‘Chrisley Knows Best,’ don’t bet on it
There are a few things that are dishonest about this USA series
March 11, 2014
How big does the elephant in the room have to be before someone addresses it? That’s a question that often arises in reality shows that are supposed to be about one thing but keep making us think about something else.
The latest elephant-ignoring reality show is USA’s “Chrisley Knows Best,” about a supposedly rich father of five who tries to run his family with an iron hand. But all we can think about is his effeminate manners, which are politely ignored for the entire premiere and only briefly addressed in the second episode that was provided for review.
The show, which premieres tonight at 10 with two episodes, also fails to discuss an off-camera elephant: According to published reports, the father, Todd Chrisley, who lives in a mansion in a gated community and says that the family spends $300,000 or more a year on clothes, declared bankruptcy in 2012. His creditors and their lawyers should find the show interesting. Few others will.
In the premiere episode, Todd, who lives near Atlanta, tells us he made most of his money in real estate. That money, he says, will enable him to do “something that I’ve always wanted to do my entire life, which is to have a life in fashion.” So he is planning to open a department store called Chrisley and Co.
Most of the action, however, revolves around Todd’s attempts to control his children. His wife, Julie, has a much more laid-back attitude and tends to roll her eyes when he lays down the law.
Their oldest child, Lindsie, 24, married without asking her parents’ permission, so Todd has a fraught relationship with her husband, Will, although Todd says he loves his infant grandson.
The oldest son, Kyle, 23, was caught having an affair with a married woman, so Todd shipped him off to Samoa to do nine months of service with the Red Cross. The next son, Chase, 17, keeps disobeying Todd, saying, “I personally think it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”
Todd gets less trouble from Savannah, 17, a pageant girl, although he’s upset by some of the revealing outfits she wears in a fashion show in the second episode provided for review, which will air next week. Finally, Grayson, 7, is a little too precocious: At one point, as Julie drives him through town, he yells from his booster seat, “I want to go to Hooters! I want to see some hot girls!”
Early on, Todd tells us that he has tracking devices in his children’s cars and that he monitors their computers. After he catches Chase going to a porn site, he takes the boy’s laptop and throws it into the pool. In a “coming attractions” montage at the end of the premiere episode, annoyed by a text message, he throws Chase’s phone into a lake.
These moments of waste will have the unintended consequence of enraging those aforementioned creditors.
The main story line concerns Chase’s decision to sneak off to a football game with his girlfriend. When Todd finds out, he says that Chase is a visual learner, so he puts a wheel boot on Chase’s car.
Next week’s episode has three plotlines: Besides Savannah’s fashion show, Lindsie decides to get breast-augmentation surgery — “When a baby sucks ’em dry,” she says, “you deserve ’em” — and Todd and Will try to bond by going to a shooting range.
The two latter stories are the occasion for fakey moments that wouldn’t have happened without the presence of TV cameras. To celebrate Lindsie’s surgery, Todd brings out a cake shaped like two huge breasts, with candles in the nipples. And he dresses up in camouflage and olive drab to go to the shooting range.
In a suspiciously apt choice of words, the guy at the range tells Todd he can have the target on the bottom, allowing the normally taciturn Will to say, “He’s used to being on the bottom.”
Instead of being offended, Todd simply praises Will’s quick wit.
Nowhere else in the episodes does anyone comment about how closely Todd conforms to traditional stereotypes of gay-male behavior, beyond his voice and hand gestures: He admits to getting Botox injections, chooses his wife’s and daughters’ clothes and says that he wants to limit the women’s clothes in his store to below size 6.
Years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” Dana Carvey starred in a sketch called “Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual.” This show could find similar humor in the misunderstandings that arise from the contrast between Todd’s mannerisms and his lifestyle, but ignoring the issue makes it more distracting, especially because his comical flamboyance is probably the main reason the producers chose to make the show.
Although we can understand why the producers would rather not address the question of why the Chrisleys are living so well after Todd’s bankruptcy, ignoring it makes it more disturbing.
As is, “Chrisley Knows Best” feels misguided, false and dishonest. That doesn’t add up to laughs.
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