Part 1 of Teresa Checks In, the three-part special documenting life inside the Giudice home while RHONJ star and matriarch Teresa Guidice serves her prison sentence, premiered last night and boy are we in for an emotional ride. Throughout the special, Teresa is heard but not seen through frequent phone calls from prison and the void is startlingly clear in the lives of her family.
The episode starts on June 18, 2015, six months into Teresa's prison sentence. As he makes breakfast for the girls, Joe Giudice explains that it's a complicated day in their house, as it's 14-year-old Gia's eighth grade formal as well as the one year anniversary of Joe's father's passing. Days are hard with Teresa "away" (he hates to say the p-word), with Joe playing the role of both mom and dad to Gia, Gabriella, 10; Milania, 9 and Audriana, 5. Via confessional, Gia explains that her dad has really stepped up to the plate since Teresa started her sentence, but it's still nothing like having your mom there. Once the girls leave for school, Joe starts getting everything set up for the party to celebrate Gia's dance. However, Juicy is merely following Teresa's instructions - even from prison, she's still running the show and has everything picked out, from balloons and decorations to having her makeup artist and stylist help Gia get ready.
For some reason Teresa's lawyer, James Leonard, stops by and will apparently be a part of the special. For those who need a reminder, he explains that Teresa checked into Danbury Federal Correctional Institution (the real-life inspiration behind Orange is the New Black) on January 5, 2015 and it's anticipated she'll be released on December 23, 2015. While Joe describes the prison as a "low-budget spa," the attorney assures everyone watching that while Teresa is a high-profile inmate, she's not receiving any preferential treatment. (And also, they apparently watch Bravo in prison...)
Meanwhile, over at the Gorga house, Melissa wonders why no one told them about the formal. Joe Gorga brushes it off, though. With so much going on and everything the Giudices are going through, it likely wasn't an intentional diss. The Gorgas have been helping as much as Joe lets them with the girls, taking them to dinner, movies and bringing the kids over to their house, but Melissa still wishes she could do more. She explains that she knows she wouldn't be the first person the girls called if they needed something, but she wants to be there for them. With that in mind, she sends Gia an excited, heartfelt text wishing her luck at the dance. For her part, Gia says that her aunt and uncle are trying, but she's not quite comfortable yet about having a close relationship with Melissa.
As Gia's getting ready for the formal, Teresa calls from prison and the entire family gathers around the phone. Teresa sounds peppy and positive as she tells Gia how much she wishes she could be there, and the teenager struggles to hold back tears while talking to her mom. Teresa particularly doesn't want anyone getting upset around her aging parents, so Gia explains that she does her best to stay strong and not get emotional. That's so much pressure on a 14-year-old. In a heartbreaking moment, a tearful Gia asks Gabriella to tell Teresa that she hasn't put on her makeup yet because she doesn't want her mom to think she's crying. Teresa promises Gia that even though she can't be there for her dance, she's managed to send a surprise that's on its way.
Interestingly, the younger girls are under the assumption that Tre is away "working." This is technically true, she's keeping a diary to write a book once she gets out, but at what point will the girls really understand what's going on? To commemorate Gia's big day, Teresa's stylist Alisa Maria gifts her with a heart-shaped pink sapphire and diamond necklace. Now, Gia will have her mom's heart next to hers wherever she goes. Teresa's gift also arrives at the house just before Gia takes off to the dance - a gorgeous box of roses. How Teresa managed to buy a box of roses from inside a Connecticut prison is beyond me, but she definitely has her ways.
In the midst of the party, Juicy Joe takes his brother and several of the grandkids out back to finish planting the tree at the memorial he's built for his father. It's a solemn moment for him as the family raises a glass to the memory of his best friend, who passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in the middle of last year's court proceedings. After going inside, Joe meets Gia's date, instructing the poor kid that there will be no slow dancing or touching at the dance. With that, he sends a horrified Gia off to the formal with a hug and a kiss. Poor Gia is embarrassed by everything.
The next day, Joe is out working a construction job when Teresa's cousin Rosie stops by for a chat. Joe explains in his interview that, because of his conviction, he can no longer flip houses and isn't allowed to have any mortgages in his name but he's still doing what it takes to make ends meet and put food on the table. For her part, Rosie says she never would've expected to have anyone in her family go to prison, but points out that everyone makes mistakes. Apparently because of his felon status, Joe isn't allowed to visit Teresa as frequently as the girls are; when Teresa gets out and Joe starts his sentence, she'll have the same limitations on her visiting hours. It seems a strange oxymoron that the federal justice system wants to keep felons inside the prison while they're serving their sentences and doesn't want them around once they're back on the outside.
A few days later, June 22 to be exact, is the day of Gia's 8th grade graduation. Melissa explains that these are the kinds of days Teresa lives for as a mom, and wishes she were able to be here for all the milestones the year has to bring. The Gorgas are invited to the party this time, and Gia thinks it's a big step for everyone to be there as one big happy family. In her confessional, Melissa points out that the Gorgas and Giudices have had some huge arguments over incredibly petty issues in the past (sprinkle cookies, anyone?), but that sometimes it takes a horrible situation like the one they're currently in to realize the importance of family. Never again will the Gorgas and Giudices go back to that terrible, dark place we saw in Seasons 3 and 4. Always the pragmatist, Juicy Joe agrees, saying he never understood the whole staying angry at your family forever thing. At the party, Gia gives a gracious speech thanking everyone for coming, saying that she knows how much her mom would love it if she were there. (At this point I had to explain to my roommate who'd wandered in that Teresa was merely in prison, not dead.)
The episode ends with a private phone call between Joe and Teresa. Ever since Tre went in, Joe hasn't been able to sleep in their bed and has taken to crashing on the couch every night. Their conversation is both flirty and fun (Teresa watched Magic Mike at prison movie night and now wants Joe to get abs) and touchingly heartfelt as Joe talks about how much he wants to grow old with Teresa. As a family, they're dealing with this obstacle day by day, and it seems that they're becoming much closer as a couple as a result. As I watch Joe tell Teresa how he loves her more and more every day, it's clear that the Joe of the infamous Season 4 mystery call in Napa Valley is long gone, having been replaced by a much humbler, more caring and loving man. I guess it's true that there's a silver lining to everything in life.