It would be too easy to assume what "Mob Wives," VH1's latest foray into the reality world, premiering Sunday, April 17, is about.
People expect "Sopranos"-style living, where shiny black SUVs idle outside McMansions kept spotless by immigrant workers and furnished with gaudy chandeliers bought with mob money. They expect men who operate in the shadows, doing what mobsters do, and women who shop, cook and hang out.
Once these women lived like that, but that was before the law came down on their men. It's not outside the realm of logic to wonder if VH1 were simply trying to cash in on the public's appetite for watching unscripted shows about Italians and New Jersey.
Though this takes place in Staten Island, the forgotten borough, it's right off the coast of New Jersey and in many ways seems more like the Garden State than New York. Since a screener was not ready by deadline, it's difficult to say how the show is.
Still, watching the shooting of one of the episodes from the laundry room of a standard-sized house, while the women eat dinner and their kids run around, reveals more of a cautionary tale than a celebratory one. It's also, possibly, a message of hope for other women who find themselves having to stand on their own for whatever reasons.
Chatting with three of the four women in the Staten Island kitchen and the other on the phone later, one thing is certain -- this is a show about real women who talk as women do when men aren't around. They talk about men and their kids, about homes and jobs. There is no pretense.
This series is about what happens to the women after their men are nabbed, once mobsters become convicts and obscene amounts of money no longer just appear.
"I want to be able to show that the lifestyle my father chose, there is a side effect, too," says Karen Gravano, daughter of "Sammy the Bull" Gravano. He cooperated with the feds to help take down the Dapper Don, John Gotti, and the Gambino crime family.
Gravano grew up a Mafia princess, with a wall safe that held $2 million. Karen was 19 when the Bull sang to the federal authorities. She was devastated by his actions, and it took her several years to join her family in Arizona, where she opened a spa and became an aesthetician. When the economy went bust, she returned East with her daughter.
"I want to show what happens to the families," she says.When this show was announced, families that had been shattered by mob violence said that the mob wives and daughters should not be reaping rewards when they had to bury their husbands and sons.
Carla Facciolo, at whose kitchen table the women were relaxing and drinking wine, is the daughter and wife of convicts. Her father went to prison when she was young, and her husband, stockbroker Joey Ferragamo, was indicted for running a boiler-room operation. He was due to be released before the show's premiere date, and, she says, they are in the process of separating.
Some of the women have known one another for years. Others met as they were doing the show.
"I like hanging out with them," Facciolo says. "It's a lot of fun. I am raising twins by myself. I am doing everything on my own."
"When you have a husband who does something and goes away, you've got to do something with it," she says.
Drita D'avanzo saw her husband of six weeks go to jail for seven years, when she had just found out she was pregnant with their first child. He came home, they had another child, and he went to prison again. Now she's raising their girls, 10 and 3.
"Do I stick it out or do I go?" she says of her marriage to Lee D'avanzo. "I want to show my daughters and explain to them all of the guilt I feel. I want them to understand it, and you don't need a man in your life. I also think it's therapeutic for me. There are things I have never spoken of."
Sisters Renee and Jennifer Graziano, daughters of Bonanno family capo Anthony Graziano, are associated with the show. Renee is on camera, and Jennifer is an executive producer.
Renee is doing the show because, she says, "I have been Anthony's daughter, my ex-husband's wife, and for me this was a great opportunity to show that I have my own identity that I am a person aside from a daughter, a wife.
"I suffered from king baby syndrome," she continues. "I was unaware that one day you have to grow up and take care of yourself. It's not just about my lifestyle. It's for people to realize if you don't have the necessary tools as an adult, if you don't have it, you won't be able to go where you want to go."