Before I started watching the first season and second season premiere of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, I’d heard through the general media ether that this show was knee-slappingly funny. That I wouldn’t be able to get enough of the characters, and that I would laugh my gosh-darn Yankee head off at this quirky bayou reality show. If I were the type of girl who enjoys pulling a sarcastic “um, yeah … about that …” I’d do that right now. But, I’m not. What the heck, let’s give it a try just this once, for kicks: “Um, yeah … about that …”
Duck Dynasty was not a funny television show. And yet, I don’t even know if that is a fair appraisal of this show because of the following: I couldn’t even detect what elements of the show were supposed to be comedically satisfying. For example, I’ve never laughed out loud at the show Friends, but I can definitely identify the parts of the show that were meant to induce laughter. Duck Dynasty (from this point to be identified as simply DD) just shows a family doing stuff in a pretty regular way. They are from Louisiana and seem to engage in very typical regional hobbies (duck hunting, frog catching, cooking, etc). The show has premise, and plot, but nothing particularly unusual or insightful that would strike the right series of nerve connections in the brain as to release some little squirts of serotonin and cause the epiglottis to constrict the larynx and maybe do some body jiggles that would end up as what we call laughter. Or, even, interest.
The premise of the show is that the once impoverished Robertson family has amassed fame and fortune as a result of the success of their West Monroe, Louisiana duck call company “Duck Commander.” A duck call is the term for a little gizmo that imitates the sound of a duck when you blow into it. This sound is used to lure ducks and then hunt them. The plot of each episode varies: in one episode, for example, the men of the Robertson clan teach Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson’s daughter Sadie to drive, and she’s bad at it. There’s the catch. I think the producers of the show thought that this was enough to be entertaining. However, this setup has no unusual thing, no “game of the scene” to put it in comedy terms. People with Southern accents teaching a young girl to drive who is not yet proficient at driving is not particularly unusual. Larry David, for example, teaching a young girl to drive would probably be super funny, because he’s able to access the little quirks of thought and speech that can transform an everyday occurrence into profound comedy theater. Shows “about nothing” only work if the people at the helm of the experience have a comedic, insightful worldview, a trait which the improv-actors (is this not the role of the reality show star?) on DD certainly do not possess.
There is actually quite a bit of marrow to suck out of the dry bone of television experience that is DD, in regards to the portrayal of religion, socio-economic status, gender roles, and American nostalgia, to name a few. Perhaps all of that would make for an interesting essay at some other time. However, DD is on fairly late at night, so for now, I’ll leave you with a few assorted thoughts about the show.
1) The show is fantastic from an aesthetic and sartorial perspective. The men of DD have these beautiful, flowing, rugged beards that I personally find to be extremely attractive. Beards of which any cool-looking-guy-they-panned-across-in-the-Woodstock-documentary or Hasid rabbi or Appalachian Mountain Man would be jealous. They also wear their headbands in the way headbands should be worn for men and women, but especially men (around the forehead), and don weird overalls and giant military jackets that just look really cool.
2) In a scene from last season, Willie’s father Phil, the grizzled patriarch of the family, gives advice to his grandson about love and dating while they are breaking apart frog legs to cook. Phil suggests that his grandson should find himself a “meek” country girl who “knows how to cook, carries her Bible and lives by it, and loves to eat bullfrog.” In another scene, Phil asserts that it’s important for women to get back in the kitchen, “especially in this culture.” After one of his granddaughter’s shoots a wooden duck with a BB gun, Phil exclaims, “One more yuppie girl moved just a little closer to being a redneck. There’s still hope for America out there.” Ah, yes, a bold new vision for a Redneck America with the women in the kitchen. Make of these comments what you will, I don’t want to get into it.
3) There is bluegrass music under every single second of the show. I think they call this incidental music. It’s incessant. Just so we don’t forget that they’re in the South.
4) The Robertsons refer to themselves as Pioneer People who “live off the land” so many times throughout the series, you’d think they weren’t the heads of a multi-million dollar corporation whose success relies largely upon a significant internet, and now television, presence.
My apologies if this review was a bit harsh. This week I saw the new film Looper, watched that insanely good latest episode of Homeland, and also re-watched some old Mr. Show episodes; perhaps this flimsy reality concept was dwarfed in comparison to such stellar scripted material. I wish the Robertsons all the best in their future endeavors, G-d love ‘em. The show is actually fine to have on in the background of doing other stuff, and we all know that that’s an important category of television in its own right.
Rebecca Gold can be found on Twitter @Rebeccalgold