Ducks don't like Duck Dynasty—or they wouldn't if they watched TV. If ducks formed a political action committee, their lobbyist would waddle over to the nearest congressman, pound his wings on the desk and quack about how wrong it is for A&E to feature a family whose wealth was built on the death and suffering of so many flighted friends. "It's disthpicable!" he'd say.
But judging from the show's ratings, he wouldn't get very far.
Duck Dynasty—focusing on a colorful Louisiana family that eats together, hunts together and makes duck calls together—has been a runaway reality hit in its first two seasons, breaking all sorts of time slot records and even, some weeks, becoming the most watched show anywhere on TV, cable or network.
Who would've thought that a bunch of ZZ Top-bearded, self-described rednecks could helm a hit TV series?
Well, this bunch of bearded rednecks, for starters. Sure, these guys might look to some East Coast folks as if they waded in from Hee Haw, but the Robertson clan knows a thing or two about what the viewing public wants.
Patriarch Phil is the founder of this familial empire—crafting the Duck Commander duck call decades ago. His third son, Willie, turned the operation into a multimillion-dollar business. And the two of them paved the way for Duck Dynasty itself, recording their own family hunts and selling them on videotape to a growing network of fans.
"We were pre-reality TV, early 1980s," Phil told ABC News. "We had a reality show, but it was just a bunch of rednecks shooting ducks."
Phil and Willie are only part of the Duck Dynasty cast, though. Jase (Willie's brother) and Jep (labeled "Willie's other brother") help with the business and add their too-large-for-dinner-parties personalities to the mix. Miss Kay, the family matriarch, is mostly Aunt Bea with a little Roseanne mixed in to spice things up. Wives of Willie, Jase and Jep (all beardless, I should add) sometimes infuse a bit of sanity to the proceedings.
Duck Dynasty is part of a burgeoning mini-genre sometimes labeled "redneck television," lumped in with the likes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. But comparisons involving Dynasty and that TLC phenomenon only go so far:
Sure, both shows features families with Southern accents and rural, "redneck" pastimes. But Honey Boo Boo is less a reality show and more a marker on the path toward cultural annihilation. TLC packages the show as a voyeuristic black comedy, focusing on a crass, almost piteous family whose titular figure is a pint-sized pageant-mad dynamo fueled by cheese puffs and "go go juice," a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull. It reads as meanspirited and exploitative—encouraging viewers to laugh at all the silly backwoods games, the poverty and the funny accents.
Duck Dynasty is likewise predicated on a featured family being "different" than most of the viewers who tune in. We see the Robertsons tromp through the Louisiana backwoods and cook hazardous holiday feasts. (Miss Kay makes something she calls a perduckin for Christmas—a duck stuffed in a chicken stuffed in a turkey stuffed in a pig.) And, yes, we see plenty of bizarre characters here.
But two things save Dynasty from a Honey Boo Boo-like fate. One, Dynasty's characters appear to be in on the joke. The situations here often seem specifically crafted for television, and everyone knows and seems to relish their roles: Jase is the deadpan curmudgeon, Si the slightly unhinged uncle, Miss Kay the loving but fussy matriarch. We may be getting sneak peeks into their living rooms, but their antics feel more like performance art than invitations to voyeurism.
The males here can sometimes come across as man-children, kept in line by their longsuffering wives—echoing a theme that runs through the likes of The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Home Improvement. And crazy uncle Si is like the wacky next-door neighbor. Indeed, these characters seem to come straight out of decades of tried-and-true sitcoms.
More importantly, there's this: As you watch Duck Dynasty, you may laugh at the family's oddities—but you may also envy them a little. The Robertsons rib one another, but only with familial affection. They all help one another and enthusiastically share family meals. They never shy away from their Christian faith, either. The name of God is more often used in the context of prayer than as a throwaway swear. And that may in and of itself make the show unique on basic cable.
"I've seen enough train wrecks on TV," Willie told ABC. "It will be nice to see a family that sits down and has a meal together."
It's not a perfect show. The Robertsons are earthy, and we hear some mildly rough language at times (sly references to sex, too). Bathroom humor has not been completely banished, and as for violence—well, the protesting ducks can tell you all about that.
But I didn't feel that same sickness in my soul that I did after watching Honey Boo Boo—the sense that the show was a symptom of souls gone horribly wrong. Duck Dynasty didn't make me want to eat a perduckin, but it did make me want to sit at the table with the Robertsons—and laugh with them, not at them.
"So You Think You Can Date?"
Martin, an employee at Duck Commander, says he'll have to skip poker night because he's got a date. It's an almost unprecedented development, and one of the Robertsons asks if he met her through a mail-order catalog. Robertson wives encourage Martin to just be himself, which Willie and Jase think is a horrible idea. "That's like throwing him to the wolves," Willie says. Jase says Martin's bachelor ways should be taken out back and "put out of their misery—with a shotgun."
Meanwhile, Phil shakes his head over his granddaughters' lack of outdoorsy experience and takes them out fishing. "Worms are happy when you run a hook through them," Phil tells them as he baits a hook. "He's happy to die?" one girl asks. And when a tiny snake comes too close, Phil bites it in half, encouraging the girls to join in. (They don't.)
The fish dinner that follows starts with a prayer. We see a Bible verse posted on a fridge and crosses hanging on walls. "Dirty" talk is restricted to someone mentioning "dingleberries" and "bowels." Si dons a feather boa to help Martin practice his small talk with a woman. Vampires come up in conversation, as does the killer from The Silence of the Lambs.
"I'm Dreaming of a Redneck Christmas"
Willie and Si give Christmas presents to local kids at church. Si, dressed as an elf, ransacks the Duck Commander offices for the gifts, which means the children receive a lot of tape guns and highlighter markers. He says that on the way from the North Pole, a reindeer died of exertion. "But that's OK," he adds. "We ate on him for three days." Meanwhile, Phil and Miss Kay go searching for a Christmas tree, and Jase and Jep hang up the family's unending strings of lights.
Miss Kay asks Phil whether he'll kiss her under the mistletoe: "I'll do more than that," he says, and also makes references to women's undergarments. Si also says that he's a charming smoocher himself during the holidays. We hear people misuse God's name and toss around insults like "weenie" and "idiot." Willie passes gas.
But we also hear some references to faith. "I'm into the true meaning of Christmas," Jase says. "Faith, family and facial hair." We see a plate that reads, "Jesus is the reason for the season." And the show concludes with a heartfelt prayer: "Thank you for the lights," Phil says, "especially for the Light of the World that You sent our way."