The Real Housewives of NJ and other unreal reality shows

I just finished watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey Reunion show.  I don’t always get to watch a show the first time it comes on.  The hours I am in the room with the tv are typically between 11:00pm and 2:00am, so if the work in my lap is done and the remote control is close by, that is when I see what is on.  It took me a couple of weeks to be able to watch each episode of the show.  My first thought was: whatever happened to the real reality shows?

I remember watching the original Survivor when it came on in 2000 and it was the first show of its type that I saw.  I thought it was a great concept.  During that show it became obvious there were some who played to the camera and some who were just being real.  Then a lot more shows came on the scene, Real World, Big Brother, Road Rules, Fear Factor, The Amazing Race, Wife Swap, Temptation Island, and it began being called, more aptly, unscripted tv. They were good depictions of how certain personalities reacted under various types of conditions.  More and more, though, the shows became more about making personal agendas known and promoting product lines.

Fast forward to the Real Housewives series.  In The Real Housewives of Orange County, two of the participants, Slade Smiley and Vicki Gunvalson, are edited so as to appear that their main focus is to make sure their self promotion makes it into every scene.  It made them immediately seem shady and unlikeable; but remember: that could be because of the editing.  The producers take weeks of footage and edit it down into one hour shows.  Cast members Jenna Keough and Don Gunvalson were depicted as being the most real and unpretentious and were fun to watch.

By the time the The Real Housewives of New York came long, all the cast members were blatantly promoting their product lines in their everyday conversations with each other.  It got old quick.  The reunion show was filled with dramatic scenes of everyone wanting to set the record straight about how shallow they appeared onscreen.  I love it when people feel the need to tell you how important they are, or how classy they are, and when they try to manage everyone’s perception of them.  Just talk and be real and pretty soon we’ll figure it out for ourselves.

In The Real Housewives of Atlanta, it’s more product line promotion and now we get guest appearances by celebrities, just to throw in some cross-promotion.  Everything Sheree Whitfield did seemed scripted and memorized and had a press release feel to it.  The reunion show was more drama and cat fight about nonsense, interspersed with Vicki mentioning the name of her product line, apropos of nothing.

Then along comes the The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  These women were all primed for the show by watching the previous Housewives series. They are all savvy in the art of perception management, except for new sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita and her husband, who seem to be the only real ones on camera all season. The matriarch of the group is Caroline Manzo, clearly an intelligent and clever businesswoman, who advocates ruling with an iron hand.  She’s a practiced front person and she’s a good one.  She gets the family business mentioned often, but not overly so.  She knows understated sells. She’d be great on a witness stand.  She’s protective in the way a pitbull is.  Loyal, lovable pet but don’t f*ck with her or her meal ticket.  Don’t jeopardize the life she has so hard worked to achieve. So, in the end, The Real Housewives of New Jersey came off as a fairly contrived exercise in family dynamics and a narrow minded us against them mentality.

One thing I did like about The Real Housewives of New Jersey is that in several scenes, Caroline and Jacqueline are sitting on their husbands’ knees at the table.  Being short women, they can do that *smile*  That shows me there is real affection between the couples.  And like everyone else’s families, there can be great love, even when life is filled with drama and shenanigans.

But I miss the earlier reality shows, when diverse people were thrown together and you watched them work to get along and accomplish goals together.  The shows where not every scene displayed marketing branding.  The shows where people discussed their daily life and were in the now, not setting the scene for their sales pitch.  The ones who showed what they were made of by making choices to help their cast mates in some situations, even when doing so got them eliminated.

Ah, those were the good ole days.

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