Toward the end of this year’s Duck Dynasty Christmas special, there’s a brief Claymation sequence featuring Uncle Si, the gnomic sage of the Robertson clan. It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been. A full Claymation episode would have been something different, but Duck Dynasty isn’t in the “something different” business. It’s in the business of providing reliable comfort viewing for its improbably huge audience, and on that level, “O Little Town Of West Monroe” delivers. It’s exactly what you’d expect.
Although it’s ostensibly reality television, Duck Dynasty’s stock in trade is a semi-improvised cornpone brand of family situation comedy. Reality is in short supply; for instance, there’s no real reason to believe this episode was actually shot during the Christmas season. (An early scene is set in a Walmart festooned with holiday decorations, but since that particular retail outlet is a sponsor of the show, it’s easy to imagine this sequence being shot after hours in the middle of June.) Since the Robertson clan lives in Louisiana, it’s not as if we’d be seeing them shoveling snow or bundled up in parkas anyway. But it’s not as if they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes; even if you couldn’t guess that the show's events are contrived, the cast members cheerfully admit to it in interviews.
Still, the show works best when the heavy hand of production is lightest, and unfortunately, the gears are grinding particularly loudly in “O Little Town.” The title refers to the annual Nativity play in the small Louisiana town the Robertsons call home. Korie, wife of Duck Commander CEO Willie, has volunteered the clan (and a few trusted employees) to star in this year’s performance. Given the biblical beards most of the Robertson men cultivate, this only makes sense. Rehearsals for the play quickly deteriorate as Si attempts to perform the Riverdance onstage while Willie’s brother Jep has trouble remembering his sole line in the pivotal role as the Innkeeper. (“We ain’t got any room for y’all here” isn’t exactly “There is no room at the inn.”)
In the B-plot, patriarch Phil is talked into taking his wife Miss Kay and “yuppie” daughter-in-law Jessica along on a hog hunt. Duck Dynasty is usually at its worst in its retrograde depiction of gender roles, and this is no exception, as the heavily made-up Jessica, clad in the finest designer camouflage, is reduced to dragging a poop-covered hog through the woods. Another running bit has Willie struggling to find the perfect gift for his wife, only to end up buying the same present his brother Jase does for his spouse. No doubt this was hilarious the first time it happened on I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners, but it falls flat here.
Still, as annoyingly labored and manufactured as Duck Dynasty often feels, I found myself laughing out loud at least a half-dozen times throughout the episode. The genuine deadpan wit shared by many in the Robertson clan shines through even the most canned set-ups. Uncle Si is a wizard of non sequiturs and head-scratching aphorisms, Jase and Jep possess expert comic timing, and straight-woman Korie's dry reactions are amusing in their own right. But when the string-pulling becomes too flagrant, as it did tonight, the show suffers: The Robertsons simply don’t have the acting chops to allow for the necessary suspension of disbelief.
It's too late now that the Robertsons have show biz in their blood, but I do wonder what Duck Dynasty might have looked like as a real documentary. If they weren’t straining so hard to fit a sitcom formula and were allowed to interact more spontaneously, it’s possible that the show would be a lot funnier. As it is now, it’s barely worth sitting through the bogus trappings to reap the occasional rewards.
- His brothers scoff when Jep insists the role of the Innkeeper is a pivotal one, but he's got a point: The Nativity play would indeed be a whole lot different if it took place in a hotel.
- “I’m not into dainty things,” says patriarch Phil as he sips eggnog from a tiny teacup.
- Presents for the Duck Commander employees are easy, according to Jase: “Bullets and beef jerky.”
- “Si is a man of many fragrances.” I believe this. Si’s insistence that his wise man was bringing a gift of "franken-scent" was one of the things I hated myself for laughing at every time.
- Alan is the beardless Robertson brother. Except he clearly has a beard.