I’m not going to lie to you, seeing the episode title of the season 13 premiere of The Real Housewives Of New Jersey—“New Friends, Same Jersey”—had me worried. That’s because RHONJ already has been much of the same for the past few seasons: an exhaustingly repetitive weekly watch that’s coasted on the legacy of too-long-tenured O.G. Teresa Giudice (the sole cast member featured in all 13 seasons of the franchise) and her on-again, off-again, on-yet-again familial brawl with brother Joe Gorga and sister-in-law Melissa Gorga. The Real Housewives of yore—escapist “reality” romps featuring middle-aged women giggle-juiced up on Moscato and making harmless fools of themselves on television—seemed long gone, and in their wake was a once tight-knit family sadly unfurling itself in grief and resentment.
But the opening episode of season 13 gives glimmers of hope for the future of the Jersey franchise, in both cast newcomers as well as a fresh state of mind for our leading lady, Teresa. Despite a penchant for hair-raising reactiveness (and yes, breathe easy, we do get several flash-forward peeks at that infamously alpine wedding ’do), the former-Mrs.-Giudice-slash-now-Mrs.-Ruelas has sought therapy for anger management and adopted a “Keep Calm and Carry On” mindset since last season (which Teresa has excellently paraphrased to “Please stay calm, be namaste”). That doesn’t mean that all is calm on the Jersey front—but for once, Giudice isn’t the one holding the grenade.
When we catch up with the rest of the women, things are initially placid. Margaret Josephs is busy trimming her husband’s nose hair, Jennifer Aydin is laid up with a fractured toe, Melissa Gorga is complaining about Teresa for the billionth time, and Dolores Catania is happy with new beau Paulie Connell, though he’s less amorous about her ex-husband Frank and his chummy living arrangement at Dolores’ house. (If you’re wondering about Jackie Goldschneider, after four seasons as a full-time Housewife, she has bumped herself down to “Friend” level to focus on her health.)
We also get acquainted with three additions to the RHONJ cast: “Jerseylicious” Bump It blonde Danielle Cabral, a friend of Teresa who captures some of her early-seasons energy (“I’m over the top and extra…until you push me over the edge”); Rachel Fuda, hilariously described by Margaret as a “glamorous Tim Burton character,” though she dubs herself “a total dictator mom” (“There’s no democracy up in this bitch!”); and new “Friend” Jennifer Fessler, who is constantly referred to by her full name seemingly so viewers don’t get her confused with Jennifer Aydin.
Melissa Gorga invites the whole lot to an ’80s-themed roller skating party to kick off Memorial Day Weekend—because nothing screams “honor war veterans” quite like grapevining to The Go-Gos—even Teresa. Yes, even after Giudice didn’t include Melissa as a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding to Luis (in TV time, the nuptials are still two months out, though the image of that follicular Kilimanjaro is already seared in our minds forever), and Melissa and Joe retaliated by opting out of Teresa’s 50th birthday celebrations in Tulum.
The Gorga-Giudice-Ruelas turnout wouldn’t be the only uncomfortable reunion at Melissa’s shindig. Jennifer and Dolores haven’t spoken since the reunion taping. (“She dismissed me like my feelings weren’t important,” Jen says of Dolores not backing her during the whole Margaret mess last season.) Ditto Teresa and Margaret, after the former called her “a stupid bitch” for prying into her relationship with Luis.
The second pair fare better than the first at the party, with Teresa tapping into her therapist’s teachings and greeting Margaret cordially at the roller rink. “I’ve been learning you don’t have to get reactive, yelling, start throwing things—that’s a no-no,” says newly Yoda-fied Teresa. She invites Margaret over to her house (“What, to bury me in your backyard?” Marge quips) as a peace offering. “Am I in some weird twilight zone? This behavior isn’t very Teresa-like,” Margaret says, echoing what we’re all thinking.
Elsewhere, Jennifer avoids Dolores like a rational person avoids a plague, but Dolores eventually corrals her with a charity invite: a sexy calendar shoot starring the Housewives’ husbands to benefit Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center. “Is that all you wanted to say to me?” Jennfer asks Dolores, expecting an apology that doesn’t come.
Later, at Teresa and Margaret’s peace treaty over cheese and crackers, we see more evidence of Giudice’s changed ways, as well as Luis’s surprisingly good influence. When Teresa’s notorious anger starts simmering during Margaret’s side of the story, her new hubby stops her: “You have to listen to Margaret, you’re cutting her off...just give her the space to talk.” “I don’t want to act that way. That’s why now I see a therapist!” Teresa proclaims. But Margaret is suspicious of this sudden character shift. “Are you doing this to make him happy?” she asks of Giudice’s attempt at reconciliation, but Teresa promises her, “I’m as raw as a cucumber,” whatever that means.
The episode’s grand finale takes place at the shirtless calendar shoot, hosted at Margaret’s, where all of the RHONJ men (save for Frank, who is in the hospital for something bowel-related) get glazed up like a Krispy Kreme and photographed in various stages of romance-novel fantasy (ax-wielding lumberjack, leather-vested biker dude, etc.). The real heat, though, comes when Dolores overhears Jennifer talking smack about her to the cast newbies. “She’s telling everybody at the party how she feels about me but me,” Dolores says. “Now I’m fucking mad.”
She pulls Jennifer aside to talk, but talk quickly becomes yell, with the pair loudly trading very articulate and adult barbs (“I’m nice, you’re not!”) until we get hit with that ominous “To Be Continued” card.
- Eighties-era Margaret sounds like a time: “I would wear my high-heeled Candies shoes, heavy black eyeliner, go to the roller rink, do a double session, and then meet my boyfriend after and have sex.” Get it, Marge!
- Dolores has a good relationship with Frank’s girlfriend Brittany, but did offer some delicious shade about the couple’s 25-year age gap: “Some of my dogs are older than Brittany.”
- Speaking of age, fully stealing this one-liner from Teresa’s new mother-in-law: “It’s just a number, and mine’s unlisted!”
- As a New York native, I can say Danielle’s breakdown of Staten Island girls versus Jersey girls is culturally correct: “Jersey girls are like, ‘Hi, I’m from Jersey!’ but Staten Island girls are like *lowers voice to a growl*...I’m definitely a blend of both, I got cajones from Staten Island but got my sass and fun from Jersey, which makes me fucking incredible.”
- Dolores has actually known cast newbie Rachel for many years because Rachel and Brittany used to train together as—wait for it—bodybuilders. Yes, French-tipped, hair-teased, tanned-for-the-gods bodybuilders, with Frank as their trainer. We need more throwback photos immediately.
- One word for Jennifer Aydin: blend, darling, blend.
- Margaret fell and cracked her wrist during Melissa’s roller-rink bash, but don’t worry. “I can wipe my ass with my left hand,” she assures us. We know too much about these people.