparently, Teresa had larded the pages with far more than lardo, interspersing among her ‘ingredientses’ digs at Caroline (deep-fried Twinkies, 1/16th Italian), Kathy (makes lame jokes), Melissa (baby sister-in-law copies everything she does), and even Christopher (stripper car washes are not family-oriented). No, I’m not sure how many teaspoons that last one contains either.

Basta! The Manzo family closed ranks, and Rich Wakile tossed the book in the garbage. Even the boundlessly loyal Jacqueline Laurita set some boundaries on her bestie. ‘It’s a joke!’ Teresa screeched. ‘You’re all too sensitive!’ Jacqueline brandished the book like a Playboy she’d pulled out from under a mattress. ‘You could have told Caroline about this -- you just saw her!’ Teresa pointed: ‘But look at this great picture of me and Caroline together!’ Sorry, Teresa. Apparently, a picture is only worth about 1/16th of a word.

Most cast members of the other Housewives franchises seem content to leave the show with a purse line, spandex bust shaper or a one-hit wonder. (Or, you know, a $120-million payout for watered-down tequila.) But the New Jersey housewives have always been, as Caroline Manzo put it, ‘thick as thieves.’ (I still think she meant blood is thicker than water, but that’s OK.) They’re family with a capital F, and the material they’ve got to peddle is themselves, as moms, sisters, sisters-in-laws -- and, of course, Housewives.

So who did worst ‘On Display’? We won’t know until next week’s reunion show. But I have a feeling it’s not Joe Biden.


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--Lizzie Skurnick