Buckwild, MTV’s thrill-ride of a reality hit.
Photo by MTV.
Buckwild (MTV, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET) is a reality show shot in the great state of West Virginia, which it depicts as a wilderness preserve administered by backyard daredevils for the benefit of common hedonists. At the start of each episode, one distaff castmate pledges brattish allegiance to the state’s Latin motto: Montani
Semper Liberi (“All Mountaineers Are Free”). “We’re free to do whatever the [bleep] we want,” she offers, introducing the unscripted adventures of backwoods libertines.
As evidenced by the gloriously low-concept title of its second episode, “Dump Truck Pool Party,” Buckwild is elemental in its appeal. It mixes earth (the other-rich soil of exotic Appalachia) with water (a liquid solution of androgenic hormones) to make mud (to do donuts in your truck in). The boys motor off-road like speed demons, and in the bed of the pickup, the girls look like dirty angels, flaunting the rear cargo in their Daisy Dukes, carrying red Solo cups instead of wearing golden halos.
Buckwild may ultimately prove to be, like certain Robert Altman films, a genuine ensemble piece, but the star so far is Cara, who is promoted as “The Firecracker” and who plays up a resemblance to the Christina Ricci of Black Snake Moan. Cara is leaving Morgantown, which is a small city, for Sissonville, which is a small town in the middle of nowhere, where you make your own fun. According to her official bio, she wants to escape “the drama of having an ex,” but actually, as according to the laws of reality TV, she’s just taking some drama-queen postures on tour. In her first scene, when her friends drive up to throw her bags in the trunk and launch the road show, Cara swan-dives into the backseat of the car, slamming her cleavage into the camera and foreshadowing the exuberance of her freestyle mud-wrestling technique.
It’s a Rural Real World, after all, an adolescent vision of a physically active rustic idyll. Instead of gamboling in a pasture, the heroes jump from bridges, and perform stunts with heavy equipment, and party, and party. Every day is charged with a rough-and-tumble wet-and-messy camaraderie that most reality-show stars only achieve on special editions of Road Rules.
The male castmates tend to hoot in Cletus-speak, and the country roads take them home to a place where the gals are getting kicked out after throwing a party and drunkenly fighting the neighbor who came to complain about the noise. For these reasons, some West Virginians disapprove of the show’s representation of their state. On one level—one that the show itself has no interest in remotely engaging—this is an eminently reasonable position: Like the played-out Jersey Shore, which it effectively replaces in the MTV universe, Buckwild provides a mainstream audience a virtual adventure getaway among an uncouth subculture. It is a safari to the land of the squirrel-eating lotus-eaters.
But to consider both the larger range of hillbilly defamation and the broader context of reality-show idiocy is to observe that these kids behave no more or less idiotically than do their coastal cousins—and even have roughly the same number of teeth per capita! Buckwild looks, on the hixsploitation score, tame. The dialect is Southern Midland, but the show itself speaks the standard American English vocabulary of “wild and crazy behavior,” to use the language of its do-not-try-this-at-home disclaimer. These country boys may not know much, but it is not possible to know less than Snooki—self-pampering, synthetic Snooki, city slick as a polyester dress—and, hey, the country boys know how to turn a dump truck into a swimming pool. A lifestyle in which such a skill is valued is not altogether undesirable.
It also should be noted that Buckwild reflects cultural miscegenation, presenting a vision of post-racial redneck culture. One of the young ladies in attendance at the dump-truck pool party is Sarwa. “I may look exotic but I’m as country as it comes,” she drawls. Her parents hail from Bangladesh, which she says makes her Bengali, which she pronounces “Been Golly!” in a tone that makes it sound like she’s psyched to rock out every moment of a 10-day wedding. The hick trucks seem to bump hip-hop soundtracks, and though I have never screened the 2006 collaboration of Bubba Sparxxx and Girls Gone Wild, I suspect certain affinities.
In the looseness of its storylines and the kinetics of its action, in the ups and downs of the local topography and the roller-coaster emotions of the local emoters, in the fishbowl lenses mounted on dashboards and the rhythms of cameras rattling off-road, in the long lines to try and make a move on Cara, Buckwild seems to be doing pioneer’s work in the genre of the reality-trash thrill ride. The hollering in these Mountain State hollows is the racket of an amusement park.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.