Swamp Brothers debuts tonight on Discovery at 10 p.m. Eastern. It moves to its regular timeslot Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern.
This may come as a shock to producers of reality television, but many of us who consume (and occasionally enjoy) your programs are well aware that they aren’t really “real.” We realize that certain scenarios may be contrived, if not outright staged and scripted, and we can accept that, so long as you don’t rub our faces in it. (Or if you must rub our faces in it, be sure to go completely over-the-top like Celebrity Apprentice, so that the artifice becomes part and parcel of the whole so-bad-it’s-good appeal of the thing.) All of this is my roundabout way of saying that Discovery’s latest venture in outdoor reality, Swamp Brothers, is at its worst when it’s trying too hard to be a 21st century Green Acres.
Although it officially premieres on Friday night, the first two 30-minute episodes of Swamp Brothers air tonight as a sneak peek, in hopes of riding the Deadliest Catch ratings wave to a successful launch. The premise of Discovery’s entree into the burgeoning field of bayou-based entertainment (spearheaded by History’s Swamp People) is simple—so simple, in fact, that it’s explained at least dozen times in the course of the four episodes I previewed. Robbie Keszey is a veteran of the heavy metal Sunset Strip of the ‘80s and a former personal assistant to Poison’s C.C. Deville who decided one day that he’d prefer to work with real reptiles for a living. His brother Stephen is a New York bartender who agrees to move to Florida and help out with Robbie’s snake farm. He’s a fish out of water, you see—a hapless metrosexual in a redneck world.
This concept is established in the most eye-rolling manner possible, as Robbie goes searching through the wetlands for his missing brother, and just happens to find him lounging on a fanboat, texting. You know, like the city slickers do! In case you missed the point, Stephen notes that his “happy place is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, drinking a boilermaker.” For his part, Robbie must “transform Stephen from a wussy city boy to a professional reptile wrangler.” From here, it’s only a matter of minutes before Stephen is falling ass-backwards into a pricker bush while attempting to keep a mama gator away from her nest long enough for Robbie to get the eggs. The same dynamic plays out over and over throughout the first four episodes. Robbie recruits Stephen for some badass swampy mission—luring a rogue gator out of his hidey-hole, or trying to lasso feral pigs in the dark—and Stephen recoils in horror from the dangerous critters, quipping like an off-brand George Costanza all the while.
Swamp Brothers is at its best when it resists going to such lengths to remind us of its central gimmick, and simply lets the relationship between the brothers play out naturally as they undertake their hazardous work. There’s little of the bickering hostility that’s such a staple of “family business” shows like American Chopper and Deadliest Catch; Robbie may get frustrated with Stephen’s phobias and semi-competent approach to reptile wrangling, but he maintains an even keel. There’s a good-humored camaraderie between the two that goes beyond the show’s simple country mouse/city mouse dichotomy. It doesn’t hurt that the jobs they’re doing usually hold your attention; I'm not ashamed to say that I jump every time an alligator erupts from below the surface of a swamp, and it happens a lot.
I do wonder how long the series can sustain that kind of excitement, however, since Swamp Brothers has already begun to repeat itself by the end of the fourth episode. There’s not much difference between Robbie helping his friends at a wild animal sanctuary by shooting an ailing lion with a tranquilizer gun so he can be treated by vets, and Robbie helping those same folks by shooting an injured leopard with that same gun. And questions of authenticity continued to nag at me when the brothers responded to a request from a snake-owner to clear his house of pythons because the new neighbors were complaining. Robbie and Stephen find snakes in the pantry, the shower, and curled up in a pizza box, which is a funny visual that seems almost too good to be true.
Bottom line: It’s unlikely you’ll feel the need to catch every episode of Swamp Brothers, but if you happen upon it while channel surfing, it will probably hold your attention for a half-hour. As long as you aren’t expecting gritty realism, it’s perfectly serviceable entertainment in small doses.
- The show is educational, too. Did you know that the warm gator eggs deeper in the nest produce males, while the cooler ones close to the surface produce females? Well, now you do.
- Although Swamp Brothers would prefer you to think Stephen is fresh off the streets of New York, he actually moved down to Florida in 2008. The Keszey brothers have been working it hard, doing personal appearances and YouTube videos, as well as guest shots on various nature and wildlife shows. That’s how you get your own Discovery series, I guess.
- Coming in summer 2012: Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes in a Pizza Box.