Somewhere along the way, Teresa Giudice morphed into Danielle Staub.
For the first two seasons of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" — which returns for its fourth season next Sunday — Danielle was the show's villain, the one everyone loved to hate.
No matter how Teresa behaved toward Danielle — whether it was calling her "prostitution whore" while angrily flipping a table or picking a fight at a now infamous Wayne fashion show — Teresa wriggled off the hook. She'd put on that "Who, me? I didn't do anything" act — and all would be forgiven.
But then Bravo axed Danielle and hired Teresa's cousin and sister-in-law. And the more Kathy Wakile and Melissa Gorga acted in ways suggesting they're reasonable and nice people, the more unlikable Teresa seemingly became.
In the two-part reunion show that ended the third season, Teresa's pal Jacqueline Laurita was a no-show, said to be so disgusted she didn't even want to look at Teresa. Caroline Manzo — whom Teresa, in her cookbook "Fabulicious!," described as about authentically Italian as the Olive Garden — shouted at Teresa, "You are full of [expletive]."
What the heck happened to make Teresa's onetime buddies turn on her?
"I would like to believe that anybody that has watched since Season 1 or even Season 2 would get a fair assessment of our personalities, and say, 'Gee, what would cause Caroline to react like this toward someone that she always supported?' " Manzo says, suggesting that the issue went far beyond those "childish" cookbook comments. "And I'd like to think that they don't look at things at face value … because it's so out of character for both myself and Jacqueline to make this turn."
As for whether things were really as intense at that reunion as they appeared to be, Manzo, calling from her daughter Lauren's brand-new Cafface Beauty Bar in Franklin Lakes, says, "It was that and more. And again … something had to have made us behave this way."
The upcoming season of "RHONJ" was virtually all filmed before that reunion at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
"I think it will be a very revealing season and a lot of truth will be told," Manzo says. "You're going to see a lot more of us, I guess more raw, I should say.… And we're all gonna have our good and our bad. The good, the bad and the ugly, it's all there, and every one of us will be touched by one of those emotions or all of those emotions."
Indeed, while the Bravo series has sometimes been accused of ratcheting up the drama, the premiere episode feels almost uncomfortably real at times.
Consider what Joe Gorga tells wife Melissa about a call he'd gotten from his sister: "You know what she says to me? 'If a richer guy came along, your wife would leave you and go with him.' "
Joe believes Teresa is jealous of their relationship, adding that Joe Giudice has "been in the papers about cheatin' on my sister."
Like the Gorgas, the Giudices are getting ready to leave their Montville home and go "down the Shore" as the episode begins. (Somehow, despite all their well-publicized financial problems, the Giudices still have a house there.) In the car, there's a cringe-inducing conversation about where Joe Giudice had gone the night before. He says he was with a couple of "ladies," but it was business.
"Oh, business?" daughter Gia says from the back seat. "What do ladies have to do with business?"
"Keep your nose out of my business," her father snaps.
Teresa and Joe later discuss what to tell Gia about the cheating rumors and his facing a possible 10 years in prison on charges of fraudulently obtaining a driver's license in his brother's name. (In late January, he pleaded not guilty and rejected a plea offer; his attorney says that there is a status conference on the case in the Passaic County Courthouse on Wednesday.)
At the Wakiles' borrowed Shore house, they and the Gorgas also talk about these things. And later, after trying to talk to his sister about the prison possibility, Joe Gorga tells the camera, "Teresa is in serious denial about life."
Meanwhile, back in Franklin Lakes, where Caroline and sister-in-law Jacqueline live, the big issue in the Laurita household — once again — is what to do with Jacqueline's directionless (now blond) 20-year-old daughter, Ashley.
The main first-episode story line for Caroline concerns a doctor's visit. She's been getting more migraines and experiencing mood swings. Diagnosis: menopause.
"At first, when the doctor tells you something like that, you say, 'No way, I'll fight it to the death,' " Manzo says. "And then you go home and you laugh and you say 'Guess what? Me and a million other women. It's part of life. So, deal with it.' "
There's also a get-together where she and Teresa talk about the cookbook comments.
"It's something I could be insulted and hurt over, OK? But it's not something worth ruining a friendship over," Manzo now says. "And you know, when I say 'friendship,' my relationship with Teresa wasn't nearly as deep as Jacqueline's was. … But I protected her. I did."
Coming attraction clips show a nasty argument at a fashion show between Joe Gorga and Kim DePaola, owner of Posche Boutique in Wayne. Did whatever happened there play a role in the rift?
"I think it tells a story," Manzo says. "It will explain a lot of things."
Four questions for Caroline Manzo
We asked Caroline Manzo some burning questions about "RHONJ" this season.
Q. Did Jacqueline Laurita really quit the show? Will she not be coming back for a fifth season?
When we shot the [third season] reunion, the fourth season was already shot. The truth of the matter is, none of us know. We don't get our options until after the season is finished. So, I don't think it's even on Bravo's radar at this point. They want to see how the [fourth] season plays out and how characters develop or not, and decisions will not be made for months to come.
Q. How angry was Caroline about Teresa's calling her "one-sixteenth Italian" in the cookbook?
First of all, I'm full part Italian. But I'm an American citizen. I was born in this country. My lineage is Italian. And that's such nonsense to eliminate someone from your life because of something like that. … It was a fifth-grade remark. You know what I mean?
Q. During the reunion show, Caroline said that she and sister Dina Manzo (who quit "RHONJ" during Season 2) were no longer speaking, because of Teresa. Has that changed?
You know what? That's something that's very, very personal to me. It's my baby sister, and I will take that beating. I will not hit back. So I'm not gonna comment on that.
Q. But many "RHONJ" fans were hoping that the sisters had made up.
Wouldn't that be nice?
"The Real Housewives of New Jersey"
10 p.m. next Sunday