"Real Life. Drama" says A&E's most recent logo. In this instance the logo accompanies a photograph of exterminator Billy Bretherton defiantly lying in a stomach-turning bed of beetles. Billy the Exterminator - Season Four (2011) is, apparently, the beginning of the end of A&E's popular reality series. Not long after the airing of the final fifth season episode, "Roadkill," in March, word spread that the Bretherton family had had enough. Despite interest from A&E, reportedly Billy will be hanging up his eugenol oils, at least on television. There will be no sixth season.
A certain weariness infuses even Season Four. The program undergoes a format change, but the benefits are slight. It's still an entertaining, sometimes genuinely informative show, but this collection of episodes is the least interesting by far.
On the plus side, episodes are at long last presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. However, there are only 12 twenty-minute shows (compared with 21 episodes during season two, 17 during season three) and no extra features. But the set is inexpensive and generally cheaper than, for example, Amazon's per episode Instant Video streaming.
For the uninitiated: Billy the Exterminator follows the pest-controlling adventures of Billy and his family, who own and operate Vexcon Animal and Pest Control in Benton, Louisiana. As the opening titles make plain, in addition to Billy, the family includes Billy's Pete Puma-ish brother, Ricky; his Ma Kettle of a mother, Donnie, also the company's dispatcher; and Big Bill, Billy and Ricky's father, sidelined by a heart attack and other health problems but who nevertheless insists on helping out when he can.
The lively titles that opened seasons 1-3 shows have been replaced with much more frenetic but also much less effective ones, partly to remove Billy's wife Mary from the credits. She left the series after the first season but continued to appear in the opening for seasons two and three anyway.
The success of the show has less to do with the pests they encounter than the Brethertons themselves. Billy, dressed head-to-toe in black, studded leather, with Vexcon's skull & crossbones logo prominently featured all over his clothes and on the company trucks, often initially intimidates his more outwardly conservative customers, who tend to be wealthy and/or religious suburbanites and rural good ol' boys. Yet, invariably, Billy's good manners - he addresses everyone as "Sir" or "Ma'am" - and gentle nature win them over. He enjoys capturing animals ("Holy crap, dude! Look at the size of that!"), nursing them to health in many cases, and then relocating the animals back into the wild where he knows they'll be happier.
During seasons two and three, the producers wisely beefed-up Donnie and Big Bill's presence, giving them a lot more to do. The especially likeable Donnie, who dotes over her two 40-something sons (she constantly cautions Ricky about his various allergies), was even drafted into helping out on a few assignments. Her nagging/loving relationship with Big Bill is sweet. They clearly adore one another.
For season four, the decision was made to send Billy and Ricky on the road, far from their usual stomping grounds in the Shreveport-Bossier metropolitan area. They're sent off to Texas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina, supposedly dispatched by Donnie to gain knowledge and experience from exterminators in other parts of the country, often dealing with different sorts of pests. (This set-up is painfully artificial with obviously semi-scripted dialogue.) However, the pests and situations aren't all that different from those found back in Louisiana: alligators, raccoons, squirrels, bobcats, etc.
Further, enthusiasm appears to be waning among the cast and Billy makes a few backhanded remarks about always being asked to dive right in and do all the dangerous stuff. Where past seasons were actually quite informative about controlling and neutralizing household pests, Season Four is more like an animal-of-the-week vs. Billy wrestling show.
To that end Billy the Exterminator is sometimes tiresome but at other times highly amusing. "Aerial Attack," with Billy and Ricky, armed only with umbrellas, battling angry geese is absurdly funny and actually informative. (Wanna control the geese population? Oil their eggs.)
Separating Billy and Ricky from Donnie and Big Bill was a mistake, however; the latter make only token appearances. The producers seem to have realized this, as most of the season's second half has them back in Shreveport, though season five has them back on the road for part of that short (11-episode) season.
Season Four's shows are the usual assortment of hyperbolically-titled half-hours: "What Lurks Beneath," "Bobcat Battle," "Skunks on a Plane," and "Hoarder House Rats."
Video & Audio
As noted above, Billy the Exterminator - Season Four is thankfully presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, as opposed to the 4:3 matted widescreen of previous years. The 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo is fine and the show is closed-captioned. No Extra Features.
Best viewed in small doses (avoid that "Play All" button if you can) Billy the Exterminator - Season Four is the weakest thus far but still quite entertaining. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.