Not much needs to be said of Swamp People - Season One (2010), a History Channel reality series about gator-huntin' Cajuns. The series is obviously carefully calculated to draw on various aspects of other successful History Channel shows. The pitch meeting for this one is easy to imagine: "It's the danger, exotic locations, and 'dash for the cash' of Ice Road Truckers meets the man vs. beast and Louisiana setting of Billy the Exterminator!"
And that's pretty much what it is, though it lacks the wide range of colorful characters and identifiable peril found in Ice Road Truckers, while lacking the geniality and occasional goofiness of Billy the Exterminator and his colorful family. Swamp People has its moments, but it's also highly repetitive and there's a lot less suspense that one might expect.
Swamp People - Season One consists of 10 episodes on three single-sided, dual-layered discs running just shy of seven hours. As usual for these things, extras are limited to "additional footage" cut from the program.
Like the back cover text describes it, "Deep in the heart of Louisiana lies America's largest swamp - a million miles of inhospitable bayous, marshes and wetlands where nature rules and humans struggle to tame it. Many of its inhabitants are the hardened descendants of the Acadians, French refugees who were forced out of Canada in the 18th century and settled in this harsh yet majestic environment. Today, these people are known as the Cajuns, a group renowned throughout the world for their flavorful cuisine, distinctive music and vibrant culture. Resilient, self-reliant and fiercely independent, the Cajuns of the Atchafalaya Swamp still carry on many of their ancestors' trades and traditions."
The series follows these "swampers" - specifically Troy, Junior, Joe & Tommy, Bruce & Mike - during Louisiana's 30-day alligator hunting season in September, when most of these men earn the lion's share of their annual income. The hour-long series (i.e., 43 1/2 minutes less the commercials) typically inter-cuts between two sets of hunters, understandably giving the plurality of footage to Troy (Landry), a Pierre Part, Louisiana legend among gator hunters, a Cajun Rocky Marciano.
Troy is the show's main draw, really, his hardened features contrasting the gentle family man who, after decades of hunting, still gets excited when his traps latch onto a 12-foot gator: "Dat's a big one! Dat's a big one!" Not surprisingly, the series plays up the Cajun flavor, coming close but stopping just short of overdoing it with the zydeco music and bayou cookouts.
But the series is too much of the same thing. The show plays up the danger bit, but it's pretty clear the hapless alligators don't stand much more of a chance than a juicy apple ready to be plucked from an orchard. Their death rolls are merely a preamble to the inevitable point-blank rifle blast to their single vulnerable spot, a golf ball-size area a few inches behind the eyeballs. The lethal shot is never actually shown, but there's plenty of blood: the lifeless corpses piled high in the hunter's aluminum boats, the celebratory skinning of the beasts. In one particularly fascinating albeit ghoulish bit, one hunter shows a piece of butchered meat so fresh that when a sharp blade touches it the nerves still twitch as if it were still alive.
Indeed, if anything sets Swamp People apart from Ice Road Truckers and Billy the Exterminator it's the emphasis on blood ("Viewer discretion advised"). Even parts in the opening titles are tinted red, like a slasher movie. Those opening titles end with a tight shot of a gator leg reaching skyward, like The Giant Claw's final shot.
Video & Audio
The ten Swamp People shows are presented in their original 1.78:1 format with 16:9 enhancement. The swampy scenery is served well, and despite all the foliage I noticed little in the way of digital break-up. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is modest but slightly above average for this sort of thing, and episodes are supported by optional closed captioning.
The only supplement is "Additional Footage," about 26 1/2 minutes of deleted scenes.
While I found the people and their unique jobs and lifestyles interesting, a little of Swamp People goes a long way. There's too much repetition, and the series is a bit too calculated for its own good. Rent It.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.