American Hoggers debuts tonight on A&E at 10 p.m. Eastern.
American Hoggers is about an old man with a Santa Claus beard who speaks in a thick Texan accent, calls himself the “hog boss,” and wanders the backwoods of rural Texas with a one-eyed hound, searching for wild boars. If this sounds like the kind of person you want to spend time with, American Hoggers is probably something you’ll enjoy. Like most “real job” reality shows—shows that take you into a day in the life of people who do strange jobs you’d never think about or into workplaces you’ve always been curious about—this one rises and falls based on the characters at its center, and Jerry “hog boss” Campbell is a fascinating dude, if only to try and parse out some of what he’s saying. The other people around him aren’t quite as interesting, but that almost doesn’t matter when Jerry is wandering the backwoods with Rooster, his one-eyed hound, and waxing philosophic about hogs.
Make no mistake: This show isn’t for everybody, particularly people who have a soft spot for their fellow warm-blooded mammals, no matter how ugly. Wild boars die in the introductory half hour, sometimes violently and bloodily. This being A&E, nothing too horrifying is shown, but the show still delves into the fact that, while the Campbells say that they aim to keep the hogs alive as long as possible, there’s always a death at the end of “as long as possible.” The show is somewhat coy about what happens to the hogs that Jerry and his kids are able to actually capture, as opposed to having to kill, but the large number of stuffed animal carcasses back at the Campbell ranch doesn’t suggest anything positive (at least in terms of the hogs). There’s also some doggie drama, for those who don’t like seeing canines in peril.
From a more general standpoint, there’s a surprising amount of lag-time in the program. Now, some of this comes from the fact that hunting usually involves a lot of standing around and waiting—“That’s why they call it hunting,” says Campbell’s son, making no sense—but there’s often a sense that the editing team is uncertain just how much to show of what the Campbells really do, so it errs on the side of caution. Without getting into the real nitty-gritty aspects of the hogging life, the series ends up with long dead spots where we watch people try to hogtie hogs and wait for something to happen. The show also suffers whenever Jerry Campbell isn’t on screen, as he’s by far the most interesting person here, and hearing him talk about his line of work is always a treat. The other Campbells are a bit more camera reticent and seem to be easing into having a TV camera crew follow them around as they do their work. (Viewers will be forgiven for having high hopes for Krystal “Pistol” Campbell, Jerry’s daughter, what with that nickname, but she mostly stands around and talks about how she hopes the knots are tight.)
But Jerry Campbell just might be enough to get viewers to tune in anyway. The patriarch is a fun guy to spend time with, whether he’s talking at length about how there’s hogs out there on the piece of land the Campbells have been hired to patrol, holding onto a baby pig and giggling, or sitting on the edge of tears about the possibility that he might lose his beloved hound forever. Lots of the time, when sitcoms or comic strips need a character to come from somewhere “rural,” that character will spend all of their time talking in corn-pone metaphors and goofy little sayings, meant to sound both wise and kind of stupid. Assuming that he’s as presented and not just acting for the cameras, Jerry actually is that guy, spouting off silly little aphorisms and having a high old time riding around in the brush. (He makes his kids do the dirty work while he stays in the truck and only helps out when they absolutely need him. He is, in so many words, getting too old for this shit.) At one point, he talks about how Rooster’s sired so many of his best dogs, then compares how many bitches Rooster has had to how many the Houston Texans might have had. Plus, his trips through the Texas back country are picturesque and well-shot, giving a real sense of a rural America that still exists right alongside the rest of us urbanites.
Again, Jerry and his show are not going to be for everyone, but if you’re looking for some entertaining reality cheese, American Hoggers has just enough of the good stuff to be a good time for those who don’t mind a little dog-on-wild-pig violence.