After so many years, Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise appears so scripted that it's easy to forget the stars are real people — even when their antics go far beyond the small screen and into the news cycle.

That's the case for Teresa and Joe Giudice, one of the main couples on "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" since it debuted in May 2009; though they quickly became known for their severe financial and legal troubles. In March 2014, they both pleaded guilty to myriad fraud charges and were sentenced to prison: 15 months for Teresa and 41 months for Joe, serving one after another so at least one parent could take care of their four young daughters.

Teresa arrived at the prison in January 2015 and was sent home a little less than a year later. While she was behind bars, Bravo aired a brief spin-off called "Teresa Checks In" about her family; in February, Teresa released a memoir detailing her experience. Still, Sunday's seventh season premiere of "Real Housewives of New Jersey" was breathlessly billed as a family reunion, as Bravo promised to show the exact moment on camera that Teresa arrived home from prison.

Given her homecoming occurred about six months ago and has been endlessly covered, it seemed strange that it was the most-hyped part of the episode. However, the actual scene when Teresa arrived home to see her family was — seriously — very emotional, and a reminder that even the most frivolous franchises have their human moments.

Naturally, Bravo left the scene until the last 15 minutes. During most of the hour-long show, viewers were treated to updates on the other housewives and their feelings on Teresa's return. There were also glimpses of Teresa's family getting ready for her arrival, as her daughters (Gia, 14; Gabriella, 11; Milania, 9; and Audriana, 6) decorated homemade signs like "We missed you!" and "We love you!" and "Welcome home Mommy!" Through it all, Joe talked about how it's been a difficult year being a single parent to four daughters: "They're all great, but they think they can boss me around," he admitted.

Then, the day arrives: It's Dec. 23, 2015, and Teresa is scheduled to be released at 5 a.m. Her attorney goes to pick her up at the prison while Joe and Gia spend a sleepless night waiting. Suddenly, Teresa calls on FaceTime from the car and screeches with excitement when she sees her daughter's face. "Oh my God, that voice — I don't miss that," Gia says, though her eyes fill with tears.

Greeted by paparazzi waiting in the driveway ("GET OUT OF HERE, YOU DUMB STUPID PEOPLE!" 9-year-old Milania yells outside), Teresa arrives home, as cameras capture her walking through the garage. She walks through the kitchen, and Joe smiles at her from the counter. "Hi, honey — welcome home," he says. Teresa immediately dissolves into tears. "I can't believe I'm home," she sobs. They embrace. Teresa calls for her daughters, and all four run into the kitchen. Everyone falls apart pretty much immediately: Audriana lets out an ear-piecing shriek as she runs in and literally jumps into her mother's arms, and the others cry as they all hug.

Should it be a moment captured on camera for millions to see? That's… debatable. Were the daughters told to run into the kitchen on cue? It's… possible. And Bravo laid it on a little thick with Teresa's voiceover. ("I have dreamed about this moment for the past 11 and a half months. Am I really home?") But it didn't matter. It was hard not to get swept up in the moment as Audriana showed off her two missing teeth, and dragged her mother into the living room to proudly display the sign she made: "Mommy, come here, I want to show what I wrote you!"

There was even a moment of self-awareness, as Teresa probably realized she's luckier than most incarcerated parents, because Joe (scheduled to start serving his nearly four-year sentence in March) took the girls for weekly visits. "Even though I saw my daughters once a week, it's nothing compared to being there for them," she said during an on-camera interview a few minutes later. "To be taken away from them, my poor babies, I know they felt lost."

While the preview for the rest of the season showed nothing but typical "Real Housewives" drama, the Giudice family's reunion ended on a moment of hopefulness and maybe, maybe even personal growth.

"I was very naïve, I won't be naïve anymore," Teresa said. "I learned my lesson and I'm not going to make the same mistake twice."

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