‘Shelby the Swamp Man,’ for fans only
Only true fans will be intrigued by this History channel series
August 5, 2013
Basic cable is filled with reality shows about macho men with colorful personalities doing dangerous, eye-catching work. When one of those macho men is particularly colorful, producers are naturally tempted to give him his own show, focusing more on the man than on the job.
The question is whether the man is interesting enough without the drama and visual interest of what he does for a living. History’s new show “The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man” stars Shelby Stanga, a bayou good ol’ boy who is featured on the channel’s logging show “Ax Men.” It seems likely to overtax his country charm.
Since Louisianans are everywhere on reality TV — in such shows as “Swamp People,” “Duck Dynasty,” “Ragin’ Cajuns,” “Cajun Pawn Stars” and “Sons of Guns” — Shelby’s shtick feels old, and the show forces him to work it too hard. Only his hardcore fans are likely to keep watching.
In the premiere episode, airing this Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 10 p.m., Shelby goes houseboat hunting with a broker named Pud’n. They first inspect his old houseboat, which was irreparably damaged last year by Hurricane Isaac.
Shelby, who seemingly prefers to always take the loudest route, breaks a big window to get in. Pud’n is taken aback by the bullet holes in the interior walls. Nonetheless, she lets Shelby and his dog, Willie, ride with her.
Shelby doesn’t own a car. “If I can’t get there in my jet boat or my forklift,” he tells the camera in close-up, “I don’t need to go there.” Similar sound bites are overused throughout the episode.
Between inspections of boats, Shelby rips his pants. He tells Pud’n not to go lookin’ at his by-golly.
Eventually, Pud’n decides that Shelby needs to look at a special houseboat that’s way upriver in Saint Louis. Even though Shelby is on a budget, Pud’n expects him to fly there without being told how much the boat costs or what it looks like. And we viewers stop expecting that this show will have anything to do with the way real people behave.
In any case, Shelby has never been on an airplane and doesn’t want to try. “I don’t trust nothin’ that flies — owls, birds, cranes,” he tells us. “I definitely do not trust airplanes.”
The down-home-talkin’ narrator says, “Gettin’ the Swamp Man onto an airplane is about as easy as getting’ a fish onto a bicycle.”
At the airport, Shelby’s country-bumpkin act goes over the top. It’s possible he’s never been on an escalator — the narrator tells us, “Shelby don’t leave the bayou for nothin’ ” — but the show makes it seem as if he’d never heard of escalators and couldn’t figure out by himself how to ride one.
He wanders around in the airport asking people, “Where’s the airplane at?” He’s surprised to learn that there’s more than one flight leaving that day.
The boat turns out to be just right for Shelby but even more just right for a TV show that’s straining to find something striking to put onscreen.
According to History’s press materials, the rest of the season’s eight episodes will follow Shelby as he tries to finance his new home by taking on various odd jobs, which will likely lead to more catfish-out-of-water situations.
To be fair, “The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man” doesn’t feel that much more false or forced than most reality TV, and Shelby is more likable than most reality stars. But some of these shows need to get the ax.
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