[15 August 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels is The Osbournes without the obscenities. Once again, a seemingly antisocial and arrogant rock icon (KISS’ “Demon”) turns out to be a sharp, smart businessman with a solid family unit and a soft and cuddly offstage demeanor. A man of many words, Gene Simmons is surrounded by genuine affection. “Happily unmarried” to former Playmate and occasional B-movie action queen Shannon Tweed for nearly 25 years, he also has a wonderfully centered pair of kids, 13-year-old Sophie and Nick, 17 and 6’ 7”.
While Simmons himself can be controversial, with larger than life ideals to match his well-managed persona, his second stab at reality fame (after the refreshing Rock School) is more homespun than hype. If you’re interested in getting a behind-the-scenes peak at how the bombastic bass player with a tongue the size of a sheltie makes his interpersonal relationships work, you’re in for a pleasant, engaging surprise.
To an extent, Simmons’ show replicates the success of another series featuring a performer with the same last name, Rev. Joseph Simmons’ terribly endearing Run’s House. Family Jewels uses the KISS star’s personal philosophy and demeanor to showcase standard family “issues” resolved sitcom-style. At times, we feel concepts being forced on the Simmons clan—Sophie goes to a fashion show and gets hit on by slimy older men, a surprise birthday party for Shannon turns into an ambush wedding -– but overall, the show if focused on the family’s interactions.
Some of these suggest Simmons is a regular guy. Sure, he’s a multimillionaire philanthropist, living in the American equivalent of a British manor, but he still screws up every now and then. When his son asks for help with his band (Nick is a reluctantly aspiring rocker), Dad gets out the flowcharts, the logo mock-ups, and trademarks the name before Nick even meets with the other members. When they question the name he has picked out for them (“Chrome”), Simmons assures them, “Unless someone else has secured the legal paperwork, no one else owns it.” Fine, but it’s all a few steps beyond the band’s current stage. They just want to play music.
Similarly, Simmons’ public façade seems incredibly phony once we’ve seen the God of Thunder cleaning out the litter box and scrubbing the toilets. Unlike The Osbournes, which featured a never-ending stream of hangers-on and lackeys, Family Jewels is surprisingly posse-free. The kids appear so well-adjusted they hardly fit in with the overload of self-conscious adolescents taking up space on the small screen. That’s not to say they don’t perform on occasion. They do love to mock their father with well-rehearsed phrases (“Dad could sell vaginas in a hooker rainstorm,” “Dad buying jewelry is like sending a dog out to buy cat food”) and often appear cheeky for the sake of the camera.
Tweed, by contrast, tends to fade into the background, standing to the side as Dad dispenses his hair-brained maxims (“Marriage is an institution, and you have to be crazy to want in”). Aside from shopping with her sister, she takes the time to cook meals, gather the laundry, and discuss pressing issues with her man. Both say they have a sexually open living arrangement. From what we understand, as long as they’re honest, any “affairs” are treated as the necessary evil in their otherwise utopian relationship.
Simmons has built his entire persona on his a “no marriage” mantra that he has carried over into spoken word appearance (as witnessed on the wonderful DVD documentary Speaking in Tongues) and interviews. Yet, one imagines that Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels won’t be following the couple into someone else’s bedroom. The discussion sounds like male menopausal bluster, the extension of a performance that keeps the 57-year-old in tune with his fan base. Besides, Tweed and he look very happy together, glowing with a kind of mutual respect that few who have been together so long exhibit. When Sharon and Ozzy snuggled, it was more maternal than passionate. When Tweed and Simmons hit the hay, anything seems possible.
Simmons is, of course, the star, if only because he shows complexity and self-understanding. At home, he has a low, sonorous voice that seems to resonate from deep inside his soul. In public, however, his timber takes on a pinched quality, almost as if he is making fun of the people pawing him for attention. The difference is striking. While he will always be an outspoken leader of the “rock and roll all night and party everyday” ideal, he’s someone else once the make-up comes off.