Review: 'Hollywood Hillbillies' -- how did it take so long?
By MARY MCNAMARA and Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Jan 20, 2014 | 4:54 PM
It's difficult to believe it has taken this long for a show like Reelz's "Hollywood Hillbillies" to enter the reality TV landscape. An unfiltered family from Georgia making their way through Tinseltown seems a no-brainer, a real-ish life version of "The Beverly Hillbillies."
But early family 'n' friends situational programming favored skewering the young ("Big Brother," "The Hills"), the rich (those "Real Housewives") and the extraordinary ("Jon and Kate Plus Eight"). Only recently have the resolutely red-state made their mark, with "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "Duck Dynasty" representing two ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.
"Hollywood Hillbillies," arriving on Tuesday, has the added attraction of being a creature of social media. A few years ago, young Michael Kittrell became a YouTube sensation with his Angry Ginger rant; this is the story of what happens next. Michael moves to L.A. in hopes of expanding his overnight brand and, this show being part of that venture, he has a posse of colorful family members in tow, including grandmother Mema, aunt Dee Dee and uncle "Big" John.
As in the fictional "Beverly" version, Mema figures heavily. Though she doesn't think much of the rest of her family, Michael, whom she raised, is the apple of her eye, and no sweet-talking, deal-making Hollywood type is going to take advantage of him. Big John is there to provide muscle, a male authority figure and a general good ol' boy vibe, while Dee Dee, traveling with her strangely silent beau, offers "country mouse in the big city" running commentary.
Which makes "Hollywood Hillbillies" at once celebratory and dismissive of both rural Georgia residents and Los Angeles; how can it miss?
Between the YouTube connection and the headin' to Hollywood conceit, "Hollywood Hillbillies" is as honest a reality show as you're going to find on TV in that it actually acknowledges the fact that these people are starring in a television show.
The setup is rote by now, scenes from "real life" peppered with interviews in which the stars comment on how they are feeling about things. But from the moment Michael and his family arrive at the sort of Spanish style McMansion featured in so many seasons of "The Bachelor" (and skewered in the first season of Showtime's "Episodes"), an intriguing multilevel commentary takes hold.
On the one hand, "Hollywood Hillbillies" is precisely what it bills itself to be: the fish out of water exploits of a down-home family trying to make its way through a typically sun and sin drenched vista of Los Angeles. On the other, it is a look at how these sorts of shows, and careers happen. The family's meeting with Michael's manager, for instance, is clearly staged, and yet the rhetoric -- about taking Michael's brand to the next level -- is not.
Adorably ambitious yet family-oriented, Michael is the star of the show, but Mema is clearly the selling point. And in between the moments of carefully cultivated culture clashes -- an exchange about Mema's septic tank woes and fire-ant accommodations has to be seen to be believed -- and stereotypical L.A.-gazing, she manages to make a few points about the nature of success and fame that are certainly worth noting.
Even if they do come from the latest reality-star wannabe.