A&E // 2009 // 472 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // March 24th, 2010
The hair is big. The drama is bigger.
Though I had a peripheral pop-culture awareness of Bravo TV's hugely popular Real Housewives franchise, I had never seen a single episode prior to sitting down for hours and hours of The Real Housewives of New Jersey: Season One. My expectations were decidedly low, mostly because a) I'm generally not a fan of reality television and b) like a number of other reality TV, I assumed the whole point of the series was to showcase horrible human beings behaving horribly.
Imagine my surprise, then, when The Real Housewives of New Jersey turned out to not be horrible. Is it good TV? No. Is it watchable? Very. Do I sound like Robert Evans? A little. Bravo has done enough of these Real Housewives shows to know how to cut an episode together so that it clips along and rarely gets boring, creating a story (of sorts) from hours and hours of footage that, for the most part, doesn't feel manufactured. Though not exactly "reality," The Real Housewives hardly feels as scripted as some of its trash-TV brethren like Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It's not exactly compelling television -- I still like my shows scripted, with intelligent dialogue and stories and themes and all that silliness -- but like all junk food, it goes down easily (I'm avoiding the more obvious joke there, so give me a little credit). It's the kind of thing you could have on in the background and ignore without missing a lot.
That is, unless you're my wife, who sat down with me to watch the series and was hooked within minutes. Being Italian herself (like all of the women on the show, who often walk the line of New Jersey Italian stereotype), she was amused by the way the ladies spoke and related to one another, by the way they lost their tempers (which she doesn't) and by the way they held firmly to the belief that things should be kept "in the family" (a trait she does share). So wrapped up in The Real Housewives of New Jersey: Season One did she become that I caught her Googling more information about the "characters": their pasts, what would eventually become of them after the season, and when the next season (which everyone has signed up for, including black sheep Danielle) will start airing. I say this not to throw my wife under the bus (for the most part, we share the exact same taste in TV), but rather to point out that there is an audience for this show and it includes (but is not limited to) high school teachers with multiple advanced degrees. Go figure.
The show centers on the lives of five well-off women in suburban New Jersey: there's Caroline, the matriarch; her workaholic sister, Dina; fiery stage mom Teresa; quiet Jacqueline, sister-in-law to Caroline and Dina, and, finally, single mom and villainous divorcee Danielle. The majority of the first season focuses on the day-to-day lives of the women, whether it's Teresa taking her daughter from audition to audition, Dina scrambling to organize some big charity event or Jacqueline's struggles to get pregnant. The main spine of the season, though, is in the contentious relationship between the women and Danielle -- all but Jacqueline, who remains her friend and confidante throughout the show. The thrust of the tension comes from a book written by Danielle's ex-husband, a cop with an ax to grind who makes a number of allegations about his former wife (including accusations of drug use, multiple arrests and a history of prostitution). It becomes the subject of many rumors between the wives before building to a head at a big dinner during the season finale in which everything finally comes out into the open. Obviously, it's the most heated episode and the most like what I expected the show to be.
Bravo releases The Real Housewives of New Jersey: Season One in a three-disc set, and while it contains the "complete" season as it was aired on the network, there's a whole lot of padding. Between the 30-minute "preview" that kicks off the season (comprised entirely of footage you'll be seeing if you watch every episode), a "director's cut" of the season finale and the two-part "reunion" special, you're really only getting six actual episodes of the show proper. They're presented in their original 1.33:1 TV broadcast aspect ratio, and there's nothing to complain about in terms of how they look -- they're bright and clean and relatively sharp-looking. The 2.0 stereo soundtrack is a little more problematic, only because all of the dialogue is presented in the front channels while the background music is allowed to bleed into the rear speakers; depending on where your speakers are positioned relative to where you sit, you may be getting too much music in your ears to hear what's being said. Unfortunately, Bravo did not provide any subtitles for the presentation.
It's tough to talk about the bonus features, because there's not much distinction between what's part of the main feature and what is labeled as "bonus content" on the DVD cover art. The two-part "reunion" special, for example, is called a bonus feature even though it was part of the regular season. Anyone who was hooked on the show will likely enjoy it, as they'll get to see more arguing and several relationships and "story lines" pay off. There's also an episode of unused footage and a lame quiz feature.
I can't believe I'm going to say this, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 472 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Reunion Episodes
* Lost Footage
* Official Site