It’s back to the bayous with the recent eighth season premiere of “Swamp People,” a hit reality series on the History Channel that’s about as thematically far from Kardashian-land as an unscripted show can get.
The series follows the exploits of various Louisiana alligator hunters. Sporting camouflage print ball caps, scoped rifles, and Cajun drawls so molasses-thick they often inspire subtitles, the hunters cruise the Atchafalaya River Basin on the lookout for their lucrative prey. We’re told by a title card every episode that these practices are 300 years old — and though the guns and boats have improved, these contemporary Americans acutely channel the hard, earthy pride of their ancestors. It would be primal if it wasn’t so sophisticated.
Think “Duck Dynasty” with exponentially more blue-collar grit.
The hunters bait large fish hooks with pieces of chicken, which hold the gators until the swamp people can shoot them up close. It’s a bit grisly for those of us not used to the bloodletting actually involved with hunting, enough so that episodes are preceded with a disturbing imagery disclaimer. Think “Duck Dynasty” with exponentially more blue-collar grit.
Last February, “Swamp People” fans were devastated to learn that History was cancelling the show after seven seasons. But when viewers spoke out, the channel listened and announced in May that the show would return.
Fans have been ecstatic about the revival.
“Thank you, History Channel,” wrote a viewer on Facebook. “[Y]ou listened to the fans. I love this show.”
“I welcome the new season into my home as if it were family. I love every one of those people on that show. God Bless America!” tweeted fan @x1cyberdreams.
“Thank you for bringing ‘Swamp People’ back,” commented another fan on Facebook. “One of the best shows on TV.”
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It’s rare that a series is resurrected once cancellation has struck. But “Swamp People” is entertainment of the sort rarely provided by Hollywood. Normally the types seen in this show are depicted as inbred villains, racist to the core, violently menacing, or sexually deviant. “Swamp People” tears apart those long-held Hollywood cliches.
The series illustrates a lifestyle far removed from that of most Americans, yet one warmly familiar in its celebration of a working class ethos. Despite the unique setting, the show provides something recognizable in the form of hardworking family men. What they do is located squarely at the intersection of tradition, commerce, labor, and sport.
The sight of men (and a few women) dirtying their hands while doing hard, dangerous work couldn’t be further removed from the gleeful hedonism of reality shows like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” that endorse vacuous celebrity. The “Swamp” cast consists of gun-toting, God-fearing people who would probably sooner be seen at a rally for Donald J. Trump than on Twitter preaching to the world.
Yet, “Sample People” isn’t explicitly political. Episodes tell these hunters’ stories and let viewers decide what to make of it all, whether or not it flatters their worldview.
Ultimately, viewership of “Swamp People,” like nearly everything else on the air, is related to how entertaining the show is and not how the participants vote or whether or not it aligns with an ideology.
But shows that make the audience feel respected are the kind that inspire loyalty strong enough to result in cancellations being reversed. And this respect pays off: The season premiere of the resurrected “Swamp People” topped the Thursday night cable ratings, pulling in more than two million viewers.