The eyes of Texas may be upon you, but right now all eyes are on Texas.
So it seems in the vast world of reality television. Here at Aftershocks, we couldn’t help but notice that producers have become obsessed with the Lone Star State. It was inevitable, we suppose. Drama queens, haute cuisine chefs, drug-sniffin’ dogs, lady hoggers, rich bitches — you name it, we’ve got it.
Texas was made for television.
Drama queens, haute cuisine chefs, drug-sniffin’ dogs, lady hoggers, rich bitches — you name it, we’ve got it. Texas was made for television.
What exactly motivates networks to perpetuate a series of icons and stereotypes: Cowboy boots, pit barbecues, rodeos, sombreros, cacti, bail bonds, oil rigs, and pawn brokers? And, is there something here to be mined, other than oil, that Americans have not yet seen?
Texas fever started building earlier this year with programs like Most Eligible Dallas and Big Rich Texas. Even the Real Housewives of Orange County touched down in San Antonio with Baylor University-educated Gretchen Rossi's dubious line of handbags.
The judges and “cheftestants” on Season 9 of Top Chef hail mostly from outside the state, but no matter since the episodes are filmed in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. Where is Houston? Not even on the radar. Allegedly, Houston “declined” to make its incentive payments like the other cities, so Top Chef will pass the Bayou City by.
What’s wrong, Bravo? Are your signature stylists, flippers, matchmakers, and housewives not raking in the cash like they used to?
So far, the action has centered on San Antonio, where the cameras can’t seem to stay away from The Alamo. Remember that? Challenges have been predictably "local."
Why just the other day we, too, were going to whip up something delightful for Thanksgiving from a dead rattlesnake, maybe with the help of a ghost chili, apparently the hottest in the entire world.
Never mind that the ghost chili hails from India and Bangladesh. Texans love spicy food! That must also explain the presence of guest judges Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of the phenomenal Border Grill in Santa Monica. Who cares if they hail from California? Texans love spicy food! Besides, isn't Texas the new California?
The first to leave after a hastily-catered Fiesta de Quinceañera is kindly Keith Rhodes. The ex-con with a heart was found guilty of using flour tortillas in his enchiladas, and since he was one of the most intriguing cheftestants, we were sad to see him go.
“Dream big, dream hard, because dreams do come true,” were his final words, even as his dream of winning crumbled in front of him like last year’s cobbler. “God, that was awful,” said squirrel-faced Sarah Grueneberg after throwing him under the bus before the judges. Awful for her, not her victim.
This Bayou City native is one more thing Chicago has stolen from Houston. We say, "Keep her."
A Strange World
Part of the enjoyment for in-state viewers is the hilarious misconceptions of the cheftestants, who look at Texas like wide-eyed children on their first trip to The Magic Kingdom. “Think there’s going to be like 10,000 screaming cowboys at this thing?” asks one chef as vans shuttle them to the Tejas Rodeo chili challenge.
“I don’t think cowboys scream,” another replies doubtfully.
If it’s screaming cowboys you want, however, look no further than The A-List: Dallas, which outdoes its New York cousin by a long Texas mile. The whining antics of humorless, preening New Yorkers gets pretty old pretty quick. We also had the impression that most of them moved to the Big Apple for the show.
But Logo’s recipe — throw a handful of gays and one fag hag into a city, add a few crates of Grey Goose, and then watch what happens — seems downright refreshing when served up Dallas style.
If Texas is the new territory for reality TV, then the dusty-eyed midnight cowboy Levi Crocker is its reigning rodeo king. Yes, he worked the rodeo for real, until he broke his back and started Inch Wear, his own line of underwear and swimsuits where one size certainly does not fit all.
We love Levi’s rugged, Marlboro-man appearance, but admire his refreshingly irreverent humor and studied indifference even more. His sexual attention deficit disorder makes for some wonderful episodes (check out the evidence in the video module at the top of this story).
Logo’s recipe — throw a handful of gays and one fag hag into a city, add a few crates of Grey Goose, and then watch what happens — seems downright refreshing when served up Dallas style.
So far, Levi has chewed up and spit out trust-fund drunkard James Doyle (“I let him blow me, that’s all,” Levi explained in the season opener), the boyish Republican fundraiser Taylor Garrett (“I’m Republican so that I can buy more shoes!” he explains at a chatty luncheon to rapidly aging Log Cabin Republicans), and the sharp-witted, hilarious, hair-challenged mortgage broker Chase Hutchinson.
Still, we have a very special place in our heart for Ashley Kelly, the blond bombshell who keeps the boys in check with just enough hairspray, finger-wagging and prayer. At a recent meal, the spirit filled her as she said grace: "And God, bless these nachos.”
We say, "Amen."
Hogs & Cops
When we first put roots down here in Houston, some five or so years ago, the first paper we happened across was the Houston Press, which featured a long investigative piece called "Hog Wild" on Texas' feral pig epidemic.
Feral pigs? We were total greenhorns, and we still feel like greenhorns when we didn't see the reality television gold mine in these pesky porkers. Rest assured, A&E took a break from its mainstay of addicts, hoarders and obsessive-compulsives to roll out American Hoggers. The show features the Campbell family's quest to liberate Texans from wild boars.
Apparently the family that slays together stays together.
Texas television clearly can be a little too real for anyone's tastes.
At the opening of one episode, a massive Texas flag flies over the land as a soundtrack of guttural grunts and snorts threatens from below. We don't doubt the hunting prowess of the impressive Campbell family or the problem of feral pigs. But the action shots, dramatic soundtracks and alarmist rhetoric suggests invasion is imminent.
We can't tell if aliens are landing or if the Russians are coming.
Texas is so omnipresent a theme there was no way watch or write about all the relevant shows. Clearly, many look to the Lone Star State with anticipation as yet another desperate election cycle unfolds from here to Washington, D.C.
With an uncertain political landscape looming, it's no surprise border issues would surface in the universe of reality television. It's also no surprise that the show we could only stomach once is A&E’s series Bordertown: Laredo.
As haggard policemen in the town’s Narcotics Unit stand proudly in front of a pile of heroin bricks and tell reporters how much they’ve accomplished in the U.S. war against drugs, we could only feel depressed. There’s something about watching a cop push a junkie’s head into the sidewalk while handcuffing him that just isn’t entertaining.
The show, like much law-enforcement-themed television, feels incredibly rehearsed in spite of the door-busting action of clearly overworked officers. It's easy to feel that justice is served at the end of a brief 30 minutes (minus time for commercials). But clearly there are no quick or simple solutions on the horizon to drug trafficking or the catastrophe of the border.
We'd guess many Americans, when they're not mocking Rick Perry's political gaffes, want Texas to serve up a king-sized portion of quaint exaggeration with a little side of twang. But Texas television clearly can be a little too real for anyone's tastes.