Real Housewives Dolores and Margaret Dish the New Jersey Drama
The first moments of The Real Housewives of New Jersey Season 13 prove the open secret that all tri-state residents know, but are loath to admit: The best view of New York City is from New Jersey.
The episode opens on a pristine afternoon, with the Manhattan skyline forming a jagged horizon in front of crystal-blue sky, as a speedboat snakes down an unusually calm Hudson River. A montage follows of equally bucolic scenes: perfect rows of beach houses at the Jersey Shore, clouds reflecting off the glass windows of Newark’s office buildings, and the facade of a gorgeous suburban McMansion.
As a swooning pop song plays—the kind that reality TV series use that sounds vaguely adjacent to real music, but short-circuits Shazam while trying to actually identify it—things get even lovelier.
It is Teresa Giudice’s wedding day, and we are treated to the show’s first glimpse of the blushing bride. She has the smile of someone who has found her bliss, looking equal parts gorgeous and outlandish in her wedding gown, jewels, and a carefully sculptured beehive of hair, arranged like artisan Ramen noodles into bulbous croquettes scaling up towards the clouds. She is the epitome of outrageous, garish, and, yet, very pretty New Jersey glamor.
But then…record scratch. Thunder clap. Wendy Williams saying, “Oop!” Utopia is harshly interrupted, as the lilting montage is disrupted by footage of screaming matches.
In brief snippets, we get glimpses of Giudice and her sister-in-law, Melissa Gorga, having a blow-up. Dolores Catania gets real about who the man of her life is. Margaret Josephs is hurling expletives at Jennifer Aydin.
These drive-by skirmishes begin to escalate, drowning out the romantic ballad that had been scoring the previously peaceful scenes. Arguments, threats, cursing, and assorted pitches of screams erupt into a cacophonous din that borders on unbearable until, at its climax, we’re back at the wedding, watching Giudice emerge to walk down the aisle. Is it teasing a fairy-tale ending? A horror story? Who could say. Welcome to Real Housewives.
New Year, New Drama
Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises are known for their brilliant editing. When it comes to exactly what viewers want from a show like this—the juxtaposition of beautiful, relatable real-life against depraved drama—the Season 13 RHONJ opener is the network’s Citizen Kane.
“Watching that is like an emotional roller coaster in itself,” Catania tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “So you can only imagine what the whole season is gonna be like.”
“There’s bittersweet moments and there’s sweet moments and there’s chaos,” adds Josephs. “I mean, there’s nothing really else to say.”
The pair are in their respective homes speaking over Zoom, each looking almost violently fabulous in their little squares of the computer screen, like they’re prepared to strut off a runway and into a movie where they play collaborating femme fatales. “I have pajamas on the bottom,” Josephs says.
Catania, who grew up friends with Giudice, joined the series in Season 7; Josephs joined the year after. This is their sixth season together on the series, which has kept its core cast intact for as long—a rarity for a Housewives iteration.
It’s a necessary, strong foundation, given the extreme volatility the Jersey women are known to conjure. That can mean that inevitable explosions are even more dramatic, considering the wiring has been so tangled and tightly wound from six years of intimate relationships. But it also means that the clean up of the debris afterward can sometimes be a swifter task, performed, at this point, out of muscle memory.
“These bonds are very real and very deep,” Josephs says. “So when something goes awry, it cuts so much deeper than it would if we were on a different franchise where the relationships were newer. When someone gets hurt, they get hurt very deeply. When they love, they love hard. So that’s the rose and the thorn, one would say.”
While hardly bystanders amid the drama, both Catania and Josephs are undeniable stabilizing forces on RHONJ. They’re all-stars of the hallowed—though precarious—reality-TV tradition of the “confessional,” in which they manage to be gratifying audience avatars. Together, they serve as voices of reason, while pointing out why respective cast members’ behaviors defy human logic. Yet they’re also way funnier than any of us could ever hope to be, while narrating the ways in which their best friends are acting like fools.
At various junctures in a RHONJ season, Catania and Josephs might resemble your best drinking buddy, your Nonna offering you comfort and wisdom, a sexy romantic, or a mafioso boss. It’s incredible energy to bring together, like when one of those TikTok DJs makes a mashup of two perfect songs. (This is Jersey…so “Born to Run” mashed up with “Living on a Prayer”?) But it wasn’t until after I organized a conversation with Catania and Josephs together that what should have been an obvious thought finally hit me: This is Real Housewives. Who knows if these women are even getting along right now?
