Oh my God! I'm so excited for the season premiere of The Real Housewives of New Jersey that I had square implants put in, celebrated Christmas in July, and even walked in the Posche fashion show. Unfortunately, there was no actual fashion show and I've been detained for indecent exposure, so I'm writing this recap from behind the security desk at the Brownstone.
Sure, we've seen plenty of drama in years past. The first RHONJ season ended with Teresa's notorious table turn and those two immortal words: "prostitution whore." That was cool. But this is real-life stuff. A woman — a mother of four — was released after spending nearly a year in prison. Say what you will about the Gorga-Giudices, but Teresa's life in Towaco (with summers on Long Beach Island) is a far cry from state penitentiary. For anyone who cares, this premiere is a major moment to see if she's okay, how she held up, and how she'll settle back into things. Even for people who don't, it's an interesting story. And then there are the haters — those who sit in moral judgment over Giudice's crimes and the ubiquitous internet trolls. Well, first, those trolls are definitely tuning in. Just try tweeting something at @Teresa_Giudice, then watch in shock and awe as random strangers tweet back the most horrifying, hateful messages.
What's striking, however, is the amount of sympathy RHONJ seems to have for the Giudices. Even if you looked harshly upon their past behavior, a year in the big house is about as grown-up a penance as you can pay. And, of course, now Joe is about to go away for over three years. If there were ever a time to have some empathy, it is now. This is certainly the new season's stance, anyway: Teresa is the prodigal MVP come home, riding a wave of notoriety and public interest. Much like Bethenny has ruled supreme on this season of The Real Housewives of New York, it's quite clear that this will be the Year of the Tre, with La Giudice front and center in the promotional imagery as she's never been before.
Fittingly, the Gorga-Giudices look like they will finally be, in the words of Caroline Manzo, "thick as thieves." For years, it seemed like the great Teresa-Melissa war would only come to an end if one surrendered to the other's authority. But why would either woman do that? Would Teresa actually compromise and kiss up to her brother's ditzy, gold-digging wife? No, thank you. Would Melissa ever play second fiddle in her own home in deference to her husband's unyielding, narcissistic sister? Not gonna happen. And yet, somehow, it has. Maybe Melissa refused to bend to Teresa for the sake of her husband (or her children or her family), but she's not as dumb as she looks. Now, if you want to succeed on RHONJ, you need to be on Teresa's good side. Of course, freshly out of prison, it's also good for Teresa to have a compatriot as intimate as her sister-in-law. It behooves them both to stick together.
As the first episode goes through the usual "how I spent my summer vacation" montages of Melissa building her business and Joe Gorga trying to get up in it, we hear the occasional stray comment of concern, like when Melissa confides in Jacqueline of all people that having had no contact with Teresa makes her think there's a problem. But when we see Mama and Papa Gorga at little Joey's baseball game (or maybe it was soccer? Football? Cricket?), we know that all is well in the family. It's also striking when Teresa sends a message via her lawyer, Jim, that she's arranging with her parole officer to attend Christmas Eve at Melissa's. And then, there's that shared laugh over the sprinkle-cookie incident. It's clear nobody's gonna trash anybody else's desserts this year.
Oh yeah, did I mention Jacqueline is back as a full-time cast member this season? It seems she may be there as a sacrificial lamb, just an ignorant creature brought for slaughter at the shrine of the great one. I mean, in all the seasons of all the Real Housewives franchises, has there ever been a fight as weak as Teresa and Jacqueline's? They were friends, then Teresa started to fall out with Caroline and Jacqueline slowly turned her back on Tre. Teresa kinda didn't give a focaccia, so Jacqueline was hurt and acted out. Rather than admit she was siding with her sister-in-law — and let's be honest, siding with the cool kids, since Teresa was persona non grata at the time — Jacqueline made up some cock-and-bull story about why she was hurt by Teresa. To this day, she still squirts out crocodile tears whenever she's given a chance to talk about Teresa's fate.
Last season, in the standard exiled-emeritus style of Camille Grammer, Jacqueline was mostly just a special correspondent to The People's Couch. For whatever reason, Jackie's back and saying her dumb stuff and thinking she matters again. You might want to just avert your eyes because she's gonna be mincemeat by the end of the season. That said, it's awful nice to have Chris around again. I suppose he's as Italian as anybody else, but it's a welcome change of pace to have some variety in the man department next to the Joes.
There are new Housewives, too! Siggy Flicker is a relationship expert who appears to have more going on upstairs than your average Housewife. She makes quite an entrance, all bandaged up post-face-lift, and it takes a power move like that to make even a small mark on this Teresa homecoming episode. Walking in like the bride of Frankenstein after an Extreme Makeover is the smart road for a new girl to take — and it's certainly a memorable once. There are flashbacks to everybody else in bandages after their surgeries, but those are sepia-tinged still images, misty watercolors of the way we once were. Siggy is a sight-gag right here, right now. She is winning. Dolores also comes across like a good time, sort of a Jersey Italian Faye Resnick. Is that fair? Maybe more Adrienne Maloof. Or, I don't know, maybe the undead prostitute on Penny Dreadful. I'm just saying she could be cool. Too soon to tell.
Okay, the scene is set. It's all mere backdrop to Teresa coming home. We get a little taste of life without Tre, the Chaos in Montville as those four darling demon divas terrorize Joe Giudice. (The poor put-upon papa is a good look for him.) It's a truly touching moment when Teresa walks back into her house after 11 months, weeping into her husband's arms. If they didn't get this right on the first take, Meryl Streep should look out because it feels real. It's even sweeter when she hugs her girls. Hell, it's even cute when she gives a quick hello to the dog. This is the golden moment. It may be all downhill from here. We'll probably get a season full of stupid fights and staged confrontations, but for now, it's all about little Audriana being so happy to see her mommy, sweet Gabriella acting mature and responsible for her age, Gia blossoming into such a gracious grown-up, and rambunctious Melania, amid all the clowning and clobbering, refusing to let go of Teresa's hand. Season seven is off to a singularly enthralling start.