When it comes to celebrity reality TV, I’ve always had a soft spot for A&E’s “Gene Simmons Family Jewels.” Even when the guiding hands of the show’s producers were clearly dictating the so-called plot, it hardly mattered. Shannon Tweed and Gene Simmons (and their kids Nick and Sophie) were consistently funny, charming and infinitely watchable. You’d assume the antics of a rock star and his former Playmate significant other would be the stuff of a bad VH1 show – lots of screaming, drunken parties and ridiculous drama. But Tweed and Simmons defied expectations. They’ve had twenty-eight years of an unconventional commitment. They seemed to genuinely like each other. And ultimately they appeared to be well matched. Their trials were the stuff of any middle-aged couple with kids. It was only the superficial stuff (dragon boots, flunkies and a whole lot of money) that was different.
But the season 6 premiere suggests that Tweed has finally had it with Simmons’ taste for floozies. TV appearances to promote the show have been as uncomfortable to watch as divorce proceedings. First they visited “Today” and made Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb squirm in their seats, inspiring Gifford to comment on the tension in the studio. Then, Tweed walked out in the middle of an interview with Simmons for Joy Behar’s show on HLN. The interview, what their was of it, rattled even the usually unflappable Behar, who declared that their troubles weren’t “the usual reality bull----“ but were, in fact, real.
But are they?
If this is all a big show to garner more ratings, I’m sure it will be successful. It also makes me wish Tweed had gotten a chance to do better films than crap like “Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death.” The season premiere certainly feels like the real thing, as does Tweed’s final straw moment. As Simmons stumbles along, blindly maintaining that his way (which includes having sex with 5,000 women over the course of his lifetime) is the right way, we see Tweed transition from wounded to angry and finally, distant. If it’s just acting (and I’m not saying it is), she’s got chops.
Ultimately, though, I don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for traces of fakery. Regardless of where the truth lies (and I’m inclined to think things are just as rough as they seem to be), it ultimately doesn’t change the fact that this is a story that happens in real life every day. And as usual, the superficial elements are different (multiple floozies, no wedding ring, a stubborn multimillionaire) here, but the scenes of a marriage falling apart are heartbreakingly familiar.
And what A&E has managed to do is make, yes, some really great television. Old home movies of happier days when Nick and Sophie were small are used to great effect, and the final moments of the episode – a combination of home video of Tweed and Simmons in love played against Simmons, stolid and shell shocked alone on the sofa – are surprisingly moving. After almost thirty years, there’s a lot of history between Tweed and Simmons – and, not surprisingly, a lot of old wounds to dig up. This season promises to take a good, hard look at what happens when a long relationship falls apart. We'll have a window into both the female and male perspective that we don't often get in real life or in fiction. Whether or not this is the real deal seems besides the point.
While I won’t be casting my vote in the “real or not” poll (I guess we’ll have a better idea as the season goes along in any case), I will be watching. Will you?