'RHONJ' Is Actually Kind of Good For You, Thanks to Jacqueline Laurita

The theme of Real Housewives of New Jersey's fifth season should be "incriminating juxtaposition." Last week, we witnessed World War III over a play date between Teresa and Melissa's daughters as the rest of New Jersey was dealing with devastating storm damage thanks to Hurricane Sandy. This week, we're force-fed the ballad of Melissa and the unsellable McMansion, Teresa's dramatic meeting with Caroline over the never-ending he-said-she-said fight with her sister-in-law, and Kathy's husband's misogynistic hoodoo. Yet, all the while, Jacqueline is dealing with something real and heartbreaking. Yes, RHONJ is simultaneously rotting our brains and teaching us something about life. It's a headache, but then again, that's kind of what we signed up for with this show.

As we know, Jacqueline is struggling with her son Nicholas' recent Asperger's diagnosis, and this week, we get a glimpse into how this curve ball has affected her life — not her storyline in the ever-spinning cyclone of Teresa-versus-Melissa. While many of the Real Housewives (from all the different Bravo-sanctioned fancypants towns across America) often use their fame to sell Delia's summer dress knockoffs, Yummie Tummies, and auto-tuned "songs" extolling their own glamorous virtues, Jacqueline is using her fame as a loudspeaker on the community of parents with children with Autism. It's something so genuine and so important, it's almost hard to believe we're in (Real Housewives) Jersey anymore.

But we are, and we're right in the thick of Jaqueline's emotional journey — and one that, unfortunately for Jacqueline and her son Nicholas, isn't a battle to be won but a life-long path to tread. In a way, Jacqueline revealing her real-life struggle with her new life is powerful on a level in which fictional, dramatic series can't compete.

NBC's Parenthood has been lauded for so accurately depicting the struggles of a family with an Autistic child, but as real as the Bravermans feel, they aren't a family with a real home and real family and friends in the real New Jersey. They're an incredibly robust, highly moving set of characters created on sound stages in Los Angeles. And as fake as Housewives shows are (Jacqueline's husband certainly didn't set his own man date with Joe Gorga to talk about his sex life and his son's Autism in the same sitting), it's very clear that this is no enhanced scene of melodrama stoked up for the cameras.

Sure, Jacqueline's husband Chris did choose the moment in which the cameras were in his house to reveal that he'd worked with a therapist to help Nicholas learn how to tell Jacqueline "I love you." And yes, the producers were most definitely fist-pumping at their Reality TV fortune when the little tyke said the three tiny words and reduced his mother to an adorable puddle of tears. But that doesn't make Jacqueline's trials any less real.

Jacqueline's is a real story, amid a string of fabricated and increasingly escalated cat fights, that somehow slipped through the Bravo formula to really shed some light on a struggle that's near impossible to understand from the outside. It's a story that's as simple as a mother and a father loving their son and each other enough to ignore the divorce rates of parents in their situation, trying their best to help their son, and finding ways to do things for each other and Nicholas at the same time.

Let's be honest: On some level, we're all hoping Teresa flips another table this season, but it's somewhat of a relief that the series' trashier wrappings actually carry a tiny, but very important message of truth and reality. It's not everything, but it's got to limit the emotional damage we'll sustain while watching Teresa's extended family implode this summer, right?

Image: Bravo TV