You have to give Todd Chrisley a lot of credit. Although he doesn’t live in Hollywood; he’s not related to anyone famous; he’s not a former sports star, celebrity attorney, musician, rapper or actor; he’s never been in jail; and he hasn’t stranded himself on a desert island, in the forest or in Alaska, he is the star of his own hit reality show, USA Network’s “Chrisley Knows Best.”
Born in South Carolina and now living in Atlanta, businessman Chrisley is a twice-married (first briefly, then for a couple of decades and still going strong) father of five who has parlayed his out-of-the box personality and extreme parenting style –a mix of frustration, outrage, eternal surveillance and lavishly bestowed affection — into “Chrisley Knows Best,” which finishes its second season tonight (Dec. 16) at 10 p.m. ET.
Then, on Wednesday, Dec. 17, “A Very Chrisley Christmas” finds the family gathered around the tree to talk about holiday customs and share some never-before-seen footage from season two. Click here for some video highlights.
While many critics focus on Chrisley’s flamboyant manner, love of fashion and general prissiness to endlessly speculate on his sexuality (two wives and five offspring, ranging from their 20s to an 8-year-old, notwithstanding), enough viewers have embraced the show and the family to ensure an early renewal for season three.
Click here and here to see an extensive chat I did with Chrisley at the end of season one, but regarding his love life, Chrisley said, “I am with who my heart told me I was supposed to be with, and who I fell in love with. Those kind of insinuations or innuendos, they’re there because it makes other people who are saying that feel not so lonely about the place that they’re residing.
“I have men that proposition me on Twitter and Facebook; I have women do the same thing. Just as I don’t respond to the women, I don’t respond to the men. At the end of the day, I have values, and my core values and my belief system, they are what they are.
“I didn’t choose to fall in love with Julie. God led me to Julie, and that’s where I’m supposed to be. I bless and hold her hand as I walk through life.”
Like A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” which also centers on a large Southern family, the duck-call-making Robertsons of Louisiana, “Chrisley Knows Best” is essentially an “unscripted” sitcom (how much reality is manipulated is open to debate, but one would be safe in assuming it’s not exactly cinema verite).
But what viewers enjoy is watching Todd and his wife, Julie, a breast-cancer survivor, cope with each other and with their children, who always seem to be trying to get away with something (just forget it’s all being filmed and go with it).
What comes across most strongly, under Todd’s sometimes controlling and dictatorial paternal manner, is how much he adores his kids and worries about them, and how he’s not afraid to be demonstrative. Also, in a sitcom world full of dimwitted dads, Todd usually gets the best of his offspring, especially teens Chase and Savannah.
The Chrisleys are also professed Christians (Julie’s the daughter of a Baptist minister), and while prayer isn’t as much of a feature of the show as on “Duck Dynasty,” the faith element is present.
Now, none of this is to say that Todd Chrisley’s views in all areas would agree with those of a faithful Catholic. That’s just not the case. And also don’t assume that, despite both being Southerners and Christians, the Chrisleys necessarily always concur with the Robertsons.
Asked by Micah Jesse of RumorFix about patriarch Phil Robertson’s remarks about homosexuality, which caused him to be temporarily suspended from the show, Todd Chrisley said, “I think If I were to comment on that, I probably would have the same level of backlash — just from a different direction.
“I think that Phil has a right to voice his opinion. I don’t think none of us have a right t0 voice an opinion that’s going to hurt others. The Lord that we serve tells us that, you know, we are to lift our brother up. We’re not to kick them.”
In a conversation with me this past summer, Todd echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “I encourage all my children to be very thinking children, to have an opinion, but to respect that the world doesn’t have to accept your opinion. You’re allowed to have it, but you have to curtail your opinion if it imposes upon someone else something that is hurtful.”
In a November op-ed for the Huffington Post, Todd Chrisley took on the idea of labeling people, writing, “I’m not saying we should give up labels, but I find more important ones to care about. How about ‘humanitarian’ or ‘leader’? And I am a big fan of ‘healer,’ ‘genius’ or ‘philanthropist.’ We should be a culture obsessed with talking about people’s culture over their personal lives.
“Can you imagine the tabloids printing feverishly to expose great parenting and community involvement? Envision the world we could create if our values and labels were based on fortitude, kindness and love.”
But Chrisley doesn’t equate those things with being a pushover. This summer, he said, “I don’t think that people understand that [the Southern way of doing things]comes from a place of love. We want you to have respect for other people. We want you to be kind, decent. Now, that is not to be misconstrued as weakness.
“Do not misconstrue that we’re kind and polite and courteous as being weak, because we’re not. That’s not the case.”
Todd and Julie now have custody of their toddler grandchild, Chloe. She’s the daughter of Kyle, Chrisley’s son from his first marriage, who has battled addiction. He appeared in season one of the show, but has been absent this year. Life is not perfect in Todd Chrisley’s universe, much like any other family. And grandparents raising grandchildren is, unfortunately, a common phenomenon.
Said Julie this summer, “I’m determined I’m going to rear children my entire life. I’m 20 years in, and I still have a 20-month-old, so I’m not making too much progress.”
Do the Chrisleys live in harmony with Catholic teaching in everything they do and say? Certainly not (but, truth to be told, a lot of Catholics don’t, either). But, like the Robertsons, the public witness of a large, rambunctious but loving family, which also has faith, is a rare and powerful thing in today’s TV landscape, where the reverse is far more common.
And, sadly, that’s nothing new. The 1973 PBS cinema verite series “An American Family,” rather than showing a couple working through issues and staying together, instead documented the dissolution of the upper-middle-class California clan, as the parents’ marriage unraveled on camera.
It’d be great if there was a reality show centered on a faithful Catholic family, but one thing’s for certain in Hollywood — no one’s going to give you anything. You have to go out and get it. The only way to ensure that your values and lifestyle are represented in the media is to be part of the media.
So, if there’s a Catholic parent out there with the gumption and drive of Todd Chrisley, who can sell a cable network on doing a show about his or her family — and is willing to endure the tabloid exposure and brickbats that come along with it — start working on that proposal and sizzle reel.