“Dolores and I don’t fight together,” Josephs says. “We’re very close. Even if we have a disagreement, it’s normal. People do. We talk about it and then it’s over. We’re grownups and we don’t hold grudges against each other.”
“Or against the people in our lives,” Catania adds.”
Josephs nods emphatically: “We’re not the grudge holders on the show.”
Let the Fights Begin
Both women have a knack for stating the most basic sayings and perspectives, idioms you might stitch on a throw pillow or hang next to a “Live, Laugh, Love” sign on a wall. Yet they somehow land like the most profound piece of advice you’ve ever heard.
“Life is too short not to move on,” Catania says, as I calculate how many thousands of dollars I could have saved had she logged onto a Zoom meeting and said those words to me sooner. With these Real Housewives in particular, it’s not a clichéd saying. It’s hard-learned, irrefutable guidance delivered bluntly; that’s how you cut through the bullshit—and they would know.
“Listen, I came back from last season thinking everything was fine with Jennifer [Aydin], and she came back with a vengeance towards the Marge. And Dolores, too, obviously,” Josephs says. Catania winces in response. “We had our moments…”
They’re teasing the friction at the center of the Season 13 premiere episode, in which Aydin returns to the show heated about choice words Catania had for her in the reunion. She turns a photo shoot for charity at Catania’s house into an impromptu Jerry Springer episode, before finally storming off while screaming obscenities. The episode also teases continued drama between Aydin and Josephs, who had upended Aydin’s life the season prior, when she brought up her husband’s affair on camera.
It can be impossible for some people to fathom how these women continue to hang out with each other year after year, when there is such ugly discord to work through—and in the public eye, at that, with fans commenting and criticizing their life decisions, often brutally. It’s all offset by genuine fun, both Catania and Josephs swear; they liken their time on the show to being in a sorority and having a second-act college experience, in which you get to travel the world, wear amazing clothes, and have wild parties with, at the very least, dynamic people. Both hail a cast trip to Ireland this season as the most fun they’ve ever had on the show.
“I’ll always say, at the end of the day when we’re on that [reunion] couch together, there’s no other people I’d rather be sitting next to,” Catania says. “Because there’s something good about everybody, I find.”
“I agree,” Josephs says. “Even though half the time I can’t stomach some of them, they’re all very charitable. They will donate and give their time. And everybody has a good heart.”
“Even though half the time I can’t stomach some of them, they’re all very charitable. They will donate and give their time. And everybody has a good heart.”
“People that watch the show or people that just know what the show is, they’re like, ‘Is it scripted?’” Catania says. “I’m like, first of all, do we look like any people that could carry a script? We have a hard time repeating our taglines.”
The season premiere hinges on two centerpiece activities: the charity barbecue, in which the Housewives’ husbands and boyfriends pose for a sexy photo shoot, and an ’80s-themed roller skating party. The latter serves to introduce some new cast members to the original group’s dynamics. (“You know what you remind me of? A glamorous Tim Burton character,” Josephs tells newcomer Rachel Fuda, the first of several times I did a spit take while watching the premiere.)
The ’80s party is the latest iteration in one of the most beloved of Housewives traditions: dressing the women up in the most ridiculous, over-the-top costumes for a theme party, and then unleashing them to scream and fight about the most grave, upsetting, deeply serious things.
Families have broken up for good while Housewives were wearing dollar-store Marilyn Monroe wigs. Cast members have been costumed as flappers, glam-rock stars, leather-and-bondage fetishists, and Lady Gaga in her bubble dress, while engaging in the most heartbreaking, vicious, and emotional arguments—which are then clipped and played ad nauseum in future episodes.
“It’s like, how do we take each other seriously being dressed in a costume?” Catania says, explaining how much she loves those scenes. The last time she remembers having an argument in a silly outfit was at Josephs’ Studio 54-themed 50th birthday party, in Season 8.
“Dolores, you had a full-blown Diana Ross wig on,” Josephs says. “I channel her all the time,” Catania laughs. “If Diana Ross and Sophia Loren had a baby, that’s her right there,” Joseph says. Catania gasps and puts her hand to her chest: “Best compliment anybody’s ever given me.”
