I am not a fan of reality television. I did some dabbling in the early seasons of “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “The Osbournes” and “Big Brother.” Since then I have partaken of the random episodes of “Biggest Loser,” “Deadliest Catch,” “The Voice,” “Hoarders,” and any one of the multitudes of cooking competition shows.
But for the most part, I steer clear of reality TV because typically the most awful people are rewarded with the most screen time; the stakes and the drama are usually hyper-inflated to the point of absurdity, and we are invited to gawk with horror and amazement at the extreme lifestyles of any number of attention-seeking weirdos.
A lot like cotton candy, there’s only so much schadenfreude I can enjoy before I start to feel queasy.
Based on my previous record, I was just as surprised as anyone that one of my current favorite shows has turned out to be “Duck Dynasty.”
Apparently, I am not alone as the A&E channel’s reality TV hit has been shattering cable rating records since the debut of its third season this month.
For the uninitiated, “Duck Dynasty” follows the Robertson clan led by patriarch Phil, a man who went from humble Louisiana outdoorsman to millionaire businessman thanks primarily to the sales of the Duck Commander duck call.
On the surface, this is just a run-of-the-mill, I-can’t-believe-people-live-like-that reality show; all the Robertson men look like extras from a “Deliverance” casting call, eternally sporting long beards and a camouflage wardrobe.
But the fact of the matter is this show is more “reality” TV (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) that is brilliantly contrived and executed to the point that I would actually rank it just behind “Parks and Recreation” and “New Girl” as one of television’s best sitcoms.
Like any great sitcom, it has to be built around a core of strong characters, any one of which is capable of carrying the show solo for long stretches.
Phil is the wise elder with all the answers, capable of coolly resolving any wacky situation that comes his way. He’s also a pretty fascinating dude in his own right, boasting a master’s degree in education and an impressive athletic career (he played quarterback at Louisiana Tech, starting ahead of Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw) that he gave up because it got in the way of duck hunting.
Phil’s son, Willie, runs the company and tries his exasperated best to be the voice of reason (and often fails) when dealing with the hijinks of his family members/employees.
Jase is Willie’s older brother and boasts the quickest wit of the lot. He has abdicated most of his responsibility in the family business in favor of a more relaxed lifestyle. He also takes great pride and pleasure in annoying Willie.
Then we have Phil’s brother, Si, who is effectively the Kramer of “Duck Dynasty.” Si is a Vietnam vet with more than a few screws loose who is capable of doing pretty much anything at any time. The man is a walking non-sequitur, as hilarious a black sheep as any family could hope for.
Filling out the supporting cast is an array of wives, kids, relations, and employees that serve to add color and show the different sides of our core characters.
Like any of the classic sitcoms, there is a lot of friction, but no real animosity between the characters. No matter how many laughs and little life lessons each episode offers up, nobody really grows, nothing really changes and each episode ends pretty much where it started.
Perhaps what is most interesting about “Duck Dynasty” is how it exists as a hybrid between scripted and reality TV. Most of the situations are clearly staged and most of the one-liners produced in the interview sessions are most likely produced by a team of writers.
Even still, this is a family that has a lot of love for each other and as a group of educated rednecks (with the exception of Si), they are self-aware enough to know that they can get a long way by defying the expectations of those judging their book by their camo-draped covers.
I find this show to be as endearing as it is funny. Perhaps there is a relatability factor (as a graduate of Oklahoma State University, several of my close, personal friends are educated rednecks), but more than that, I think it is like any great sitcom; it’s all about coming back every week to spend time with a group of people who are a whole lot of fun to hang out with.
And that’s a fact, Jack.