Calling them "housewives" doesn't quite cut it.
The five mothers who make up "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," which premieres on Bravo May 12, are more hell-raisers than homemakers. They stage showdowns at salons, they pour millions of dollars into their mansions, they preface first dates with phone sex (and this all happens in the first episode.)
Fitting with the show's setting in tony but full-of-'tude Franklin Lakes, N.J., the moms of the latest installment of the "Real Housewives" franchise toe the line between catty and classy. Their antics rival the twists and turns of scripted dramas; their personalities mimic those of other moms in pop culture.
So on the eve of Mother's Day, it seems appropriate to introduce the "Real Housewives of NJ" in the context of famous television moms. Below, get to know the cast members based on the TV characters they resemble.
Danielle Staub: born diva, like "Desperate Housewives'" recently departed vamp, Edie Britt. Staub's tagline: "You either love me or you love to hate me, there is no in between." The former model claims she was one of the first women in the country to get a Black American Express Card ("before Madonna"). She prides herself on hooking up with a host of celebrities (including Mick Jagger), dating men with private planes and bottomless bank accounts and racking up 19 before finally getting married.
Recently divorced, the now-single mom is out to meet a new man. In the first installment of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," Staub becomes so smitten with a suitor from the dating site Wealthymen.com that she has phone sex with him before their first date.
Staub takes a similar no-holds-barred attitude to her social life. After befriending Jersey newbie Danielle Laurita at a salon, Staub tried to cement a place in her social circle, but a girls-night-out gone wrong put her on the bad side of Laurita's sister-in-law, Dina Manzo. Staub still seems determined to worm her way into the group, even if it means shaking things up.
Caroline Manzo's the mother no one wants to mess with. The matriarch of the "Housewives" defines Jersey tough -- feisty, outspoken and fiercely loyal to her family, it's easy to picture her in the same circle as the wife of HBO's infamous mob boss.
Dina Manzo, Caroline's younger sister, acts as her partner in crime – a constant companion who "Sopranos" fans might see as the real-life equivalent of Rosalie Aprile, Carmela Soprano's confidant (though she looks a more like Drea de Matteo, who played Adriana La Cerva.) The Manzo sisters are married to brothers who own The Brownstone, a catering hall in Patterson, NJ, that was featured on "The Sopranos."
Dina and her husband, who married four years ago, were also featured in VH1's "My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding," which featured her $10,000 Badgley Mischka gown and almost $500,000 worth of flowers.
Like the women from "The Sopranos," the Manzo sisters have mob ties. According to The New York Daily News, their father-in-law, Albert "Tiny" Manzo, was executed mob-style in August 1983, after he and Gambino family representative Peter A. Campisi were suspected of skimming from a mob casino on Staten Island. Police never solved his killing.
Caroline Manzo declined to comment on that part of her family's past in a telephone interview. But she owned up to the parallels between her clan and New Jersey's first famous family.
"We are Italian Americans and you will see some similarities -- a love of family tradition, saying what's on our minds," she said. "But the similarities stop there."
The family ties on "The Real Housewives" don't stop with Caroline and Dina Manzo. Jacqueline Laurita, a former cosmetologist turned full-time stay-at-home-mom, is married to the Manzos' brother, Chris.
But Laurita doesn't quite fit into the "Sopranos" oeuvre. Having only recently left her hometown of Las Vegas to settle in New Jersey, she's still learning the ways of the queen bee and second-in-command. Like Margene Heffman, the third wife on HBO's "Big Love," Laurita's a little green, always upbeat and conflict-shy, which becomes clear when she tries to bring a new member into her Manzo-dominated circle.
Admittedly, it's a stretch. But if only because you can't help but laugh at her, Jersey native Teresa Giudice's TV character equivalent is Lucille Ball circa "I Love Lucy." Teaching her three young daughters how to be "fabulous" while augmenting her family's massive mansion isn't all Giudice does – she's also launching a line of hair accessories called TGfabulicious.
The other housewives admit Giudice is their comic relief, and how could they not? In the first episode, she talks about wanting to get breast implants, despite the fact that her husband "is more of an a** guy and he loves my bubbies." (Yes, "bubbies.")