THE JACKSONS: A FAMILY DYNASTY. 9 p.m. Sunday, A&E.
HERE'S A tip for all the people who've ever thought about doing a "reality" show to show the rest of us they're normal: Don't bother.
First, there's nothing normal about encouraging people with cameras to follow you as you go about your daily life.
Second, even the appearance of "normal" - whatever that is - can be pretty boring.
Which brings us to A&E's latest excursion into "reality," "The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty," a six-part series about some of Michael and Janet's siblings and their offspring that tries to add two fiftysomethings and two more fiftysomethings and convince us they're still the Jackson 5.
Premiering Sunday in back-to-back episodes, the first of which began production as a special before Michael Jackson's death, "The Jacksons" starts with plans for the 40th anniversary of the Jackson 5, and for a new album, to be recorded, not surprisingly, without the superstar brother. (A second hour, "Aftermath," deals with Michael's death, which occurs toward the end of the first episode.)
"After 40 years of show business, this is the first time that we'll let the cameras into our personal lives," says Tito Jackson, who insists, "I basically just want the cameras to roll and see who the brothers are."
First, though, for those whose Jackson 5 memories still include power-blue suits and big Afros, a primer: Tito's the guy in the bowler hat. (Actually, many, many bowler hats.) Marlon sports a mustache. Jackie's the oldest, and looks it. Jermaine's still, well, Jermaine.
People, we're told, have all sorts of misconceptions about the Jackson family.
"They don't think we're as close as we are," says Jermaine, whose role in the family seems to be to unite the other three - against him.
"We're a family like everyone else," adds Jackie.
And in one sense, he's right. Because most adult siblings, musical background or not, would have problems putting a major project together decades after going their separate ways.
"Making a Jacksons record is not easy," complains Tito. "Any other projects are going to have to go bye-bye and all that. Jackie's in the studio, working with his son [Siggy, aka DealZ], trying to finish up Siggy's album. Marlon's in Nigeria, trying to find his roots, I don't know where Jermaine is. He gets so busy that [I] can't keep up with him."
But then Tito can be tough. Critiquing his brothers as they attempt a bit of harmony, he tells them: "It sounds thin. It sounds like the Supremes."
Um, not quite.
Then it's off to a dance studio, where the four middle-aged men try to learn the moves that their young instructor admits were probably theirs in the first place.
Let's just say that "Dancing with the Stars," it's not.
We briefly see matriarch Katherine Jackson in what looks very much like a staged bit, urging Jackie to take his brothers and head back to the family's hometown of Gary, Ind., but the Jacksons' father, Joe, is conspicuous by his absence, though there's an equally fake-sounding discussion between Tito and Marlon that seems aimed at polishing his image a bit.
"Everybody likes to say that my father was rough or whatever," says Tito. "I think he did the things the way he knew how and everything he did do, especially for his family, turned out to be a success."
"It made us who we are today," agrees Marlon, seemingly without irony.
Also missing from the show, at least so far: Michael's three children.
From a child-welfare point of view, that can only be considered a good thing, even if some of the kids' older cousins are seen here promoting their own music careers.
But as it stands now, "The Jacksons" is likely to test the devotion of even the most avid of the family's fans as it delves way too deeply into such issues as whether Jermaine skipped a photo shoot because he had pink eye, or because he was mad at the other three.
Not that I wouldn't have loved to have heard his wife, Halima, explain exactly what she meant when she said she sometimes avoids speaking to her mother-in-law because "she makes me cry."
Still, if I wanted manufactured drama, I'd be watching "The Real Housewives of Gary, Ind."
It's not until well into the second hour, after Tito and Jermaine visit a pair of music producers who've worked with their sister Janet, that someone finally acknowledges the elephant in the room (and I'm pretty sure he waits until the Jackson brothers have left that room).
"The only problem that we have now is that we don't have Michael as part of the Jackson sound. It was the Jackson 5, not the Jackson 4," says producer Terry Lewis.