This week, on the Real Housewives of New Jersey, everybody still hates Danielle. Which we get, we really do. Danielle is a raging personality disorder on two legs. She is so toxic she should not be watched without proper ventilation. If there is a hell, she’ll no doubt be receiving a complimentary plus-one ticket to it. The woman is a walking DSM-IV entry. (In fact, let’s diagnose her right now! Let’s see Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment: Check. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships: Check. Impulsiveness in two or more potentially self-damaging areas: Check. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation ... ) Yes, Danielle is nuts. But, please, ladies, give it a rest.
Look, we’re not doctors, but anyone can see the effect Danielle is having on the show. And we don’t just mean from a psychosocial point of view, either. It’s messing up the dynamic. It’s killing the narrative momentum. The more the women harp on the drama created by Danielle, the less drama actually occurs. Left to their own devices, the housewives actually do crazy, interesting stuff like, say, raise their kids horribly, spend obscene amounts of money, and hint at their mob connections. But as long as Danielle is around to galvanize them into a tight, bristly cosca unit, they’ll continue with this omertà family bullhockey. We think they think it's what we expect from them.
Unlike the housewives from other metro areas, who have traditionally been more concerned with asserting their superiority over one another and their fans (okay, maybe not the Atlanta girls, but they’re a whole other story), the narrative of Manzo and friends has always revolved around family from the get-go. Partly it’s this Sopranos shtick they have going on, but also it’s that on some level they’re kind of the real deal — suburban housewives, having their day in the sun. They care what you think of them. They want you to like them. The crazier Danielle gets, the more inclined the rest of them are to rein it in and show off their comparative sanity and restraint.
Which is not good for the viewing.
So far this season, Jacqueline has basically been a foil for Danielle’s craziness and for Caroline’s bullying. As a character, she’s an overboiled noodle. And yet you can tell she’s doing her best, trying to pull her weight for the show, stirring up trouble wherever and however she can, in her own, quiet, mousy way. For instance, she sends flowers to Christine congratulating her on her Fashion Week “walking” gig, which of course provokes another Danielle meltdown, which results in yet another horrific boundary-crossing moment with Jillian. "Should I call her?” Danielle asks. “I don’t know!” Jillian howls.
Meanwhile, Teresa visits Dina in her Gothic horror chamber where they brew some tea and lay into Danielle. Dina clams to want to stay away from Danielle (she’s phobic about drama, according to Teresa). Meanwhile, Caroline takes every opportunity — opportunities Jacqueline graciously provides — to continue perfecting her Godfather parody. Whenever we see Caroline engage in one of her scenes, we’re reminded that Teresa and the Manzo girls are just playing. It’s Danielle who’s out there in the trenches, fighting invisible demons and black thoughts.
But speaking of family — which is what this episode (and possibly the whole season, and the whole show) is all about — this week we are reminded that bad parents come in all flavors. And on Real Housewives, it’s a veritable cornucopia of bad parenting! Actually it’s not at all funny, especially in the case of the Straub kids, who are showing some serious signs of strain as Teresa’s kids and Jacqueline’s kids go wild.
In order to better understand it, we’ve catalogued some of the most egregious behaviors (to which we can add at will) entitled "Toward a Taxonomy of Real Crappy Parents of New Jersey."
Nickname: Ma Sucker
Type of crappy parent: Ineffectual and easily cowed.
Behavior deconstructed: Not only has Jacqueline proved ineffective in getting Ashley to go to college, she’s also failed to stop her from moving out of the house the moment she turned 18 and moving in with her 23-year-old boyfriend. Jacqueline’s pathetic, ill-timed attempt at making sure Ashley is being “safe” backfires, succeeding only in making her look ridiculous.
Evidence of stress: Yelling, sentimentality about brothers growing up too fast.
Future prospects for kid: Unless Ashley can parlay this moment in the glare into further employment (unless, that is, she can milk it à la Bethenny Frankel any which way she can), things aren’t looking so hot for her right now. (Wal-Mart greeter? Harem girl?) C.J. will probably follow.
Who: TERESA AND JOE
Nickname: Stage Mommy and Mean Daddy
Type of crappy parent: Pimpy and harsh.
Behavior deconstructed: Convinced that her daughters are “stars,” Teresa dresses them like Bratz dolls, encourages them to make “cute” model faces, and laughs appreciatively when they say they’re “too pretty to work.” She also buys them thousands of dollars' worth of clothes for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, dad undermines their confidence en route to a high-stress event by telling Gia (the model) that she's ugly.
Evidence of stress: Tantrums, crying, complaining about daddy's cruelty so that mommy may invalidate your feelings.
Future prospects: Modeling, acting, marrying a mobster.
Nickname: Psycho Mom
Type of crappy parent: Insane, no boundaries, steals kids' limelight.
Behavior deconstructed: Christine’s having been booked to model during fashion week has set off all kinds of insecurity in Danielle, who has decided to insert herself as far into Christine’s experience as it is possible to do. Meanwhile, Christine looks like she’s ready to blow, faint, or sabotage her chances just to get her mother off her back.
Evidence of stress: Hair-chewing, eye-rolling, self-sabotage, remarks about being annoyed.
Future prospects: Modeling, esoteric cults, television-development executive, recapper.