‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ Recap: Back to the Shore

Flanderization is the practice of taking a minor personality trait of a character and exaggerating it to the point they’re entirely one-note. Whether it’s Joey from Friends speaking gibberish and thinking it’s French or the entire cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey speaking in an endless cycle of “fambily,” “old-school,” and “true colors,” this tried and true act has consumed many of the best TV shows.

That’s all to say, RHONJ Season 14 may have promised no Teresa/Melissa conflict, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a new era. We are simply in purgatory.

As one decade-long drama comes to a close, another has bloomed in Danielle Cabral’s convoluted, low-effort storyline. Although the AI amalgamation of every RHONJ Housewife past and present didn’t get a solo scene in the premiere, Danielle kicks off this week with an update on her family drama. Last we heard, she was going to see her brother the day after the Season 13 reunion films. But that wasn’t a kumbaya, apparently, as the only update is that Danielle is now estranged from yet another family member: her dad.

Meanwhile, Melissa manages to have an entire solo scene without mentioning Teresa, as she and her family meet for lunch to celebrate Antonia going off to college. This season, more than any other, is Melissa’s chance to prove she can stand on her own, and it’ll be interesting to see if she can chart a path to survival.

She, Rachel, and Margaret play a game of pickleball. Pickleball scenes seem to be replacing bubble soccer for Bravo’s hot new sport trend, and it’s even worse. Pickleball has no place in society, not now nor ever. Never will a movie as good as Challengers be made about this drab “sport.” That’s just a fact. Points deducted for all three ladies for furthering this deeply disturbing propaganda.

Over at Teresa’s house, she, Danielle, and Jen get their butts jiggled (another random beauty trend that has crept into other franchises). So, it’s not exactly Sophie’s choice in terms of events this week. Jenn Fessler and Jackie Goldschneider win, simply by being friends-of the Housewives and not having to film here. If there’s one thing I wish Bravo producers would learn, it’s that a simple lunch scene will always be best. No one cares about butt-jiggling machines.

That’s without even addressing that Dolores is, once again, working on some real-estate project, for the eighth year in a row. It’s almost comical to watch these paint-by-numbers Housewives scenes. It’s not just a flanderization of RHONJ, but the entire franchise. All we’re missing is a roaring ’20s party, and that’s probably episode three.

Next up, we leave the familiarity of New Jersey for our first cast trip…to the Jersey Shore. While an annual trip to the same destination can prove fruitful when the destination is the Berkshires (a la RHONY), yet another Jersey Shore summer is simply uninspired. Can we not send these ladies anywhere else? I’d settle for Montpelier, Vermont. It doesn’t have to be extravagant.

This is made worse by the fact that the ladies won’t be going on a second trip this season. Their intended second trip—to the Berkshires, funny enough—was canceled because the house burnt down. Even nature is fed up with RHONJ.

Dolores Catania in season 14 episode 2 of RHONJ

At least the housing arrangements have gotten a minor refresh, as Danielle opts to stay at Rachel’s shore house. And the two are further aligned in their apparent disdain for Jackie, based on Jackie’s actions in the first episode of Season 13.

The real wild-card, though, is Jenn Fessler. As the ladies attend Nate’s celebration of life (note: he is alive), she and Teresa step aside to hit weed pens and discuss the rumors Teresa heard about the ladies plotting before the Season 13 reunion. It’s a masterclass from Jenn on keeping her allegiance to Marge while finding an in with Teresa, but that’s not going to matter at all. The lines are drawn in the Jersey sand, and none of these ladies take kindly to a straddler of the fence, even when that straddler is simply thinking for herself.

That’s not exclusive to Team Melissa/Margaret/Rachel, as Teresa loves to talk loyalty, too. It’s just a product of a broken group dynamic, one in which simply filming with every cast member can be controversial. Production should’ve rewarded Jenn Fessler for actually playing ball, but unfortunately, if production had their finger on the pulse, we would never have hit this dead-end. Thankfully, next week promises to kick off Margaret’s feud with Jackie, which is easily the most enticing plot this season.

Will the friends carry RHONJ out of the darkness and into acceptable mediocrity? They’re our only hope.

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