"Duck Dynasty's" patriarch is back, and he's rambling about "microbes"

The show returned from its hiatus (and controversy) last night with a surreal monologue from Phil Robertson

Published January 16, 2014 1:37PM (EST)

Phil Robertson in "Duck Dynasty"                 (A&E/Karolina Wojtasik)
Phil Robertson in "Duck Dynasty" (A&E/Karolina Wojtasik)

A&E's runaway reality hit "Duck Dynasty" returned last night after a brief winter hiatus and a spot of controversy. If you remember, the show and its parent network came under fire after its most curmudgeonly character, Phil Robertson, was quoted in a GQ article making homophobic remarks per his particular interpretation of "sin." Liberals and watchdogs barked. Conservatives and Bible thumpers responded. Battle lines were drawn. Robertson was suspended from his family's show. Petitions calling for his reinstatement were drawn up. Much hay was made. Eventually, the suspension was lifted and placating statements were issued by all the necessary parties.

In hindsight, the drama played out rather quickly and almost entirely while the show was already scheduled to be off the air. Now that it is back, some wondered whether the kerfuffle would adversely affect "Duck Dynasty's" ratings. Others suggested that it had actually raised the profile of the program and might draw in new viewers curious to see what all the fuss is about.

I'd like to say that the controversy made me curious, but it did not. Before last night I was fairly confident that all I needed to know of the show about a family made wealthy from selling duck call devices could be easily divined from a modicum of press -- and that there description. Nevertheless, this is my job, and now seemed like as good a time as any to sample one of the most popular shows in America. I was not prepared for the level of silliness I finally got around to experiencing.

For the most part, "Duck Dynasty" is a camouflage-colored tapestry of reality show contrivances, one more egregious than the next. We're talking about forced confessionals, staged conflicts, misleading edits and heavy-handed music cues. It's like "The Real World" with beards. Last night's episode revolved around the "return" of "L.A. woman" Rebecca Robertson, a long-lost member of  the clan whose addition was clearly intended to wring humor out of incongruity.

The sole episode I watched did have its relatively original comic moments, most of which involved the gruff Robertson himself. Maybe this is the result of the desperate editing, but at one point his ramblings seemed to veer into the surreal. His fixation on preemptively counteracting "microbes" was easily the most compelling part of the show.

When the controversy over Robertson's comments first erupted, I was of the opinion that, if the program truly aimed to represent the Robertson family's reality, it would allow its patriarch his unfiltered say. I defend that position even more now, not just because the results would be genuine, but because they would also probably be ridiculous.

By Neil Drumming

Neil Drumming is a staff writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter @Neil_Salon.

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