"A & E" has become something of a reality powerhouse in recent years. Despite arguments about the quality of programming heading South (which I'm not going to argue with, especially given how cable networks often seem as if their latest idea is to create carbon copies of prior ones - "Storage Wars New York" continues to dilute a franchise that's already become watered down), cable channels continue to create hits like "Storage Wars" and "Duck Dynasty", which remain cheap to make and bring in the audiences that cable channels are looking for.
"Duck Dynasty" is the latest hit for A & E, and it's a rather amusing little series. The show follows the Robertson family, who started a business over 20 years ago when Phil Robertson started making duck calls out of Louisiana cedar trees. Years later, the duck call business has since exploded, and turned the family into millionaires. I'm waiting for the episode where the family rings the bell at the NYSE with a legion of ducks waddling around the trading floor (star Jase was recently shown the door in an NYC hotel because of what was described as a "facial profiling" incident with his beard - link.
Yet ... they all still dress like a backwoods ZZ Top. The charm of the series and what makes it fairly engaging TV is that you have this ordinary, hardworking family who haven't changed their ways in the slightest despite their success, and often spend time trying to figure out how to stay ahead of a business that continues to be more successful than they could have imagined.
The series continues to surprise in the third season in that the show manages to continue to create reasonably enjoyable adventures for the feathered family - this from someone who was initially very skeptical that the series could manage to do that much with the family's misadventures. The series also continues to succeed in that it feels genuine in both its goofy moments and the heartfelt moments, such as the thoughts often heard towards the end of each episode, which remind me of the philosophies offered by Rev. Run during the end of "Run's House" episodes during that show's run on MTV.
I continue to want a behind-the-scenes documentary that shows how the business must have expanded since the series started. I can only imagine that the show's stellar ratings have resulted in equally stellar sales. This article illustrates the kind of effect that ratings have had on merchandise: "The family-owned business has private sales figures, but Mr. Robertson offered some indications of the level of growth. "I've seen figures of 2,200 percent growth," he said. "You couldn't chart it as far as where we have had business growth. It's bursting at every level, every store." Sales of duck calls to actual hunters are now a minority, he said, with the dominant buyers being people who "put it on their desk and toot on it."" The fact that the third season finale of the series was the most watched episode in the network's history certainly probably didn't hurt numbers, either.
When the series isn't focusing on the business, it remains a mix of heartfelt and goofy as it follows the family, whether it be helping John Luke through a relationship issue in the sweet "Shot Through the Heart" or the silly (and occasionally rather stage-y) such as Willie and Si getting cuffed together in "Si-amese Twins." The season's finale, "Aloha, Robertsons" has some kind moments between family members, but the idea of the family wanting to do what they want to do rather than have more of a family bonding trip is entertaining, but feels familiar (like the "Vacation" movies, but more "Vegas Vacation".)
Still, the highly rated finale, like much of the rest of the season, is still good fun. The family's attempts to help Willie lose weight for his high school reunion in "Can't Hardly Weight". The season opener, "Duck Season Eve" actually stands as a better episode than the finale, as the scenario of the group camping out before the start of the season leads to some real laughs.
The series still entertains in the third season, although I thought at times it could use a little bit more focus on the business side of things to give a bit more balance versus the goofier adventures. "Bass Man Standing" is a highlight on the business side, as it ventures on over to Bass Pro Shops to discuss the opening of a section of the stores for the Duck Commander merchandise - complete with the ability for the Commander crew to design how they want it to look (of course, it doesn't go exactly as planned.) Speaking of business, with CNBC's "The Profit" having a CEO helping small businesses, how good would a show be having the Duck Commander group coming to offer advice to various businesses across the country? Maybe a Southern-style "Shark Tank"? ("Duck Pond?") Given how big the series has gotten, how about a spin-off series focusing entirely on the business? Given that ratings continue to ramp, there's demand for more "Duck".
Overall, "Duck Dynasty" remains on a remarkable roll, and while I'd like to see the series shift a little more towards the business side (I mean, the business for these guys is going insane, that's interesting!), the show still feels fresher than I'd have guessed a few seasons in.
VIDEO: A & E presents the series in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. While there's some minor edge enhancement and a few little traces of artifacting, the picture generally appeared crisp and detailed, showing off the fine details of the outdoor scenes well. Overall, a fine transfer of the material.
SOUND: Crisp, clean Dolby Stereo presentation, with well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: A couple of songs, 5 deleted scenes and some entirely promotional "mash-ups" and "webisodes". It's still baffling to me that the series - which is the largest in the network's history - doesn't get more in the way of promotional fare.
Final Thoughts: "Duck Dynasty" still remains on a stunning roll with the third season. The series feels a little overly "staged" at times, but otherwise surprises in that it continues to find mostly engaging adventures as the Robertson family's business continues to go nuts. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, but for how big the series is, more than a handful of extras would be nice. Recommended.