Reality Bites: Duck Dynasty

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Up until about 15 minutes before watching this show, I had almost no idea what Duck Dynasty was about. I half hoped it was nothing but 30 minutes of following the famous ducks of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. How they'd scamper and cavort to the delight of that venerable hotel's guests, as well as an appreciative TV audience.

Yeah, not so much. I'll give the folks of Duck Dynasty this: While they may embody some of the more...colorful Southern stereotypes, they don't fail to entertain. And of all the terrifying shows I've been subjected to since I started "Reality Bites," this and Full Metal Jousting are the only two I'd consider putting in regular viewing rotation.

Sorry, Ghost Adventures.

The Robertson family made a fortune on duck calls. That's really the only background you need. Duck Commander, formed in 1973, sells duck calls calibrated to sound like different waterfowl. I was mildly surprised to learn this would be enough to lift the Robertsons out of poverty, but when you're charging $130 for a "Mallard Green Acryclic," it adds up.

This rags-to-cleaner-rags story is quintessentially American. Where else but in the US of A could a family of hirsute outdoorsmen sell birdcalls to thousands of fellow firearm enthusiasts, giving said family the financial independence to shoot critters and blow shit up full time?

Willie, the second son of four (oldest son Alan left the family business to become a pastor), is CEO of Duck Commander. He's an easygoing and affable fellow, and I'd be willing to lay good money on the odds he's the only Chief Executive Officer in the Western hemisphere with a beard down to his chest.

The rest of the male family members make up the bulk of what passes for Duck Commander's executive board. Father Phil, the founder, needles his sons incessantly, but not without affection. His brother, Uncle SI ("You can't spell 'squirrel' without 'SI'") is another surprisingly laid-back sort, and both he and Phil are off-kilter in the way I suspect spending the bulk of one's life surrounded by swamp tends to make you. Two of Willie's younger brothers also share screen time. Jep doesn't talk much, which tends to happen with the youngest sibling, while second youngest Jase is an honestly funny dude. He's at his best when needling Willie for being, in essence, a "suit man" (re: frog hunting, both the boat driver and frog catcher must be accomplished sportsmen, "but the ice chest man can be any human being, so that was Willie's job").

And did I mention they're all hairy? [Seinfeld]What's the deal with all those beards?[/Seinfeld] Watching the DC production meeting is like being backstage at a My Morning Jacket show.*

The "production meeting" in the episode I watched ("Redneck Logic") was mercifully short. Hell, most meetings should end with the CEO's father coming in and telling them his brilliant plant to replace an old duck blind. In this case, with a refurbished RV hoisted into the trees in its place. Naturally, they have to get rid of the old blind first. With extreme prejudice.

Willie may not be a conventional Chief Executive Officer, but ask yourself this: Would you rather play a round of golf with the head of Wells Fargo while discussing whether or not Steve Forbes should get into the Presidential race in between throwing quarters at your non English-speaking caddy, or pack an old duck blind with dynamite and send it to hell (or the lumber equivalent thereof)? That's what I thought.

["Redneck logic" refers to the best way to take something away from a redneck, which is to blow it up so he'll be distracted from the loss by the pretty flames. I've lived in the South long enough not to laugh too much at this assertion.]

To my surprise, I mostly found myself enjoying the show. The back-and-forth between the brothers and Phil and SI was often hilarious, and there's little of the backbiting and endless bitching that goes on in most reality shows.

Contrary to what some might think, I don't come into these things looking to do a hatchet job. It's simply the nature of reality television programming that the participants are largely grotesque caricatures of humanity. Schadenfreude dictates that people enjoy snickering at the antics of the less civilized among us, which is how you get four seasons of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. DD is probably (likely) just as scripted as any of the others, but at least this time around the writers are going mostly for comedy.

The Robertson wives are present in the show, but played a smaller role in this episode. Phil's wife Miss Kay is mildly perturbed to discover she has "hoarding tendencies" and elects to get together with her daughters-in-law to have a yard sale. She also blames her and Phil's mutual mental imbalances for the way the kids turned out like they did. How refreshing to hear a parent taking responsibility for screwing up her children like that.

She also eats squirrel brains. Whatever. I've hung around the Eating Our Words folks enough to know better than to criticize something I've never tasted.

Phil's plan to replace the blind with an old RV ("the mother of all duck blinds") runs into a few snags. Benefits, as Willie tells us, of being a rich redneck. ("You can just get an army of rednecks to do whatever you need.") An army of these fellows may sound terrifying to the more well-heeled members of society, but just keep some Skynyrd on your iPod and a few bottles of Jack Daniel's for emergencies and you should be fine.

The new blind is up and running in short order, but not until Phil decides to answer the age-old question, "What would happen if you threw a possum on a man?" His theory (marriage to a yuppie woman and a move to the suburbs) is intriguing, but all that ends up happening to Willie is a phantom leg injury that prevents him from any subsequent heavy lifting.

Fun fact: Phil Robertson was ahead of Terry Bradshaw on the depth chart for QB at Louisiana Tech, but left school with a year of eligibility left in order to hunt ducks. He also has a master's in Education.

Another fun fact: SI's been bit by a snake 27 times. Presumably not the same snake.

It was interesting, for once, to watch a reality show about a family where most everyone gets along with one another and doesn't spend each day bitching about absolutely everything like a Kardashian or scheming to fuck people over like a Real Housewife. The Robertsons may be a bit "colorful," but they obviously care for one another and seem genuinely happy to spend time together.

*Never mind, further research tells me they don't shave or wash their clothes during the ten-week duck season.

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