Thicker Than Water: Sunday at 9 Eastern on Bravo
Over the last quarter of a century, there has been a particular and increasing fascination in the lives of the extremely wealthy. This can initially be traced back to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Robin Leach’s original ode to people with way more money to burn than most people will see in a lifetime. From there, MTV unleashed Cribs, it’s own ode to celebrity housing. Few networks, however, have truly used this formula like Bravo, with it’s multiple Real Housewives shows and it’s newest show, Thicker Than Water, which debuted Sunday night.
Thicker Than Water follows the Tankard family as they go through their daily life. The family tree starts with patriarch Ben and matriarch Jewel, whom made their money through Ben’s gospel jazz empire, Jewel’s evangelism, and both of their numerous side gigs. Together with their four kids (leading to the Tankards referring to themselves as the “black Brady Bunch”), they work to not only better their own lives (they make no secret that their good life was somehow god’s plan) but the lives of others. However, tensions can flare as the whole family (including Brooklyn’s daughter and Benji’s wife) live under one roof and the Ben’s tight rule.
As advertised, Bravo tried to market Thicker Than Water using the family flaunting their wealth as a primary hook. The show itself opens this way, and quite frankly it does more harm than good, as the family justifying buying themselves a new jet and new high-end luxury vehicles ends off coming off both super conceited and cartoonish. Furthermore, it strikes a weird chord as Benji’s justification of the new Benz harkens back awkwardly to prior televangelism scandals (notably Jim Bakker’s).
However, when the show stops being about rich people and starts being about a family dealing with family issues, the show begins to shine. This is especially notable as the show remained surprisingly tear-free for a show that appears on Bravo’s Sunday lineup, instead focusing on the little things: Cyrene’s prom, Brooklyn’s minithon, and Ben’s heavy-handedness. It’s when things become mundane that everyone feels less stilted (except for wife Jewel, who has a relentless devotion to the show’s main premise) and this breathing room makes for a surprisingly light reality show.
From the technical perspective, Thicker Than Water vindicates itself especially well in the way it’s put together. The show definitely takes a lighter hand on the cut-ins, often using them to illuminate what the various family members must be muttering to themselves after conversations with each other. An added bonus is that it makes much of the show’s exposition come off so much more seamlessly, as Brooklyn’s sordid past comes out during a date where her blind date mentions his interest in bad girls.
The Final Verdict: On a network that prefers its’ reality soapy and wine-soaked, Thicker Than Water is a light, breezy, and refreshing change of pace. Weirdly enough, however, it also seems to be the sort of show that will become much better the more it becomes a show about nothing, as the show always stumbles the second it starts laying the prosperity-theology on thick. I’d wait and see on this: if Thicker Than Water ends up being a story about a family who happens to have an obscene amount of money, it could be onto something, but if it ends up turning into a show about the flaunting of wealth the show will have squandered any promise it has.