Teresa gets a shakedown, but nothing else has really changed.

By Melissa Maerz
October 19, 2015 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Real Housewives of New Jersey

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What is the point of prison: to punish or to reform?

You might ask the same question about “Teresa Checks In.” As Teresa Giudice serves time on conspiracy and bankruptcy fraud charges and Joe Giudice prepares for his own sentence, those RHONJ viewers still watching either want to see the couple punished for their crimes or find their own redemption story, complete with a warm-fuzzy message that wealth doesn’t matter as much as family. The Gorgas are certainly pushing the redemption angle hard, with Joe Gorga insisting that “things are changing now.” But so far, it’s hard to believe that the Giudices have learned any major lessons. After all, for Teresa, what’s really important is ensuring that the family still eats off Gucci plates.

In some ways, it’s hard to blame Teresa. Her kids have been through a lot, so if designer tableware establishes some modicum of normalcy for them, so be it. But it’s hard to imagine that Milania derives more pleasure from seeing little interlocking Gs beneath her puttanesca sauce than she might from knowing that the creditors won’t take her childhood home away.

Aside from the genuinely sad fact that the girls can only talk to their mom over the phone and Joe now plays beautician for Milania (clearly, someone’s been studying “12 Aww-Inducing Video Tutorials of Dads Doing Their Daughters’ Hair”), it’s amazing how much the Giudices’ everyday lives look pretty much the same, at least on camera. Joe Gorga and Joe Giudice still have a love-hate relationship. (“He loves me, I love him. He hates me, I hate him,” explains J-Go, right before asking if J-Gi has phone sex with J-Go’s sister. Awkward.) Melissa still breaks down in waterproof-mascara sobs when she talks about family drama. The Giudices still visit their Jersey Shore house — that is, until it gets sold back to the bank for $100. And the kids are still the victims of their parents’ bad choices. When Antonia and Milania hold hands during the whole car ride to the nail salon — a trip that will no doubt cause even more friction between their mothers — it’s like they’re Thelma and Louise, white-knuckling it while the car drives straight off a cliff.

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It’s unfortunate, though not surprising, that Melissa’s idea of quality family time involves spending even more money. “Alright, listen to me, it’s like a nice salon, so we don’t want people to think we’re crazy,” she tells the kids. You can tell it’s a classy joint because it only serves decaf cappuccinos to children. I want to believe that Melissa’s heart is in the right place. Not everyone expresses their grief in the same way, so maybe I shouldn’t penalize her for crying without producing any actual tears. But there’s something strange about the way she provides support for the Giudice girls, digging for information about Gia’s boyfriend, as if to stir up tabloid gossip, and claiming that Gabriella is the one cleaning the house, even though there’s no way a skinny preteen could’ve maneuvered the heavy machinery necessary to buff those marble floors. Both Gia and Gabriella handle things perfectly. They’re polite but distant, giving the type of neutral smile that says they’re well trained if Bravo ever wants to cast the Real Teenage Daughters of Housewives. Poor girls.

“I never wanted to be in a family situation where there’s hard times or tragedy,” Melissa claims. And yet, moments later, she’s saying, “God only gives you what you can handle.” Judging by her tone, when she says “handle,” she really means “deserve.”

<pNEXT: What’s with the lawyer?

Of course, it’s probably useless to worry about Melissa invading the Giudices’ privacy. They’ve already opened up their lives to a lot of inappropriate people, including Teresa’s creepy, fame-hungry lawyer, who pops up so often during personal moments, you’d think he was living under their massive staircase. Creepy Fame-Hungry Lawyer is there when Joe takes out his motorized bike for a spin, due to a suspended license, but never offers Joe a ride. Creepy Fame-Hungry Lawyer is there at the kitchen table, paging through Teresa’s diary, which Teresa says she wrote to let the kids know what her experience in prison was like. (There’s just one problem: she never actually told them that she’s in prison. Officially, she’s “working.”) Creepy Fame-Hungry Lawyer is there when Joe joins his friend Angelo to talk about what problems prison might pose for him. “Angelo, would you be where you are today if you hadn’t been in prison?” asks Creepy Fame-Hungry Lawyer in the world’s most obvious leading question. The answer? Without prison, Angelo suggests, his red sauce never would’ve been this good.

Judging by this hour of “Teresa Checks In,” you’d think that prison was just the name of another New Jersey town where the hooch is homemade and the Italian food is tasty. And there are times when Teresa seems to treat it that way, too. She releases a press photo of herself in a prison jumpsuit, posing with the kids, supposedly to deter paparazzi. And she asks Gia to tweet a message to her fans, thanking them for their support. Even when this terrible decision results in a scary shakedown, Joe treats it like a joke. “Guys don’t strip search you, do they?” he says smiling, as if he would be jealous.

To be fair, this is probably a defense mechanism for Joe. He’s terrified of serving time himself, and he’s still not sure if he’ll be deported to Italy, a place where, he reminds us, he doesn’t know the laws. (Well, I’m pretty sure that fraud is illegal there, too.) It’s painful when he tells the kids that next year, he’s going to be away for a while, “and then when I get back, we’ll get another boat. We’ll get a bigger one!” Isn’t using money to buy their way out of unhappiness what got them into this mess in the first place? Yet it’s clear that this is the only coping mechanism Joe knows. So: punishment or reform? He has no interest in reform. If you asked Joe, he’d probably say that when you’ve been punished this much, ya just gots to deal widdit the only way you know how.


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The Real Housewives of New Jersey

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