Wednesday night marks the start of tenth season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which was the fourth show in the Real Housewives franchise when it first premiered in May of 2009. Each of those first five flagship series — Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey and Beverly Hills (Potomac and Dallas would follow several years later) — has endured various waves of attrition to get to this point, and few cast members remain from their original seasons: New York's LuAnn and Ramona, Beverly Hills' Kyle, Atlanta's Nene. New Jersey has Teresa Giudice, and no cast member from any of those shows has been as integral to their show's enduring legacy. It's Teresa whose life and family have served as the epicenter for every season since the first (always something of a trial balloon in this franchise, those first seasons).
Perviously at Primetimer, when we broke down the Real Housewives franchise to see which flavor would appeal to you, we pegged the New York franchise as the comedy, Orange County as the soap opera, Atlanta as the destination for shady intrigue, and Beverly Hills the mystery series/lifestyle porn. New Jersey, though, has always been defined as a family feud, and since Season 2, Teresa has been at its center. Which is why it's no surprise that in the lead-up to Season 10, she's been mixing it up over family business with an old nemesis, the long-since-retired Caroline Manzo. Some things never change, and that goes double when it comes to the bone-deep resentments that fuel this series.
While Season 1 enigma Danielle Staub may have been the engine that fueled conflict during Jersey's first season, it was Teresa who put the show on the map after a rage-fueled table-flipping became the stuff that gifs and clip shows like The Soup were made of. Hardcore fans still remember the source of the argument that led Teresa to scream "prostitution whore!" at Danielle, but most everybody else just remembers the murderous look in Teresa's eye.
But that was nothing compared to where things would go in Season 2. With Teresa versus Danielle the center-stage battle, that year's reunion brought a wrinkle, when a cryptic comment about Teresa not going to visit her newborn nephew in the hospital led to a rage blackout from Teresa. "DO NOT BREAK UP MY FAMILY!" was what Teresa screeched, but audiences didn't know what she meant until the beginning of Season 3.
Because Season 3 is where The Real Housewives of New Jersey truly became the show it was meant to be, and where the conflict of the show settled around its true epicenter: the all-too-real enmity between Teresa and her sister-in-law Melissa Gorga, married to Teresa's equally TV-friendly brother Joe. It was a conflict that could not have been less complicated: sister and sister-in-law jockeying for position in the family, arguing over who's not paying attention to Teresa and Joe's parents enough, who's talking behind people's backs about the other, who threw shade at whose pinwheel cookies. But with Bravo's cameras and the parade of excessive wealth on display, these petty family squabbles got blown out to extravagant proportions.
While the other Housewives series have evolved through cast changes and shifting alliances, New Jersey has remained as stubborn as its characters about its central conflict. Yes, Teresa turned on the Manzo/Laurita family, drove Caroline and Jacqueline out of town, leading to several sweeping cast changes. But the dark heart of the show has always remained Teresa versus Melissa. Even through the recent seasons where Teresa and her husband's legal troubles led to His and Hers prison sentences and a deportation order for Joe Giudice, the actual business of being a Real Housewife will, for Teresa and Melissa alike, always boil down to their familial relationship. They may temporarily make up, but they know as well as we do that it won't last. It can't. There's 10 years' worth of reality TV soap opera at stake here.
So as Season 10 of The Real Housewives of New Jersey bows, and you start to reminisce about all the old cast members like Caroline and Jacqueline and Dina who came and went (and came and went again, in a few cases), remember that, for the bulk of this show's run, it was never their show to begin with. This is the true story of a Jersey girl and her brother's wife who deep down can't stand each other, and pity the women who stand too close to them and get sucked into their vortex.
Happy 10th anniversary, and may that vortex live on another decade!
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.