Grab your sprinkle cookies and self-tanners, because The Real Housewives of New Jersey is back.
The 12th season of the Bravo series premiered Tuesday night, featuring a familiar roster of Jersey girls: Teresa Giudice, Melissa Gorga, Dolores Catania, Margaret Josephs, Jennifer Aydin, and Jackie Goldscheider are all back for the fourth season in a row. In a franchise where Housewives are swapped as often as Lisa Rinna changes wigs, it’s quite a feat to keep a core cast for so long. That said, after watching the first episode, it seems RHONJ could have used a refresh.
On the one hand, Tuesday’s slow-moving premiere felt like a welcome moment of respite in the current state of the Housewives universe. There was a time when the ladies of the Garden State were the blueprint for over-the-top drama, back when Tre flipped tables and became the first Housewife to be charged with a crime. But the currently airing season of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City has set a new precedent for controversy, with federal authorities crashing a girls’ trip to arrest Jen Shah, allegations that Mary Cosby is running a cult, and, in the latest episode, a hot mic moment that has to be heard to be believed.
It’s no wonder, then, that the RHONJ premiere felt comparatively boring. We’re back in the classic Housewives wheelhouse of family drama and gossiping about who got plastic surgery.
In the first five minutes of the episode, Teresa pronounces sandwich “sangwich,” and, boy, does it feel good to be back in Jersey. The veteran cast member is having lunch with her daughters, discussing their upcoming move into a new house with her fiancé, Luis Ruelas, and his son. The subject turns to Teresa’s brother, Joe Gorga, who is feuding with his nieces over something he said about their father, in spite of the fact that they are children. Seriously, the manipulative fake apology texts he sends them, which Gia gladly reads out loud, are gross. The scene confirms both that Joe Gorga is the villain of the episode and that, after 12 years on the show, 21-year-old Gia is basically now a Housewife herself.
As for the other Housewives, Dolores is still in a bizarre, sexless love triangle with her invisible boyfriend David and her ex-husband, whom she calls Big Frank. Jennifer flew to Turkey to get a nose job from a doctor she found on Instagram, even though her husband is a plastic surgeon. Melissa has been tasked with introducing a potential new Housewife into the group: Traci Johnson, the wife of former New York Giants player Tiki Barber. Jackie does not yet have a plotline, as she abandoned her only one–a grudge with Teresa–out of fear.
Margaret is taking on her usual roles of pot-stirrer and on-camera producer stand-in by calling up the other women to ask them if they saw the strange video of Teresa’s beau Luis that had been making the rounds on the internet. Presumably for copyright reasons, Bravo can’t actually show the video in question, and the women’s descriptions of it do not reveal much. Producer Marge gives the most coherent summary, explaining that in the video, Luis is surrounded by naked men and is apologizing, seemingly under duress, for something he did to an ex-girlfriend. The video is on Reddit and was taken at some kind of men’s retreat, but even after watching it, it’s pretty unclear what’s actually going on.
The entire rest of the episode basically consists of different combinations of the women sitting in different tackily decorated rooms to discuss the Luis video and whether or not Teresa has seen it. We learn that Joe Gorga was asked about it at a comedy show that he and the other Househusbands hosted in Atlantic City. In response, he botched a joke about how it made him miss his former brother-in-law Joe Giudice, and Teresa is not happy about it. (Sidenote: Joe Gorga gives Che Diaz a run for their money as the least funny comedian on television right now. )
Finally, the back-and-forth about the video comes to a head at Teresa’s summer kickoff pool party. The party is, hilariously, pineapple-themed: a reference to last season, when newly single Tre told the man building her pool, “I eat a lot of pineapple so I taste really good.” Try as these women might to prod Teresa into responding to the video and Joe Gorga’s comments about it, she refuses to take the bait. Nobody is ruining her happily ever after. When Margaret finally asks if Luis plans to address it, Teresa immediately shuts it down and once again proves that all the other women are genuinely afraid of her.
All of this Luis drama turns out to be a red herring, though. The real climax comes when Jennifer, who is fighting with most of the women over a social media spat, arrives in the final minutes of the episode, her new nose on full display. With literally 90 seconds left, Margaret drops what she thinks is a bombshell: Jennifer’s husband Bill had to leave his last job because he had an affair with the office manager.
At this time, we must take a moment to recognize the editors at Bravo, who are consistently doing the lord’s work when it comes to building tension and nailing comedic timing across the entire franchise. The shot lingers for a moment on Jennifer, mouth agape as if she’s taking in what she just heard. Then she comes out with a cackle-inducing response nobody is expecting: “She’s not the office manager. She was a fucking pharmaceutical rep, ya fuckin’ idiot! Get the facts straight.”
Of course, after enduring 41 tedious minutes of the completely uninteresting Luis video saga, we’re hit with a “To be continued…” We see you, Bravo, and yes, we will be tuning in next week.