[25 April 2007]
Reverend Run joins a growing line of celebs putting their domestic life on the small screen in a family reality series. Like Ozzy Osbourne before him, the selling point here is ironic juxtaposition: superstar rapper lives the wild and crazy high life in his business but has a normal family life at home.
Well, unlike Ozzy, Run’s music life isn’t that wild and crazy, anymore. He presides over a growing business empire that includes his own continuing rap projects, clothing lines in conjunction with his mogul brother, Russell Simmons, and various and sundry media and business endeavors his children are starting to put together. While back in the day, Run-DMC was one of the break-through rap groups and featured edgy performances, Run is now one of the elder statesmen of rap. He’s also a minister, and the image of a rapping minister is one he is good-naturedly humorous about here.
What separates Run’s family reality television show from others is that his has a sweet, chewy moral center. He ends each show with a small sermonette, usually delivered from his bubblebath, with him typing out a moral on his Blackberry. He presides over his blended family in suburban New Jersey, joined by his second wife, Justine, their young sons Russell (Russy) and Daniel (Diggy), and his kids from his first marriage, Vanessa, Angela, and Jojo, who are in their late teens and early 20s.
Run is exuberant, charismatic, and funny, and he deals with his kids with great care and integrity. While he’s happy to be silly and have fun, his main goal is for them to reach their potential and for the family to be a loving one. They may be the most functional family on TV, and the buoyancy of it all is compelling. The extensive cast interviews included in the DVD extras also place a big emphasis on their family bonds, which help them deal with their growing fame as a family.
They live a life of luxury, replete with a swank house, nice cars, and great opportunities in the entertainment industry, but this is no Sweet Sixteen. Run works hard not to spoil his kids. When Vanessa, a model, and Angela want to move into a penthouse in Manhattan, Run makes them look for something more in line with their budget, and they end up deciding to stay at home for longer because of it. When Jojo wants to break into the music and fashion industry with help from his uncle Russell, Russell tells him he has to work for it and maybe intern or learn the ropes. When Angela wants to start her own teen magazine, Run supports her and gives her his publishing contacts, but he insists that she do the legwork to land interviews, design a look for the magazine, and make things happen. Run emphasizes to his kids how much he believes in them and their dreams, but he also always makes them aware of the hard work involved in their endeavors and how much they need to earn the things they want.
With his younger sons, Run has to do more active parenting, often with hilarious results. Frequently meeting up with them on their indoor basketball court, Run shoots hoops with them and deals with their quotidinal domestic crises. Russy has an anger problem with his GameBoy—he keeps breaking it when he loses a game. Run gives Russy a dose of Socratic questioning to help him figure out the error in his ways. Even though the father is firm with the son, their banter is always sweet and supportive. After he and his wife try to work with Russy and get to the bottom of the problem, they realize Russy has a lot of frustration and they take him to a child therapist to get him some help; they make him earn money by doing chores in order to replace the GameBoy. The frustrated child and video game problem is one many parents can empathize with. Diggy, meanwhile, likes swank clothes and suave fur coats, but he likes them a little too much and wants a few too many of them, so Run has to get him to realize his own privilege.
The Simmons family goes through life events and crises that are also relatable. While Run is often highly stressed about juggling his work life and his home life, and his wife often wants him to help out more at home, when he needs to rise to the occasion, he does so in an inspiring way. To emphasize his commitment to Justine, he throws a surprise ceremony in which they renew their vows, and the kids pitch in to help make sure the event goes well.
He often holds family meetings where he asks how each kid is doing and they all talk about things that are going well and things they need to work on. Run faces the idea that his two daughters are set to move out at the end of season two, each one wanting to move forward in her own career. He struggles with the mixed feelings any parent would have at the prospect of their growing up and moving out. In promotional scenes now appearing on MTV for the third season, which is about to start airing, we see how he deals with a crisis: his wife has a miscarriage and he must find a way to help his younger kids understand it.
Religious themes are prevalent in the show, but they mostly take the form of moral lessons and a sense of collective faith. It is the kind of moral undercurrent Run emphasizes that makes this series have a sense of gravity or relevance underneath the frothy family fun. But the frivolity is certainly a big part of it, too. The big, blended family clearly enjoys spending time together, so the fun and games, ranging from kid birthday parties to practical jokes to vacation trips, are boisterous and endearing.
Run does Father Knows Best with an edge, but the edge is ultimately a sweet one.