While both escaped the roller rink without a particularly intense fight—the Aydin-Catania battle was to come later at the barbecue—they weren’t entirely unscathed. Despite her bragging about how much she thrived in the ’80s and how confident she was on skates, Josephs completely ate it. She ended up breaking her wrist in the fall.
“You took it like a champ though,” Catania says. “I mean, here she has a broken wrist. She got screws in her wrist. Major surgery. And she got up. she didn’t cry. See? We’re tough.”
“Well, Dolores and I, I’d say we’re more hardcore than most,” Josephs says.
And while there’s certainly never a reason to be grateful for anyone’s injury or pain, Josephs’ confessional explaining how difficult it’s been to maneuver through life’s basic tasks with a broken wrist did result in the best line of the premiere: “I can wipe my ass with my left hand though. So that’s the good news.”
She laughs when I bring it up to her. “If my husband had to wipe my ass, that would have been an all-time low for me. I would have had to fake my own death after that.”
The Giudice and Gorga of It All
The last time I saw Catania was on stage at BravoCon, where I moderated one of the two panels featuring the Real Housewives of New Jersey cast.
The original plan had been for the Housewives to all appear together on one panel, with their husbands and partners appearing on another.
To this day, no one is sure if Giudice, Gorga, Andy Cohen, BravoCon producers, or God herself is responsible for a last-minute decision to separate Giudice and Gorga and reconfigure the panels, so that each featured three Housewives and their partners instead. This happened as reports of discord between Giudice and Gorga were reaching a fever pitch in what Bravo fans affectionately call “the blogs,” owing to the continued fallout from Gorga and her husband—Giudice’s brother—deciding not to attend Giudice’s wedding.
Let’s say that BravoCon isn’t exactly a calming environment—give women who have traveled from all over the country access to a bar at 11 am, then unleash them into a convention center, and brace for sheer chaos. So this was a good opportunity to revisit a conversation about how the cast has weathered the drama between the sisters-in-law, which has, at times, threatened to overwhelm anything else to do with RHONJ.
“It’s safe to say none of us enjoyed watching that,” Catania says. “None of us want to see that for any family, any siblings to fight like that. it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
“I said this to both parties: At the end of the day, when this is all said and done, you only have your family, and you don’t want to see this happen,” Josephs says. “I think it’s very painful to watch. As upsetting it is for the fans to watch. It’s more upsetting for us to live.”
Both have tried to mediate as the rift between the family intensified. But there’s only so much a bystander can do when a family isn’t ready to heal.
“Dolores and I wanted to see them get back together,” Josephs says. “I gave solid advice to Melissa. I gave solid advice to Teresa. I will not say that everyone in our cast had the best intentions of them getting back together. And it’s unfortunate when everybody is not on the same page. I think if everybody who was speaking to both parties was a united front, it would have worked better. But these are waters that went deep, and I don’t think any outside party could really [help them].”
“I’ve said to both of them, I knew you as a young two little kids who watched out for each other, who are close, whose parents came to this country and didn’t have a big family here,” Catania says. “All they had was each other. I have chills to say it. I just hope for the best, but I think that definitely, right now, is a time where they need their space.”
“There’s something about this state. It’s not the prettiest. I mean, you know, aesthetically, we don’t have everything to work with.”
It’s a rational investment in cast mates’ personal drama that has been picked over, judged, exploited, and vilified by viewers on social media, who have been choosing Team Teresa or Team Melissa and been toxically cruel to the other party online. Catania and Josephs are not silent observers of the histrionics, by any means. But their involvement in it is from a grounded place that, somehow, is managing to ignore the tabloid noise that surrounds it to focus on the people involved.
It’s a familial approach that is almost singular to Real Housewives’ New Jersey franchise, and likely a major factor in why viewers have been so devoted to the cast for so many years. It’s just so very…Jersey.
“There’s something about this state,” Catania says. “It’s not the prettiest. I mean, you know, aesthetically, we don’t have everything to work with, like the other franchises do. It’s like how many times do we go to the Jersey Shore? But we make it work.”
“We’ve got the best people,” Joseph says. “We’ve got the most solid people.”
“We do,” Catania agrees. “And I have to say that I’ve traveled across the country and around the world, places I would have never seen had I not been on the show. But New Jersey, I find, is a very welcoming, homey kind of place. And the country is intrigued by it. Always.”
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Source: The Daily Beast
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