“Chrisley Knows Best” has a thinly concealed secret, and no, it’s not the one that immediately comes to mind. Rather, the writers of this USA network comedy (and whatever you call them, writing is what they do) have created a throwback that recycles old sitcom plots, under the guise of an unscripted series. Along the way, they toss in the requisite sniggering lines and double meanings about the show’s other unreferenced element, as the second season’s opening episodes feel even more massaged than the first, the question being how long this can last before the novelty wears off.
The first two half-hours drive home just how set up every conceivable beat of “Chrisley” is, concocting situations to provide Todd Chrisley – the perpetually exasperated, catchphrase-spouting, appearance-obsessed Southern family patriarch – opportunities to roll his eyes and assert his authority.
So the first episode, a knockoff of “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” involves Todd’s 16-year-old daughter Savannah wanting to go on a date with a 19-year-old guy; and Todd’s wife Julie going back to work, forcing the reluctant “Mr. Mom” to struggle with making dinner and household chores.
Moreover, Savannah’s date is with Spencer Lloyd, a former “American Idol” contestant, a tacit nod to the level of casting that’s going on here.
“Chrisley” still managed to be a ratings success for USA, largely because its namesake is such a self-conscious, larger-than-life character. Much like other popular reality sitcoms, members of the family have also bought into their assigned roles, from the wacky grandma (who chaperones Savannah on her date, then goes to drink at the bar) to the Chrisley children.
Indeed, if there was any doubt about the entire clan being in on the joke, none could profess to be naïve with that first season and it related publicity behind them. Then again, based on information that surfaced about the state of Chrisley’s finances, keeping the show afloat could be a priority.
Aside from punctuating practically everything with musical cues, the producers appear to delight in having Todd say at least one thing in every episode with an implied wink about his sexuality (which he has addressed in interviews), like telling his daughter’s prospective date, “Don’t plan on doing anything with my daughter that you wouldn’t do with me.”
USA has actually struggled somewhat in the conventional comedy department, and will air “Chrisley Knows Best” with a scripted half-hour, “Benched,” premiering later this month. But hey, who needs actors when not-so-ordinary families are so willing to spout the necessary lines to get, and stay, in the spotlight?