The Judds' basic trajectory reads like Grey Gardens in reverse: Naomi and Wynonna made something out of nothing (as opposed to Big and Little Edie Beale, who made nothing out of virtual aristocracy). Still, watching Naomi and Wynonna interact during last night's two-hour premiere of their eponymous OWN show was like watching the country mouse equivalents of the cosmopolitan Beales.
Take away the Beales' pedigree, their crumbling mansion and the raccoons (but keep the cats!), and you see a very similar mother-and-daughter dynamic in the Judds. There's the codependency that's their lifelong destiny (Wynonna purchased land adjacent to Naomi's, ensuring they'll never be too far from each other), the pressure Naomi puts on Wynonna to perform, maternal belittling and, most importantly, the fixation on the past. The Judds, which documents their comeback/farewell 2010 tour, suggests that they live in a state of near-constant reminiscence. Their examination of and crying over past events could seem pathetic if they weren't millionaires whose futures will be a cakewalk compared to the majority of the world's population.
While they aren't as outlandish as the Beales, the Judds are not without oddness of their own. Naomi exhibits the eccentricity that comes with age and wealth, giving her dogs only bottled water and getting downright batty when selecting wardrobe for the tour. (She settles on a top that gives her makeshift wings made out of "pleated gold shimmery chiffon.") When receiving an injection for her pained knee, to cope with the intrusion she shouts, "Drink my bathwater, Pinhead!" Why? Because she can.
Wynonna, meanwhile, spouts a seemingly endless stream of compound self-help jargon. She says she has "survivor's guilt" resulting from continuing her career as a solo act when Naomi had to duck out of performing in 1991 on account of Hepatitis-C. Wynonna and her mother share a "trauma bond," and her weight gain was a result of "food soothing" (watch her eyes light up as Naomi melts butter in a pan). She refers to the Judds' past as "herstory," and you get the feeling that she isn't being particularly feminist or anything.
Quirks like those and the Judds' tendency to attach themselves to strangely named men (Wynonna's current boyfriend is Cactus Moser) make The Judds watchable reality TV, but to a point. A trauma bond is a delicate thing to build a show on — it makes for something voyeuristic without the salaciousness. The giggling over these women's weirdness stops whenever abuse or similar past trauma is mentioned. Wynonna seems to have a complicated relationship with her self-image and at one point predicts their tour could be a "big, old, ready-to-pop zit." That's vivid imagery for something that could "explode," but a denigrating way of describing one's art.
Then again, music is just part of what the Judds do. As flashbacks of them bickering on The Oprah Winfrey Show that play during The Judds suggest, hashing out their issues in public has long been essential to their image. Whether they are overly dramatic —the girls who cried, "Unrest!" — or justified, their dirty laundry is now under the microscope like never before. This may be their first reality show, but clearly, they know what they're doing. They're seasoned pros.