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McNamara's Picks: 'Duck Dynasty,' 'Modern Dads,' 'Doomsday Castle'

August 15, 2013|By Mary McNamara
  • Members of the Robertson family of A & E reality show, "Duck Dynasty," at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 26, 2013.
Members of the Robertson family of A & E reality show, "Duck Dynasty,"… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Yes, yes, yes, even in this pause before the onslaught of the fall, there is plenty of scripted TV not in repeats and certainly, you should all still be watching the Three Bs--"Broadchurch," "Borgen" and "Breaking Bad." But everyone needs a change of pace, so here's my first (and possibly only) All Reality picks o' the week.

"Duck Dynasty": The beards 'n' bandannas of A&E's crazy-hot reality series "Duck Dynasty" are back, and if you aren't already one of the millions making the show the No. 2 cable series (behind "The Walking Dead"), it's time to survey the sitch-i-ation.  The Robertson family of West Monroe, La., is indeed a masterpiece of cross-hatched American mythology, creating its own cultural sweet spot in which great wealth exists cheek by jowl with the kind of backwoods folksiness last seen on "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Like Jed and all his kin, Phil Robertson and his family fulfilled the American dream by hitting it big, in their case with duck calls. But unlike the Clampetts, the Robertsons stayed put, remained true to their redneck ways and continued to respect the beard -- extreme facial hair most normally associated with prophets of the Old Testament and ZZ Top.

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The fourth season, which premiered Wednesday, promises to shake things up down Duck Commander way. It opened with the typical combination of contrivance and spontaneity. To mark the 48th wedding anniversary of Phil and Miss Kay, the three Robertson daughters-in-law force their menfolk to help plan a "real" wedding. (The show's First Couple were married young by a justice of the peace.) Foot-draggin' hilarity ensued but more important, the heretofore unseen eldest son Alan showed up.

A clean-shaven preacher man, Alan was on hand ostensiibly to perform the ceremony, but actually he is now joining the new family business (the Robertsons recently negotiated a new contract with A&E). He seems at first something of a foil to the rest of the clan ("the black sheep," his brothers joke) but his personal grooming habits notwithstanding, he is not all that different from the rest of the family, all of whom are equally deft with one-liners and deadpan silence.

Which is the underlying mischief and attraction of "Duck Dynasty" -- the Robertsons are at once very sincere and in on their own joke. With their looks, they court assumptions that are true and then again not true. The telltale circular bulge of Skoal is real but so is the ability to oversee a wedding that is Martha-Stewart woodsy.

Likewise, the many stunts and scrapes the family finds itself in may be scripted but the moments that emerge are not. While re-exchanging their vows, Miss Kay reminds Phil of their early years in which "you were not very nice," using a tone that evokes years of forgiven pain, something not often seen on television.

Too often, especially recently,  Americans are told they must choose between simple truths and sophistication. The idea that you can have both is the compelling call of "Duck Dynasty." That, and the beards.  A&E, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

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"Modern Dads": Ever since "Four Men and a Baby" hit the big screen in in 1987, scripted shows have been exploring the hilarious aspects of bumbling men as primary caregivers with very mixed results -- though ABC Family's very middling "Baby Daddy" was recently given a third season, NBC's higher-profile "Guys With Kids" was canceled, and we don't even want to talk about what happened to "Up All Night."

Add to that the undeniably troubling aspect of featuring young children in a reality show--were the camera crews in "Nanny 911" helping the situation in any way, and how are the kids of "Teen Mom" going to feel in 10 or 15 years? -- and A&E's real-life look at "Modern Dads" seems doomed to disaster.

Except it isn't. It's kind of charming, actually, and more than a little funny, in part because the producers ("Real Housewives of New Jersey's" Siren media) have managed to cast four Austin, Texas, fathers who are personally, if not racially, diverse (they're all white guys). Quick-witted and mildly attractive, the these men actually seem to have engaged in stay-at-home parenting previous to being cast in "Modern Dads."

Watching Rick, an overweight veteran, literally juggle his pair of 1-year old twins as he plans their birthday party is alone worth the half-hour buy-in. Joining Rick, father of four aged 1 to 10,  is Nathan, dad to 1-year old Cormac and a helicopter parent in the making; Sean, super-cool stepfather to Arwen, 8, and Joopsy, 5; and Stone, single dad to 5-year old Danica (as well as a 16- and 20-year-old who don't figure into the show.)

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