Join us every Thursday morning for Sarah D. Bunting's Real Housewives of New Jersey Power Rankings, wherin she ranks the RHONJ women (and their families) based on the events of last night's episode.
S10, E01: "Sex, Lies and Video Debates"
It's hard to believe the Jersey iteration of the Real Housewives franchise has reached its tenth season...not least because so little really seems to change. Non-Gorga cast members come and go; Garden State hair-extension fashions ebb and flow; the kids get older; Danielle...Danielles. But between 1) the extremely liberal use of heavy make-up designed to put a literal barrier between the camera and the aging process, and 2) the stretching of inconsequential social-media dust-ups across multiple seasons, it can seem like no time has passed between seasons, even though we all live in the world and know where IN that world Joe Giudice is currently living.
(A word about how the crossing of the RHONJ timeline streams affects my rankings here, namely that it doesn't. I base my ratings on what's onscreen each week; it's less confusing that way. And while I'm up, I'll also note that family members and other ancillary "characters" are grouped with their respective Housewives, so if, say, Margaret's husband is awesome in a given week -- usually a safe bet, actually -- he contributes to her ranking. Science!)
Season 10's premiere both opens and closes with montages suggesting that Teresa's developing a drinking problem and that her marriage is in peril and her family at odds; that Danielle will return to stir the pot, a real achievement given how little sense she usually makes when striving to drop a mic; and that the rest of the 'wives may no longer be able to continue the fiction that Jennifer is bearable. In between the collages, we get caught up with the ladies on the eve of Joe Giudice's release from prison...and transfer, at Gia's "try to stay in the country or forget you know me" ultimatum, to ICE custody to fight deportation, all in the midst of rumors that Teresa's stepping out with a twentysomething. Melissa is obliged to sell the "they're just friends" line, though it's clear she doesn't buy it, and Teresa's torqued when she thinks Melissa didn't defend her strongly enough to Jackie and Margaret. Jackie, meanwhile, is pissed that Jennifer did an "impersonation" of her that Teresa posted on Insta; Jennifer, still physically smarting from liposuction, is now emotionally smarting at the insinuation that she did the imitation to kiss Teresa's ass; and Melissa and Dolores are already looking around at the middle and deciding they'd rather not stay.
With the battle lines drawn for the front half of the season, who's a hero and who should go AWOL? Your power rankings for Episode 1...
1. Margaret. Chill about employees bringing the littles to work (and Joe is adorable with Baby Nino), Margaret's also pretty chill about those infidelity rumors, shrugging that she doesn't care, but anyway, "Who can blame her?" She agrees to disagree with Teresa about Danielle, and when it's clear Teresa is still mad about a months-ago slight from Jackie, pretends to agree to disagree on that, too. But the calling Jennifer "apology-challenged," then eye-rolling in a talking-head that Jennifer needs to quit lawyering her mean-girl behavior and "land the fucking plane," are why I love Margaret and why she's on top this week.
2. Dolores. Here's hoping production figures out that literally nobody -- not Dolores's boyfriend; not Frank, or Frankie; not the dogs; no viewer who is not a local realtor -- cares that she still shares a house with Frank. That set-up is unusual, but it works. Creating dysfunction from it has been attempted, and failed, so the attempts should cease. As should Dolores's tendency to wade into fights as Teresa's wingman, hoping to get her own arc out of it, but since she manages to avoid embroilment this week, she's holding steady pretty high up.
3. Melissa. Melissa's taken a step forward in her approach -- at least, forward in terms of relatability for viewers who may have felt she's gone too easy on Teresa in the past. As far as the cheating stuff, she's issuing non-denial denials at dinner with Jackie and Margaret that satisfy the letter of Teresa's loyalty law, while making it non-verbally clear she doesn't entirely believe Tree...or particularly want to stick up for her anymore. And her response to Teresa's comment that people respect Melissa because she's Teresa's sister-in-law is the best way to go: she takes issue with the remark, but not so strenuously that Teresa gets too defensive to hear anything. She also tries to explain to Jennifer why Jackie is angry, although using reason on Jennifer OR Teresa is usually a fool's errand.
4. Jackie. It's not that she's wrong that Jennifer acted rudely, and was probably trying to get on Teresa's good side with the "impression"; she did, and she was. But it was such badly done mean-girling, so desperate, that the smart money rolls its eyes and pities it instead of making a federal case out of it. And it's not that she's wrong either, entirely, that Teresa should stay home with her kids instead of starting trouble on Insta at dinner parties...except that public trouble is Teresa's job. It's how she provides for said kids, three quarters of whom know exactly what Teresa is/does and don't need her constant supervision anymore in the first place. And trying to shame Tree about her behavior is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it just makes you both mad. You can see Jackie's gut instinct (who cares; walk away) warring with the producers' instructions (shots fired; start yelling) and it's uncomfortable the way it always is...watchably.
5. Jennifer. The maddening thing about Jennifer is that she's clearly not incapable of charm or empathy...she just seldom chooses to use those qualities, at least onscreen. Her chirped "Diet and exercise is one way [to lose weight]; free plastic surgery...is another!" is kind of funny, in a creaky and demented RHONJ-iverse way, but her announcement that she's "the funny girl … the comedian!" is...well, "laughable" isn't the right word, exactly, because Jennifer has neither a sense of humor nor an ear for the language. Her point that Jackie should just stay home if she's that mad is laughable; if Housewives did that kind of thing, there'd be no show.
6. Teresa. Everyone in the kitchen is crying at Nonno's assertion that he'll be both grandpa and papa to the Giudice girls -- everyone except Teresa, who lays her face along Gia's so as not to mess up her own makeup, grinning vapidly the entire time. Gia is her customary awesome "I didn't ask to serve as the grownup in this dumb family, but: fine" self, but she has high school to finish; the rest of the time, her mother is middle-schooling it up, picking a fight with Melissa over whether Melissa was sufficiently protective of her, then doubling down with "I would never let aaaaanybody talk shit about you." Melissa isn't about this revisionist history, but does not ask, as I would have, "Why, because you'd rather do it yourself?" Jackie's observation that Teresa pretends to drop grudges, but goes back to them whenever she needs them, is right on. I would give the Giudices a sympathy bump here based on what they're all going through with Juicy Joe...but the fact that Gia had to order him to fight the deportation order or lose his relationship with her does not reflect well on him. Good luck, Italy, seriously.
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Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity, and her work has appeared in Glamour and New York, and on MSNBC, NPR's Monkey See blog, MLB.com, and Yahoo!. Find her at her true-crime newsletter, Best Evidence, and on TV podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This.