Yes, yes, yes, even in this pause before the onslaught of the fall, there is plenty of scripted TV not in repeats and certainly, you should all still be watching the Three Bs--"Broadchurch," "Borgen" and "Breaking Bad." But everyone needs a change of pace, so here's my first (and possibly only) All Reality picks o' the week.
"Duck Dynasty": The beards 'n' bandannas of A&E's crazy-hot reality series "Duck Dynasty" are back, and if you aren't already one of the millions making the show the No. 2 cable series (behind "The Walking Dead"), it's time to survey the sitch-i-ation. The Robertson family of West Monroe, La., is indeed a masterpiece of cross-hatched American mythology, creating its own cultural sweet spot in which great wealth exists cheek by jowl with the kind of backwoods folksiness last seen on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Like Jed and all his kin, Phil Robertson and his family fulfilled the American dream by hitting it big, in their case with duck calls. But unlike the Clampetts, the Robertsons stayed put, remained true to their redneck ways and continued to respect the beard -- extreme facial hair most normally associated with prophets of the Old Testament and ZZ Top.
The fourth season, which premiered Wednesday, promises to shake things up down Duck Commander way. It opened with the typical combination of contrivance and spontaneity. To mark the 48th wedding anniversary of Phil and Miss Kay, the three Robertson daughters-in-law force their menfolk to help plan a "real" wedding. (The show's First Couple were married young by a justice of the peace.) Foot-draggin' hilarity ensued but more important, the heretofore unseen eldest son Alan showed up.
A clean-shaven preacher man, Alan was on hand ostensiibly to perform the ceremony, but actually he is now joining the new family business (the Robertsons recently negotiated a new contract with A&E). He seems at first something of a foil to the rest of the clan ("the black sheep," his brothers joke) but his personal grooming habits notwithstanding, he is not all that different from the rest of the family, all of whom are equally deft with one-liners and deadpan silence.
Which is the underlying mischief and attraction of "Duck Dynasty" -- the Robertsons are at once very sincere and in on their own joke. With their looks, they court assumptions that are true and then again not true. The telltale circular bulge of Skoal is real but so is the ability to oversee a wedding that is Martha-Stewart woodsy.
Likewise, the many stunts and scrapes the family finds itself in may be scripted but the moments that emerge are not. While re-exchanging their vows, Miss Kay reminds Phil of their early years in which "you were not very nice," using a tone that evokes years of forgiven pain, something not often seen on television.
Too often, especially recently, Americans are told they must choose between simple truths and sophistication. The idea that you can have both is the compelling call of "Duck Dynasty." That, and the beards. A&E, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
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"Modern Dads": Ever since "Four Men and a Baby" hit the big screen in in 1987, scripted shows have been exploring the hilarious aspects of bumbling men as primary caregivers with very mixed results -- though ABC Family's very middling "Baby Daddy" was recently given a third season, NBC's higher-profile "Guys With Kids" was canceled, and we don't even want to talk about what happened to "Up All Night."
Add to that the undeniably troubling aspect of featuring young children in a reality show--were the camera crews in "Nanny 911" helping the situation in any way, and how are the kids of "Teen Mom" going to feel in 10 or 15 years? -- and A&E's real-life look at "Modern Dads" seems doomed to disaster.
Except it isn't. It's kind of charming, actually, and more than a little funny, in part because the producers ("Real Housewives of New Jersey's" Siren media) have managed to cast four Austin, Texas, fathers who are personally, if not racially, diverse (they're all white guys). Quick-witted and mildly attractive, the these men actually seem to have engaged in stay-at-home parenting previous to being cast in "Modern Dads."
Watching Rick, an overweight veteran, literally juggle his pair of 1-year old twins as he plans their birthday party is alone worth the half-hour buy-in. Joining Rick, father of four aged 1 to 10, is Nathan, dad to 1-year old Cormac and a helicopter parent in the making; Sean, super-cool stepfather to Arwen, 8, and Joopsy, 5; and Stone, single dad to 5-year old Danica (as well as a 16- and 20-year-old who don't figure into the show.)
So OK, the show may skew to a demo that names their kids Cormac and Arwen (or, for that matter, Stone) but the pilot of "Modern Dads" manages to create situations in which the men can engage in the kind of banter most sitcoms would die for while doing things parents actually have to do--go shopping, plan parties, speak over the incessant interruptions.
The dirty little secret of parenting is not that it's difficult and fraught with potential mishaps but that it's often repetitive and boring. "Modern Dads" may exploit the whole dating dad (Stone) vs. committed dad (the rest of the guys) in a predictable way, but it also makes real life look a little bit fun. A&E, Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m.
"Doomsday Castle": Even with all the paranoid, manly men, "come the apocalypse, you'll be beating on my door begging for shelter and sidearms" prepping programs, this show is so over-the-top crazy, and I mean as in someone please-consult-the-DSM crazy, that you just have to watch.
Meet Brent Sr., a diehard prepper who lives his life in camouflage and has spent the last 15 years building a stronghold in the wilderness from which he and his family will keep the ravening hordes at bay when the world finally, and inevitably, goes to hell in a hand basket.
To that end, he has summoned his five young adult children (who apparently represent two step-ish families) to help him finish his deadly dream house, to prepare them to meet said ravening hordes of the apocalypse and, of course, to participate in this reality television program.
That Brent is a retired infantryman who claims to have trained many members of the American military is more than a tad troubling, though not as troubling as his decision, in the first episode, to have a few dozen of his "friends" attack his family, forcing them to the ground and chasing them through woods before lining them up, hands tied, execution-style. Brent Sr. wants to show his kids how ill-prepared they are to fight but the manic light in his eyes suggests something deeper.
A light that is echoed, it must be noted, in Brent Jr. A James Frain lookalike who would be cast as the villain in any period piece, he spends the first episode complaining about being stuck with the "women's work" of cleaning out the bunker while younger son Michael gets to build a drawbridge. Junior responds like any good Freudian -- he builds a super-duper battering ram to "test" his father's door.
Seriously. that is what he does. Two big logs on a tractor. The Patriarchy for Dummies.
Watching as much TV as I do, I cop to spending more than a little time calculating how best to prepare for the zombie apocalypse/alien invasion/massive power outage that sends society into disarray. So I am curious as to how Brent Sr. is going to whip these five young slackers into fighting shape. But mostly, I'm in it for the crazy. National Geographic, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun