There’s that old game of telephone, in which someone hears one thing, repeats it to another person, who repeats it to the next, and by the time it gets back to the original person, the message is totally different. Well, this episode of The Real Meatballs of Marinara Gulch is a game of social media. Everything is about the last sentence of an Instagram comment, a Reddit post of a long-forgotten Facebook video that people are reposting on their Tumblr, a group text that everyone has read but no one has responded to. Trying to follow along requires screenshots, bolded passages, forensic explanations, and enough patience to fill the waiting room of a Turkish plastic surgeon who specializes in Disney-princess noses.
But unlike telephone, which brings us someplace else, in this game we end up in exactly the same place — with Margaret and Jennifer yelling at each other, Melissa and Joe trying to stay on the right side of Teresa’s anger, Dolores deciding between two men who aren’t good enough for her, and Evan Goldschneider threatening to show up at a party shirtless but choosing a bland polo instead. To make it worse, Teresa is having a pineapple-themed pool party at her house. Hello, didn’t anyone tell her the pineapple shtick is so last season?
The episode starts, and we’re catching up with the women. Both Melissa and Dolores are living in rental properties while their houses are being renovated; Jackie’s kids are running around taunting each other about who gets to eat a bowl of grapes; Jennifer is still wearing her bandages from her Turkish nose job; and Teresa and her daughters are steeling themselves for the inevitability of moving in with her boyfriend turned fiancé, Luis (pronounced Looooooo-eeeeeee), and one of his sons. The girls think it’s a little bit sudden, as does just about everyone else. They initially liked Luis, but the tide of public opinion, while it hasn’t necessarily turned against him, is, shall we say, skeptical.
It’s all because of a video Bravo doesn’t show you because either they couldn’t get the rights to it or they’re giving Teresa the engagement gift of a favorable edit for her new man. It was posted to Reddit last June, just as filming kicked off, and honestly, it’s not as bad as you would think. In it, Luis is on a beach in the center of a huddle of shirtless men talking to an ex about how he cheated on her and will do anything to get back with her including proposing marriage. It’s clear to me it was some sort of men’s retreat attempting to make him into a better person — not the kind of men’s retreat I would be on (unless the shirtless huddle ended in an entirely nude clinch), but, okay, I get it.
The problem is everyone is talking about it, and Luis refuses to acknowledge it like a turd floating at the pool party. Even the new friend Traci-with-an-I Johnson, and her husband, former New York Giant Tiki Barber, have seen it. They don’t have much to say about it — they don’t have much to do in general — but at least they continue the grand tradition of the Jersey women having husbands hotter than a mid-August afternoon in the Meadowlands. Things go badly for Joe when he is at some sort of gig (which looks like something between a fan event, a concert, and the graduation of a Tenafly improv workshop), and someone asks him about the video. Joe, wanting the conversation to end, says, “Nothing has made me miss my brother-in-law so much.”
When Teresa and Luis find out about the comment, they’re both mad, even though it was clearly a joke, and as Melissa points out, it was a lot kinder than actually talking about the video on its merits. This just adds to Joe’s problems because his nieces are already mad at him for talking shit about their father on the last season of the show. Poor Joe. It’s not like anything he said about Joe Giudice was wrong, but he’s the girls’ dad. They’re always going to believe the best about him, and I don’t think it helps that he and Teresa always made it seem like the charges against him were trumped up. He’s in such a bad space he’s not going to attend Teresa’s season-kickoff pineapple pool party.
At said party — which looks like a blast because it has two of my favorite things: baked ziti in aluminum disposable chafing dishes and Tony the pool guy — everyone is unsure how to talk to Teresa about the video. Jackie doesn’t want to bring it up because she and Teresa are finally in a good place. Dolores thinks she needs to tell Tre about what Joe said at the “gig” and then misreports the entire incident, which Teresa pretends she doesn’t understand. Well, that’s what she says, but Teresa misunderstanding an event is about as common as losing at Mega Millions. Margaret gives her good advice and says Luis should address the video, but Teresa tells her she should “respect her house” enough not to bring it up.
Margaret is right: They’re all going to talk about this thing, so why can’t Luis just tell everyone what it was, clear it up once and for all, and move on? Not talking about it at all is just going to make this weird little video turn into something mythological. It’s going to make it look like he has something to hide, like he’s some kind of bad guy. This isn’t good for Luis because — let’s face it — this dude was made to be a reality-TV villain. He’s basically an Ed Hardy T-shirt with a clenched jaw, bad credit, and a few loose rhinestones. He looks like someone you can’t trust, and this doesn’t make it any better.
The other big fight is about Jennifer, whom just about everyone is sick of — including, it seems, her husband, Bill. Since “we all last saw each other,” meaning the season-11 reunion about a month prior to when this was filmed, no one is happy with Jennifer because she called Melissa a snake on Insta, she tried to drive a rift between Margaret and Jackie, and Jackie, Melissa, and the cool girls’ table want nothing to do with her. When Jennifer shows up at the party, she feels most comfortable talking to Jackie of all people. That’s like oil trying to go over to water’s house for a slumber party to braid hair and watch old episodes of American Idol on YouTube and talk about how David Archuleta was robbed.
While Jackie tells her that they two of them don’t have any problems, Margaret comes over to — I don’t know — just start a fight right there by the pool. Do not anger Margaret Josephs near a body of chlorinated water. We all know better than that. I don’t really feel bad for Jennifer because, as multiple people point out to her, the women aren’t being mean to her for no reason; they’re being mean to her because she has treated most of them like shit for the past four seasons. She likes to play the victim even though she’s not.
But Margaret doesn’t really have a clear argument. She’s just saying Jennifer is unhappy and not being honest about it. Jennifer says she’s honest, and we have a verbal standoff, which Margaret decides to end by saying everyone knows Bill had an affair for two years with his office manager. “She wasn’t the office manager; she was a pharmaceutical rep — get your facts straight,” says Jennifer, which is fierce in that it both kneecaps Margaret and acknowledges that Bill was having an affair at the same time. Finally, we have something to fight about, and we didn’t have to go digging around in Instagram comments or group texts to find it.