Calling all family therapists! The Teutels are back and more dysfunctional than ever
In a previous occupation, I was a sales representative to a family business that was must see TV—without the television set. Their family dynamic was off the hook.
The business was started by the father, Senior; the mother took care of the books; oldest son, Junior, made the deals, and two more siblings worked in operations. From time to time, Senior and Junior would get into a screaming match over something—and it couldn’t have been more entertaining.
I thought of this family when, years ago, I caught the first episode of American Chopper. Paul Sr.’s yelling and blustering to his sons, Paul Jr. (Paulie) and Michael (Mikey), reminded me of my former client.
Motorcycles are not my thing; this show’s appeal is strictly the family dynamic.
Previously, father, sons, and the talented staff of Orange County Choppers worked side-by-side creating custom choppers—truly beautiful works of art on two wheels—for corporations, celebrities, and organizations that auctioned them off for charity. My favorites are the Black Widow and the Fire bikes.
Like my former customer, Paul Sr. is a self-made man—a successful business owner with world famous brand. But he is also a recovering alcoholic, married twice and estranged from his three sons. He admitted, “I don’t talk to none of my sons… or they don’t talk to me.” (Son Daniel runs Orange County Ironworks, the original business that begat OCC.)
The old man and his sons are the center of the show, and this season, Paul Sr. is its dysfunctional core. Over the years, he and Paulie have clashed about their differing work styles and other issues which culminated in Paulie’s firing last year. But this season, the hostility stems from a lawsuitbetween father and son regarding ownership shares of OCC.
The old man is angry about Junior’s announcement that his new company, Paul Jr. Designs, is entering the family industry—custom choppers. He set up shop across the street from the original OCC garage and gathered some of the talent that helped build that business including his friend of many years, Vinnie DiMartino, and painter Robert “Nub” Collard. This competition has brought out the worst in the father.
The old man is lunacy on two wheels: he was enraged when Paulie wouldn’t work (at least to his standards) and now he’s totally bent out of shape that Paulie is working and doing what he knows and likes best – creating and building motorcycles.
Senior’s rants reflect the bad blood between these two: they make him appear bitter, mean-spirited, and practically a cheerleader for the failure of his son’s new venture.
He now seems obsessed with Junior. Senior drives by the new shop frequently, follows all of Junior’s moves on radio and TV, asks a group of students on a fieldtrip about what’s going on at Junior’s shop, and even tries to bribe a former staff member not work for Paulie. In one of his many turns as victim, Senior complains when his request to meet with Mikey is refused. His bitching and moaning about Paulie seems to have no end in sight and I’m not sure who I feel worst for—the son who has to put up with the slings from the old man or the old man’s employees who have become a captive audience to the vitriol regarding his son.
Junior, on the other hand, doesn’t spit quite as much fire as his old man. He gets his digs in but he’s so focused on getting his new business going, landing his first paying client (GEICO Insurance), and a wedding to his new wife that he knows that he doesn’t have time to bother with that nonsense.
On his own as he was at the end of last season, Senior is a loud, blustering bore. I now find myself fast-forwarding through the scenes of Paul Sr. because I can’t take his complaints about Paulie seriously. It all sounds like resentment and jealousy.
Paulie told the New York Post: “I’m always hopeful for a reconciliation but sometimes these things happen for a reason. Even though you never want dissension in any family, especially with your father, this has allowed me to break out and do things on my own.”
Caught in the middle of this drama is youngest son Mikey who, like his father, is a recovering alcoholic. Paul Sr. has said on more than one episode that he kept Mikey around because Mikey always made him laugh, and he was the perfect court jester for the always bellowing king. Sadly, Mikey’s departure underscores Paul Sr.’s general unpleasantness whose bark is no fun without a foil to play to. Conversely, Mikey and Paulie seem to have a good sibling relationship with Paulie supporting Mikey’s efforts to find and define himself with his various endeavors.
Mikey admits that ironwork was akin to torture for him and is now gone from both family businesses (he also worked at OC Ironworks). He is now trying to find the life’s path that best suits him. So far, he has tried stand-up comedy, music, art, and participating in charity fundraising events.
Senior and Junior’s split prompted TLC to cancel American Choppers earlier this year. After all, chopper assembly is not that interesting when everything is running on deadline without both focal points to create the real (family) drama. But within their dysfunctional rivalry, TLC saw a new angle and reinstated the show as “Senior vs. Junior.”
The cliffhanger of the Senior vs. Junior story will be the ongoing lawsuit which could possibly run for years but the success or failure of Paul Jr.’s shop will be the most interesting part of this new incarnation of the American Chopper story.