“Thicker Than Water”
Debuts on Bravo Sunday, November 10 at 9/8 Central
By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog
Jazz instrumentalist Ben Tankard is the latest gospel artist to secure a reality television program. “Thicker Than Water,” which premieres on Bravo Sunday evening, November 10, chronicles the life of Ben and Jewel Tankard and their blended and extended families. “We are the Black Brady Bunch,” Ben laughs at the outset, speaking from the family's palatial property outside Nashville, Tennessee.
First, those who expect to hear Ben Tankard’s music will be disappointed, at least in the first episode, where the closest we get to music is seeing gold records on the wall and a piano in the background. I hope later shows will feature his musical gift, just as other gospel artists’ unscripted dramas have done. We do, however, get to see a few minutes of Tankard as a minister, though his relaxed frankness in the pulpit is likely to spark mixed reactions from the church community.
On the show’s first episode, the Tankards grapple with the travails of raising older children. The youngest, Cyrene, is in high school, and courted by Josh, who asks her to the prom and gets the usual playful teasing by the family. Meanwhile, Brooklyn, a daughter in her early twenties, decides to run a half-marathon with essentially no training. As a marathoner, I cringed throughout this segment, but I won’t spoil the outcome.
On one hand, it is very gratifying, and long overdue, to see positive programs about African American families who are financially successful. While Bill Cosby’s 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show made great strides in this regard, the Tankards make the middle-upper class Cosbys look like underachievers.
The question is whether the average viewer will relate to “Thicker Than Water,” because this is parenthood by the one percent. The Tankards live in a mansion self-described, and accurately so, as “like Tara in Gone with the Wind.” They “do everything big”—indeed, the show opens with Ben and Jewel shopping for a private airplane (when’s the last time you did that?). Several aerial shots underscore the size of their estate. I question whether the ostentatiousness will resonate with the 99 percent who make up the audience. In other words, one can say "it's great to be rich" without saying "it's great to be rich."
If the first episode smacked of Kardashian-esque privilege, the sneak previews suggest that future episodes will focus more attention on intense family drama. I hope so. That makes for better television. But perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, reality television isn’t about anyone else's reality but those on the screen. The audience watches these programs out of the same sense of curiosity and escapism that drove Depression-weary theatergoers to ogle over the pretension of the aforementioned Gone With the Wind in 1939.
If I were the producers of “Thicker Than Water,” I’d tone down the bling and turn up the human side of the Tankard Family, so we can see that blood is indeed thicker than water. The first episode did not convince me of that premise.