Meet four women with family problems:
— Renee Graziano's dad is Anthony Graziano, who is a high-ranking member of the mob, Feds say, and is currently serving time for racketeering. Her ex-husband has also had a scrape with the law on a gambling charge.
— Drita D'avanzo is the wife of Lee D'avanzo, the alleged leader of a Bonanno and Colombo crime family team who has been incarcerated for bank robbery — twice — spanning most of their married life.
— Carla Facciolo's father went to prison when she was a girl. Now her husband, a former broker, is behind bars for stock fraud. She tells her twin girls that daddy's away, working.
— Most notable of all, Karen Gravano is the daughter of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, the notorious mob turncoat who cooperated with the government to help take down John Gotti and the Gambino crime family. He, too, is currently in jail.
Not surprisingly, all four women have crossed paths through the years and, in certain cases, been lifelong pals. All are single mothers.
Now they're bonding at their Staten Island, N.Y., stomping ground for a new reality show, "Mob Wives." A sort of "Growing Up Gotti" multiplied by four, this lively, eye-opening series premieres 8 p.m. Sunday on VH1. Keeping it all in the family, the show's creator and executive producer is Jennifer Graziano, Renee's sister.
"We are all similar women who come from a similar world and the same life situations," says Karen, who, for a future episode, was hosting a kaffeeklatsch recently in her living room that overlooks New York harbor.
"I think our parents tried to keep us out of it, but it's the only world you know," she says, "and in Staten Island, everybody looks up to gangsters and street guys like they're celebrities in Hollywood."
But Karen has learned there's a downside to the underworld. That's part of her reason for being in "Mob Wives." She is also writing a book about Growing Up Gravano.
Why not? As she reasons, "So many people have judged me already because of who my father is, and the type of lifestyle they believe we led."
Renee happens to be absent for this get-together, but when taping begins, Karen, Drita and Carla chatter for nearly an hour. Probably just snippets will end up on the air, but, taken as a whole, the session is funny, earthy and oddly relatable. It would make a good talk show, a rawer, much-bleeped version of "The View."
What's the trouble with kids these days?Arranged on Karen's sprawling red couch, the women tear into a slew of hot topics. Like kids today, with all their electronic gadgetry!
"I tell them to go outside and play," Drita erupts as two video cameras hover. "They say, 'What?! What?!' They have no imagination."
"Crazy-spoiled, these kids," Carla chimes in.
"I'll be honest," says Drita, "I wish my kids had grown up in the '50s. I hate this era. They can see (bleeping) anything!"
And HEAR anything, like those raunchy rap songs.
"The kids are singing the lyrics!" Carla cringes.
"My father never, ever cursed in front of us," Karen says. "But my mother? Forget it! Cigarette in her mouth driving over every pothole."
Piled in a bedroom of Karen's apartment, the production team is following the talk on a pair of monitors as the subject turns to how these women are condemned by some in their community for going on TV.
"I'm not a gangster and I'm not telling the story of being a gangster," says Karen. "I'm telling MY story."
"They're small-minded," says Carla of the disparagers.
"They're small-minded and they have big mouths," snaps Drita. "They should just shut up."
Nods all around.
As the women talk, they're chummy and united. But — as with any successful reality show — conflicts lurk between its cast members.
For instance, Drita's incarcerated husband, Lee, had been Karen's boyfriend for several years before Karen broke up with him and moved to Arizona. He and Drita began dating, then married.
When Karen moved back to Staten Island a few months ago, "I was ready to put all that behind me," she tells a reporter when the day's taping is done. "But I went over to Drita's house and I saw a picture on the wall that I bought with Lee for my apartment. It dredged up a lot of feelings that maybe Drita and I didn't resolve."
Fortunately, Drita had brought that painting (which alert viewers will glimpse in the premiere, still hanging in her foyer) over to Karen's apartment, along with a hammer. During the scene just taped, they smashed it.
"We killed the picture," declares Karen, "and are able to move forward."
Other problems may not be so easily solvedLike Karen coming back to town. Her father, Sammy "The Bull," is considered the ultimate rat in mob circles, and as his daughter, Karen is tainted in some people's eyes.
Renee's eyes, for example.
During a night out with Carla and Drita in the first episode, Renee blasts Karen as "still her father's daughter. Her father still did what he did."
"I don't want to judge the girl for what her father has done," counters Carla, who, unbeknownst to Renee, has invited Karen to her upcoming birthday party.
Drama! Carla's party, held at a swinging local nightspot, becomes the staging ground for a heated exchange.
Karen: "Tell me you want me to leave."
Renee: "Are YOU testing ME?"
Karen: "If you have a problem, then tell me to leave."
And it doesn't end there. On "Mob Wives," the party's just starting.