The XX Factor

The Proudly Classless Real Housewives of New Jersey

The Real Housewives of New Jersey premiered last night on Bravo and it was just as gaudy, Mystic-tanned, and big “bubbied” as any trash-television lover could have hoped. The series, part of a growing Housewives franchise that also includes New York, Atlanta, and the original Orange County branches, depicts “real-life versions of Carmela Soprano, loud, nasal, nouveau-riche wives who raise spoiled children and spend their husbands’ money in vast marble and onyx starter palaces in Franklin Lakes, N.J.,” according to Alessandra Stanley at the New York Times .

Though Slate television critic Troy Patterson finds RHNJ the most “synthetic” of the franchise because “the drama queening in these parts is much too blatantly contrived,” Stanley thinks that this is the most realistic edition, because almost all of the five women on RHNJ are related, either by blood or by marriage:

“The suffocating family ties are an improvement over past incarnations, when producers often threw together women who were not really that close and whose frictions often seemed forced. These women actually do know one another well, talk every day and raise their children together (badly). The camera crew seems to be eavesdropping, rather than masterminding. Some of the women seem to have a sense of humor, or at least to enjoy the joke that is their lives on film.”

I’m with Alessandra: The true closeness of these women is what differentiates RHNJ from the Botox-laden denizens of New York and the O.C., but the other difference between the New Jersey women and their counterparts is their lack of obsession with class.

Certainly the New Jersey ladies love to spend money-they’re all festooned with bling-but while the New York women worry about getting invited to the right parties and sending their kids to the proper boarding schools, the Atlanta women are constantly hosting charity balls and fundraisers, and the O.C. women take lessons on deportment, the New Jersey women are only worried about “the family” and any perceived slights made towards their tightly-knit unit. The mama bear of the group, Caroline Manzo, even flatly states in the first episode that she thinks “street smarts” are more important than “book smarts,” and is baffled that her oldest son is not only graduating from college, but also going to law school.

Their lack of class consciousness shows particularly in their attitude toward possessions. While all the other Real Housewives judge each other for the way they spend their money ( I can’t believe she spent $16,000 on a purse , they’ll say, while sitting on a $30,000 sofa), these Housewives encourage each others’ blithe shopping sprees-though they might criticize each other for lack of “bubbies” to fill out a bejeweled bikini top.

If, as Alessandra Stanley says, you’re watching a show for its “free-floating vulgarity,” it’s refreshing when the participants are so gleefully shameless.

Photograph of the cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey by Virginia Sherwood © 2009 NBC Universal Inc. All rights reserved.