These days it’s tough to find reasons to be cheerful about the state of the nation – but an America without Duck Dynasty is a good place to start. No show in television history has ever sucked quite like this one. And if the TV gods are willing, no show ever will.
A&E’s massive hit became a cultural presence in 2012 for its down-home charm – the zany adventures of a real-life Lousiana clan who kept their country manners and backwoods habits, with Phil, Miss Kay, their bearded sons and loopy Vietnam vet Uncle Si. Tonight, after five seasons of shenanigans running the family duck-call business, the Robertsons sign off with their series finale, the last gasp of their barely noticed farewell go-round. The decline and fall of Duck Dynasty seems like it should have been a big-deal event, but it’s a surprisingly meek exit for a hit that loomed so large just a couple of years ago. This is the way the dynasty ends – not with a quack but with a whimper.
It’s poetic justice that 2017 is the year the Robertson family is finally heading off to the duck pond in the sky. The show represented the pre-Trump Christian right’s fantasy of itself – a family of hairy but God-fearing bootstrappers bowing their heads in prayer over the dinner table. Just a year ago, this was the most feared demographic in American politics – the bloc that couldn’t be bought or sold. But when the Christian right fell in line behind the most flamboyantly secular presidential candidate of the past century – a pussy-grabbing New Yorker who didn’t pretend to owe Jesus a damn thing – they sold themselves out, ensuring it’ll be a cold day in heck before they get another chance to vote for one of their own. The right is a whole new bird hunt now, as the godless white nationalists take over from the church ladies. And that makes Duck Dynasty look pitifully dated, in addition to everything else that blows about it.
The Robertsons weren’t even fun to watch on a reality-trash level, because they were too phony to believe – so artificial in their micro-scripted dialogue, so cynical in their piety, so bone-headed in their recycled sitcom plots. Hell, even their beards looked fake. So their family values always came across as a made-for-TV shuck; however sincere they may or may not have been in real life, the Robertsons never failed to turn into show-biz frauds onscreen. In one episode, Miss Kay confides that Phil never remembers their wedding anniversary – the only dates he can remember are Christmas and Easter. Aaaaawww.
Yet as any viewer with any kind of Christian background could have informed the writers, Easter isn’t a date – it’s a moveable feast that bounces between various Sundays. (This year it’s on April 17th.) A church lady like Miss Kay should know that, right? Except either she didn’t know, or she didn’t care, or the writers felt it was such a clever button-pushing line they made her say it anyway. Or – just maybe – it was a gaffe intentionally planted by the writers in a fit of self-loathing. (Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show would have stormed off the set rather than pretend she didn’t know what Easter was.) That one comes from the episode where it turns out Phil and Miss Kay never had a real wedding, so the family stages a wedding for an already-married couple – one of the hoariest ready-made sitcom cliches in the book. (The Jeffersons did it best.)
Duck Dynasty always had plenty of those cynical moments. In one episode, Phil refuses to bathe for hunting season, while Miss Kay wants him to wash up, so they read Bible verses to each other to defend their positions. Miss Kay wins the argument by reading the proverb, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Except that isn’t in the Bible. (It dates back to John Wesley in 1778.) Either Miss Kay and Phil don’t really know their family Good Book, or they’re just obediently reciting any old half-assed banter the writers feed them. The sexual innuendo just made it all creepier, like the scene when Willie’s wife winks to the camera, “There’s really only one way to convince a Robertson man to do anything. All you’ve got to do is make him think it’s his idea. Actually, there are two ways, but I save the other one for special occasions.” It’s the “Robertson man” that makes the moment so unforgettably skeevy – jeez, how many of her husband’s brothers is she claiming to have blown?
A typically phony gag, from this phoniest of reality franchises. Farewell, Duck Dynasty. The end of your era is a rare reason to celebrate in 2017 – but we’ll take it.