As intriguing in the details as it is uncomfortable to watch, “Chrisley Knows Best,” a self-consciously sitcom-like reality show, initially seems to be just another knockoff designed to cash in on the “Duck Dynasty” demo. Cut through the deep-fried window dressing, though, and this USA series is almost entirely devoted to its subtext, intended to elicit sniggering regarding that which goes unsaid about the show’s wealthy father of five, whom his son-in-law understatedly dubs “flamboyant.” Played as epic farce, the skein should have a disparate range of appeal, but let’s hope the Chrisleys don’t mind being laughed at, not with.
Although the title is overtly intended to evoke a certain classic sitcom, others ranging from “The Beverly Hillbillies” to “The Brady Bunch” seem just as apropos. The half-hour introduces Todd Chrisley, whose supposed entrepreneurial success has allowed him to shelter his brood in a 30,000-square-foot Atlanta mansion. Prone to firing off catchphrase-style utterances, Chrisley announces he plans to parlay all that wealth into pursuing his life-long devotion to fashion, citing a commitment to “helping the world look better.”
Chrisley’s unorthodox parenting style might strike some as odd: He enthusiastically talks to his daughter about her breast implants, disciplines his 17-year-old son by placing a boot-lock on his car , and swaps sexual innuendos with the father of his grandchild. His wife Julie, meanwhile, does little more than roll her eyes.
The family’s protestations to the contrary, there’s obviously a good deal of staging here, as well as musical cues (such as “The A-Team” theme when tenderfoot Todd visits the gun range) to create a sitcom atmosphere. “I want to go to Hooters. I want to see some hot girls,” the couple’s youngest son, a first-grader, stiffly announces en route to school.
All of that, however, is at best a distraction from the brightly dressed elephant in the room, which, per USA, is left unaddressed throughout the series. As such, there’s an underlying smirk to the proceedings, something the producers appear happy enough to exploit.
Whether or not the central family understood going in how the show would be presented, by now — unless they lack Internet access — they must be aware. And while the parents can fend for themselves, there’s something off-putting about seeing their children drawn into this money-making enterprise, which goes out of its way to note how fabulously well-organized Todd’s closet is.
Slated to be paired with “Modern Family” reruns after its one-hour premiere, “Chrisley Knows Best” figures to get people talking, and for USA, that’s half the battle. Yet if the purported goal was to present another wacky take on an American family, what comes through Loud and clear as an ulterior motive is an updated version of “An American Family.”