VH1’s Mob Wives is shaping up to be pretty interesting. This Sunday in particular we watched Renee Graziano fall into histrionic pieces when she found out her ex-husband and the father of her son A.J. Junior (Hector Pagan Jr.) get rounded up in a huge FBI bust last year. (More on that in a future post.)
But what’s really weighing heavily on Renee’s mind is the entirety of her lifestyle; it all comes around to her father Anthony Graziano, who is currently incarcerated and is thought to be the acting third position (called consigliere) in the Bonnano crime family. Like her former enemy Karen Gravano, Renee got caught up in the glamour and perks when she spent her formative years as a mafia princess, and now she’s really wrestling with what path her 16-year-old son A.J. and how she feels she doesn’t have an identity. During a filmed therapy session (what with this show and Bethenny Ever After, is becoming the thing to do: film your therapy sesssions and air it on national television) Renee broke down because she’s spent all her life worrying about the needs of the men in her life who were engaged in organized crime, that she feels she now doesn’t have her own identity. She is also apparently struggling with the strict ethical structure she grew up with, including fierce loyalty, and being willing to give anything and everything of herself during a crisis; because she now realizes that this type of lifestyle only leads to one destination: prison.
On camera we see Renee interact, and get in petty staged fights with three other mob-connected women, but there is a fifth unseen “Mob Wife” looming large in this series: executive producer of the series Jenn Graaziano. Both Jenn and Renee have recently told the press that their father Anthony isn’t speaking to either of them anymore because of their decision to do the show. Jenn told the New York Post: “He absolutely has not given his blessing. He’s not very happy at all, to be honest.”
Jenn wanted to make the series to dispel the myth made popular by Hollywood that being a “mob wife” was glamorous and fun. The reality is that it’s full of loneliness, loss, and anxiety.
All of the women on the show (which is still filming) are at a cross-roads with the men in their lives that are connected with the mob. Renee is divorced from Junior, now estranged from her father, and struggling to break free of the lifestyle, and Carla Facciolo is going to divorce her husband Joey Ferragamo when he gets out of jail.
Karen Gravano (the daughter of Sammy the Bull Gravano, who cooperated with the Feds to take done John Gotti and Co) is writing a tell-all book about her life in the mob. Karen was arrested in 2000 along with her father, brother Gerard, and mother, for being involved in an Arizona Ecstasy ring. Karen and her mother were sentenced probation, but her father and brother are still behind bars. Her family was in Arizona because they joined the Witness Protection Program after Anthony cooperated with the Feds in 1991, but Karen refused to join and stayed behind in Staten Island. She later went to Arizona in 1997 to help take care of her son’s kids.
D’Avanzo is also in turmoil over her “mob life.” She’s been with her husband Lee D’Avazno for 14 years, but he’s spent most of those years behind bars. He’s gone to jail twice, both times for mob-related bank robberies, and Drita has said on the show that that’s what he can’t seem to stop doing. On the show Drita, who has two young children with Lee, is growing impatient with “waiting” for him to come out, and is devastated when she finds out that he may have to serve another 2-4 years. At this point, Drita doesn’t know if she wants to stay married to Lee, and keep her life on hold for him
There are aspects to Mob Wives that smack as fake, like most “reality shows,” but this show offers a glimpse into the life and psychology of people who are living a different sort of life than most of us. Sure, they have a preoccupation with things (namely, furs) to rival a Real Housewife, but there is something compelling about the difficult familial situations they’re in. One peculiar quote Karen Gravano said is that “most people don’t see the down side of the mob.” Even with Hollywood, I don’t think that’s true. Sure, the highs are high with the spoiled women dripping in jewels, the estravagant cars, and bathing in cocaine and money, but the endings of those movies (and a lot of Sopranos scenes) involve terrifying violence; and even worst, the sober and stark consequences of the life of crime; steeping in a paranoid, addicted/agitated frenzy that ends with going to jail or getting killed. It may be the Mob Wives themselves who didn’t see a down side . . . until the down side hit them square in the face. And it’s a long, sober ride.