“People always want to know what it’s like to be a Jackson,” laments Tito Joe “TJ” Jackson, youngest son of The Jackson 5 favorite Tito Jackson and one of the stars of Lifetime’s new The Jacksons: Next Generation at the start of tonight’s series’ premiere. “I don’t know how to answer that, because I was never not a Jackson.”
The Jacksons: Next Generation isn’t the first time we’ve seen members of pop music’s First Family on an unscripted series since Michael died in 2009. Lifetime’s sister network A&E debuted the short-lived The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty later that year and TJ’s aunt La Toya had some success with her recent OWN series Life With La Toya.
But if tonight’s Next Generation premiere is any indication, this is by far the series that feels the least shackled to — and self-conscious of — the family’s larger-than-life rep. It’s a refreshing turn. The brothers come across as sincere, work-a-day, family guys (OK, Taryll’s fretfulness can be a bit much) instead of TV show characters.
Next Generation‘s central theme is Tito’s boys — TJ, 41-year-old Taj and 39-year-old Taryll — deciding whether to make a final go at their pop/R&B group 3T or concede that adult life has intruded far too much for that to happen. The brothers’ first album, 1995’s Brotherhood, sold 3 million copies and made them the proverbial “huge in Europe,” but lasting musical success hasn’t happened.
And each of the brothers has a different opinion on why that is so.
Despite being the youngest, TJ — 34 or 37 depending on where you look — comes off as being the most grounded and mature of the lot. The happily-married devoted dad to Royal, Dee Dee (named after her grandmother), Jo Jo, newborn Rio and stepkids Lexci and Sage, TJ is also co-guardian of Michael’s offspring Prince, Paris and Blanket with his own mother Katherine, whose sprawling home houses the entire lot.
Taryll is the most emotional of the group. He’s been with his partner — and primary sparring partner — Breana for almost a decade and the couple have two lively little boys. With his 40th birthday looming and his brothers waffling about the future of 3T, Taryll says he isn’t happy with anything in his life (his spare tire most especially) and he’s ready to take control of his future. Taryll remains haunted by Michael’s untimely death and the 1994 murder of the brothers’ mom, Dee Dee, by a boyfriend who wanted her to beg Michael for cash.
Aspiring filmmaker Taj has been married to Thayana for 2 years and — to Taryll’s chagrin — is more invested in making a documentary that sets the record straight about his legendary uncle and the family legacy than being a middle-aged pop star. Advised by a family friend to make sure not to add fuel to a long-scorching fire, Taj says if his mother doesn’t want him to make the film, he won’t. “You have to remember one thing,” Katherine gently advises her grandson. “People don’t want to know the truth.”
The splendidly dapper Tito Sr is the last to make an appearance on tonight’s premiere — and he’s a pleasant surprise, too.
Genial and clearly smitten with his family, “Poppa T” reminds his boys that they were raised to be respectful — especially to each other. But, like his middle son, the Next Generation patriarch believes that — like that of their dad and his brothers before them — their legacy is anchored in music.
The Jacksons: Next Generation airs Friday nights at 10/9CT on Lifetime.