Redneck culture seems to have seeped its way into popular culture in the last year or so, mostly through reality TV, specifically TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” The show has been a huge success for TLC and works largely on the same level that family sitcoms did in the 80’s. Shows like “Roseanne” or “Married…With Children” resonated with audiences because they showed them that their own dysfunctional family wasn’t that bad after all and there’s always someone more messed up out there than you are. It took the pressure off of people who felt they needed to be perfect and squeaky clean like the Huxtables or the Keatons. “Honey Boo Boo” offers a very similar experience and has served to normalize redneck culture to the mass audience. It’s appealing because you can either identify directly with the show or you can revel in the train wreck appeal of a life that happens so close to home yet it is so foreign to what you know. There is a certain wink and a nod to “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” that lets you know that they’re in on the joke. This self-awareness makes a viewer hate themselves a little less for enjoying the show.
History Channel’s alligator hunting reality show “Swamp People” offers a different angle on redneck culture but unlike “Honey Boo Boo,” takes itself completely seriously and lacks the self-awareness to realize that the subjects of the show should be viewed as comedy figures rather than sporting heroes. There is no wink or nod here. “Swamp People” ties you up and shoots you in the face with is premise.
The show just debuted its fourth season last Thursday night, winning the night on cable in total viewers (4.4 million) and 18-49 rating (1.8), so clearly this is a show with appeal; I’m just having trouble seeing it. The focus of “Swamp People” is on the 30 day Louisiana alligator hunting season, which I now understand is very competitive and very lucrative. Hunters are allotted a certain number of “tags” each season, each gator you bag gets a tag and once you’re out of tags, your hunting season is done, so the goal seems to be to “tag out” before the season is done and to save your tags for the biggest, most valuable alligators.
There is a rotating, but consistent crew of hunters that the show follows. Star of the show is Troy Landry who I suppose has the most every-man appeal of any of the hunters. Bruce Mitchell certainly has the most interesting look with his overalls that he wears over nothing along with his red, white, and blue do-rag on top. R.J. Molinere might provide the only true human interest element to the show as a Native American who has found himself marginalized in Louisiana as well as in the Native community.
A typical episode of the show follows the hunters as they head out on their boats to find some alligators. They typically, but not always, go out in pairs and once they catch up to a gator, one of them will tie him down and the other one shoots the animal point-blank. Everything except the bullet entering the alligator is shown on camera. This process repeats itself over the length of the 60-minute program with the final few minutes dedicated to showing some personal family time of the hunters. There is surprisingly little drama within an episode and over a stretch of episodes; story lines are all but non-existent.
Hunter Mitchell Guist passed away midway through filming of the season in an unrelated incident not a part of the show. The death was not exploited on the show but the episode “Voodoo Bayou” was dedicated in his honor.
The 6-disc collection features 3-4 episodes per disc which makes for pretty decent video quality. The show is presented in the same widescreen format as it is broadcast in but obviously is lacking the HD broadcast video quality. The show itself is well shot with some nice wildlife and aerial shots of the rivers being hunted on. A Blu-ray release could have better showcased how nice the show looks.
“Swamp People” is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio, nothing spectacular, but pretty standard for a show of this type on DVD. There is a bit of dramatic background music through the show, mostly the tension building march-like snare drum kind of stuff. It’s pretty far back in the mix with the dialogue and boat-speeding, water splashing sound effects being at the forefront. Oh, about the dialogue; the Cajun accents of the cast on this show are downright unintelligible to a common English speaking person, but fortunately nearly every word they say is automatically subtitled for you.
Not much for special features on this collection other than about a half hour of unaired footage that is spread between discs 5 and 6. It’s the same kind of material found within the body of the show so it’s only worth a look if 22 episodes of watching gators getting shot in the head isn’t enough for you.
“Swamp People” is not for everybody. It’s not a redneck kind of show like “Honey Boo Boo” that you can watch ironically and laugh at the antics of a subculture a few hours down the interstate. “Swamp People” knows what it does well and what its audience wants to see. It’s not about laughing at the silly rednecks; this is men doing what men have been doing for centuries, hunting down and killing your own dinner. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the most satisfying television, but clearly this show has an audience. If you’re not interested in watching a repetitive show of guys chasing alligators in boats, I’d suggest you don’t even dip your toes in the water.