It had to grate at Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider—how to get into the apparently lucrative rock star family reality TV gig without coming off as an overbearing egotist (a la Gene Simmons), incoherent dullard (Ozzy Osbourne), or, worst of all, a snoozy bore (Rev Run). He certainly had the eccentric family to pull it off—sexpot wife Suzette, rock star wannabe son Jesse, wiseass budding comedian Shane, wiseass would-be auteur Cody, and hyperemotional 13-year-old daughter Cheyenne. Eventually, the A&E network (home of Simmons’ Family Jewels program) was convinced compelling drama/comedy/something could emerge from filming the Sniders of Long Island, and Growing Up Twisted was born and put on the Tuesday night schedule.
While watching the first two episodes of the series, several rather surprising things emerge:
- Dee is a normal dad. Truthfully, Dee Snider—the man who for years dressed up as Bette Midler to sing heavy metal songs about knives, rebellion, and Tipper Gore’s nether regions—emerges as the stabilizing influence in his family. Whether he’s romancing the voluptuous and ever-willing Suzette, working in the studio with Jesse, dealing with one of Cheyenne’s tantrums, or helping Cody pull a joke on his mother, Dee comes off as just a regular dad and husband, albeit one with platinum albums on his wall.
- Shane needs Cody, and Cody needs Shane. The two youngest Snider boys are far more interesting and funny together than they are separately. This is bad news for Shane, who wants badly to make it as a standup comedian, but who needs a foil in order to be at his funniest. Their response in the second episode to the news that their mother has trimmed her pubic hair in the shape of a heart and dyed it pink (to surprise Dee on their wedding anniversary) is priceless; even better is the prank they pull afterward, using a hot pink wig, some scissors, and the family dog.
- Mom’s a bad mama-jama. She’s built, she’s stacked, got all the curves a man likes. And she’s not afraid to flaunt them for the camera or her hubby, which might explain how “the real star of the family” (according to Dee) has been able to keep that hubby happy for 34 years. She’s also rather open about such things with her kids, and their embarassed reactions are quite authentic, and quite amusing.
- Jesse’s got some daddy issues. In the first episode, the oldest Snider son writes a song for his infant daughter’s baptism, and manages to include a verse that basically takes his old man to task for never being around while he was growing up. And then he plays it for his old man. And then he plays it in front of all the invited guests at his daughter’s baptism. Methinks there is fodder for further father/son “healing” in future episodes.
- Cheyenne shouldn’t be on television. I’m not sure which is worse—listening to this walking, talking hormone whine and cry through the first episode, or knowing that this sensitive young lady is living out the most vulnerable time of her life in front of cameras and, in theory, an audience. If I were Dee, I’d set aside some cash for the inevitable therapy bills that will result from this endeavor.
- The show is funny. Wouldn’t have thunk it, but I was entertained by yet another famous person and his/her family reality show, a genre of which I’m not particularly fond. Dee himself seems engaging enough, Suzette is a good foil, and the Shane/Cody team provides enough laughs to keep things light and interesting.
What setups/set pieces/adventures the family gets into from here—which is where a given show’s director and editors always show their hand—will dictate whether Growing Up Twisted stands a chance at longer-term viability on the A&E schedule. I, for one, am rooting for them.