Family Legacy on MTV review: promises unheard of insight but falls short
n its opening montage, Family Legacy promises a completely unique and unguarded look into the lives of musical icons including Linkin Park’s late vocalist Chester Bennington, hip-hop pioneers Notorious BIG and P Diddy, hugely successful groups like TLC, N*SYNC, Backstreet Boys , Rn’B figureheads such as Brandy, and alt-rocker Melissa Etheridge .
Narrated by the children of these famous folk – who offer a unique perspective – it has the potential to offer up something truly revealing, but instead sticks to the far safer (and altogether more boring) territory of a puff piece for MTV, which was a producer on the documentary.
While Family Legacy tentatively touches on the downsides of growing up in the shadow of fame, it broadly glosses over what feels like the most interesting aspect of the entire endeavor. Andrew Hagar – the singer-songwriter son of Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar – speaks briefly about his own struggles with “self-medicating,” substance addiction and the instability of spending time with his father on the road, but the documentary fails to really unpick how these experiences have colored Hager Jr’s own journey into the music industry.
Nathan Morris Jr – the son of Boyz II Men’s resident baritone Nathan Morris – insisted that he had a fairly unremarkable upbringing, before adding that the pandemic marked the first extended period of time he’d spent with his constantly-touring parent. We also hear from Notorious BIG’s son Christopher “CJ” Wallace who treasures the only photo he has together with his late father (the rapper was murdered before Wallace’s first birthday).
It’s undeniably affecting, too, hearing from Draven Bennington, son of Linkin Park’s late frontman Chester. The band’s lead vocalist died by suicide in 2017, when Draven was just 15 years old. “I thought he was going to see me graduate high school and get my first girlfriend, and that never happened,” he says, before his mother Samantha steps into a shot to comfort him. “He was glued to the family, and he felt quite lost without him.”
During his segment of the first episode, Draven shows MTV the vintage Mercedes Bennington would sit in while previewing unreleased Linkin Park songs on the stereo, and speaks about his early memories of his father with warmth and affection.
Elsewhere, however, Family Legacy suffers from a lack of scope. Though it makes a perfect sense that MTV would start by drawing on their vast archives of old footage in order to tell these stars’ stories, the series often winds up feeling like an extended advert for the admittedly-influential cable channel.
Interesting or more conflicting elements of these artists’ stories are forgotten about in favor of celebrating countless clips from shows like Total Request Live and Yo! MTV Rap, as well as footage from various editions of the VMA Awards. Each musical offspring kicks off their section of the documentary by throwing open the door and backing the camera in, MTV Cribs style.
Occasionally, Family Legacy’s various celebrity parents make brief cameos, and seeing them in candid mode, interacting with family, is possibly the most revealing part of the series. Joey Fatone, of N*SYNC fame, is particularly amusing, gently chiding his daughter Briahna as she mocks his choreography for the group’s hit single Bye Bye Bye. “It paid for your college!” he exclaims, out of shot.
Baylee Literall – the musician son of Backstreet Boys’ Brian Literall – also shares a funny anecdote about commandeering a walkie-talkie while on the road with his dad as a young child. “I always thought I was going to be a security guard for the Backstreet Boys,” he laughs.
Though it’s intriguing enough watching a fresh-faced Backstreet Boys lead to a New York studio to tears at the cusp of global fame, and seeing Notorious BIG making one of his earliest TV appearances as a green new rapper, it begins to grate as guest after guest waxes lyrically about how crossing paths with MTV was the pinnacle of their parents’ entire careers. More challenging moments in many of these subjects’ lives are ignored entirely, while other achievements like multiple Grammys fail to get a look-in.
Despite promising never-unearthed insights and “inside scoop” from the people who know these icons best, much of Family Legacy instead presents a potted history of various artists’ brushes with MTV.
Family Legacy premieres on April 26 on Paramount+