Windows open on a Sunday. A pot of sauce on the stove. Bagels on the counter. Neighbors stopping by for an afternoon stoop-side chat.
That’s the Staten Island the cast of MTV’s latest reality television show says they know best — albeit picturesque.
“The food … great bagels, ‘oh, Marone,’ ” cast member Dennie Augustine says, an Italian accent rolling through as her hands wave with emphasis. “You can get your nails done, then get your bagels, then pick up your laundry and run into CVS for your lashes all in the same [shopping center].”
Seven friends — all between the ages of 19 and 22 with family connections to organized crime — enter the spotlight on a network with the power to transform average young adults into nationally known names. With the “Made In Staten Island” premiere Monday, many of them get their first taste of fame and the backlash that often follows.
MTV announced the SI-set show from “Mob Wives” star Karen Gravano last month. A flood of tweets and an online petition to cancel the show by residents and officials who feel the network profits from exploiting an Italian-American mafia stereotype popped up like clockwork.
“I think I can speak for the whole entire cast when I say we’re not looking to represent anyone other than ourselves as individuals,” says Augustine, known as the “godmother” of the charismatic group.
Her sentiment was echoed by three of her castmates during a video shoot at amNewYork on Friday — each of them equally confused and unfazed by the quick-to-form misconception that their experience is billed the Staten Island “norm.”
“We’re all just trying to live our best lives,” she adds.
While Gravano’s “Mob Wives” on VH1 boosted ratings with the drama of a group proud of their mafia connections, the new series stars her daughter Karina Seabrook and her friends as they grapple with the downside of their relatives’ lifestyles.
In the pilot, Seabrook, the granddaughter of famed mob underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, considers leaving Staten Island behind and starting anew. Christian Patterson (C.P.) and others cope with being separated from parents serving prison sentences.
Perhaps the most important angle of the series — buried in marketing that brands it as one solely about “bosses” who’ve “grown up surrounded” by the mafia — is the concept that the castmates are charting their own paths.
Seabrook even feels it necessary to specifically describe herself as an individual, not blended into the actions of her family.
“I’m very extra with everything I do, but I’m a very loyal person. I like to say loyal because my grandfather’s pretty well-known in the mafia,” Seabrook says, nodding to Sammy “The Bull’s” notoriety for testifying against his own. “I would never, ever turn my back on him or my family, but I live a completely different life. To be honest, I probably know least about the mob than anyone else … I have my own story to tell.”
That’s the part of the series people, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli who tweeted calls to boycott, might be overlooking, Patterson says.
“They can say ah, this is not a representation of the place we’re from that is very different from a lot of places,” he explains, “but we’re a group of kids who grew up close to each other and are leaning on each other during hard times. At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is be successful and take care of our families.”
The Change.org petition, which is 3,000 shy of its 10,000-signature goal, isn’t going to stop the eager “Made In Staten Island” crew from being proud of the borough they call home. In fact, it’s their roots they say that has given themselves thick enough skins to evade the backlash.
“[A]s you can see, there’s a lot of bitter people on Staten Island and people are always going to hate on you,” says Paulie Fusco. He and Seabrook, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, served as the inspiration behind the series for Gravano. “Being from Staten Island gives you that ability to brush it off.”
Clapping back at one “hater” in particular, the cast on Monday delivered “Made In Staten Island”-branded pizza’s from Gravano’s New Jersey-based restaurant, Pizza Nostra, to Borelli’s office after he called the show “embarrassing.” The group also dropped off baby products to help local families impacted by the partial government shutdown.
“They can hate but we’ll still grow without the water,” Augustine says.
“Made In Staten Island” airs Mondays on MTV at 10 p.m.