For a Housewife to really earn her keep, she has to make viewers simultaneously hate her, pity her, and (kind of) want to be her. It requires a careful balance of schadenfreude and envy. If you envy her wealth too much, chances are she’s not blowing enough of her money on tiny-dog jewelry, which means she’s probably too classy to be worthy of your pity. If you pity her too much, there’s no joy in hating her.
In the premiere of Bravo’s three-part Real Housewives of New Jersey special “Teresa Checks In,” Teresa Giudice inspires very little envy. Last year, she and her husband Joe were sentenced to prison on conspiracy and bankruptcy fraud charges, and the show begins on June 18, 2015, six months into Teresa’s 15-month sentence, as Joe cares for their daughters on his own and prepares for his own 41-month sentence. Considering this sad state of affairs, the special might make you feel bad for watching at all. With the Giudices’ wealth in question — some estimates suggest that they owe $13.4 million in debt — do we still envy them? When the envy has mostly all turned to pity, is it still possible to revel in schadenfreude?
Some might argue that the Giudices brought this situation upon themselves, so we shouldn’t feel sympathy for them. Others will watch them struggle to maintain appearances in the aftermath of Teresa’s imprisonment — continuing to employ a stylist and make-up artist to gussy up their eldest daughter, Gia, even while the family struggles to pay off their legal fees — and feel only compassion for the pressures the Giudices face in keeping up with the Joneses (and the Gorgas and the Manzos) under the unspoken threat that their net worth might make them unfit for the Housewives franchise if they don’t. Either way, now that Teresa’s in prison, even RHONJ‘s most famous guilty-pleasure moments from the past are more painful to watch. Remember when Danielle hinted that Teresa had a house in foreclosure, which Teresa vehemently denied? Now that a judge has rejected the Giudices’ foreclosure challenge, I’ll bet Teresa winces at that moment.
“Teresa Checks In” begins with shots of the Giudices’ opulent house, with close-ups of the gated entrance and lion fountains. We watch their daughters — Gia, Gabriella, Milania, and Audriana — sliding down the ornate staircases and eating breakfast in a kitchen that looks like it’s paved with Italian-imported marble. In the past, it might’ve been hard to understand why the Giudices would want their real-life drama broadcast across America. Today, it’s slightly easier to understand: They have to pay the bills on this place somehow.
NEXT: When did Gia become so grown up?