Richard Knapp, A&E
Brothers Tito, Marlon, Jackie and Jermaine Jackson in rehearsals.

The only thing that could possibly be worse than a reality show about the Jacksons is a fake reality show about the Jacksons.

And the new A&E series "The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty" is about as natural as polyester. It's slightly less believable than the South Carolina governor's story about going hiking.

That's on top of the fact that — while they're incapable of admitting it — Tito, Jackie, Jermaine and Marlon Jackson are directly benefitting from the death of their brother, Michael.

That's harsh. But it's also the irrefutable truth.

The brothers open their "reality" show — the first two hours air Sunday at 10 and 11 p.m. on A&E — by telling viewers that they began filming in early 2009.

That's true. It was originally pitched to various networks with a tie to the production of a 40th anniversary Jackson 5 album.

But it's also true that no television outlet had stepped up to buy the rights until after Michael's death.

And "Jacksons" leans heavily on the missing brother. It's a major storyline.

There's nothing wrong with the remaining brothers making some money. But at least respect the audience enough to be upfront about it.

Don't show us a clip of Marlon at the funeral saying, "Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone."

His brothers can't leave Michael alone. They're using him to make money and return to the spotlight.

That's what is real about "The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty."

As for the rest of it, it's laughably bad television. It's so obviously scripted you can almost see the "actors" reading cue cards.

In the first hour, there are a pair of back-to-back scenes that are just painfully fake. Jermaine complains to his wife about his brothers; Jackie complains to their mother about Jermaine.

Stilted does not even begin to describe how wooden all four of them are. It's like watching bad community theater.

A trip to the old hometown in Gary, Ind., is as forced as can be. A fight among the brothers rings hollow. An "emotional" scene in which Jermaine unloads his years of hurt is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

You can just imagine the production meeting when someone said, "What can we do to manufacture some drama?" And Jermaine said, "Hey, I can summon up a few tears while I whine about how you guys all signed a contract and left me behind."

Maybe the Jackson brothers are just incapable of spontaneity. Maybe, after all these years in the spotlight — or, at least, near the spotlight — they've become so guarded they can't loosen up enough to show us anything genuine.

The whole thing feels like a fraud. Like they're acting in "The Hills."

For his part, Jermaine would be well advised to admit that the show is faked. Because he comes off as a petulant prima donna who, at 55, is way to old to be so immature.

All of this is pretty pathetic. But what's absolutely insufferable is the hypocrisy.

The guys who haven't exactly been stars for, well, decades whine about how tough it is to live in the spotlight. While, at the same time, they're trying to claw their way back into it.

They complain about the paparazzi snapping pictures of them while they're being filmed for a reality show.


And hanging over all of this is the fact that if Michael were still alive, it's entirely possible the pompously, ridiculously titled "Jacksons: A Family Dynasty" would never have made it on television at all.

"The world will never understand the family part of this. That we lost a brother. A sibling. They look at this on the business side," Jermaine says.

If you watch "The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty," it's impossible to look at it any other way.

e-mail: [email protected]