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Review: 'Swamp People: Season 4' looks at life on the bayou

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"Swamp People: Season 4"

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Premiering tomorrow on DVD is Season 4 of the popular History Channel reality show “Swamp People,” which looks at life deep in the swamps of Louisiana. The tagline for the season is “Fresh Blood in the Swamp,” with Season 4 marking a change in the show, which expands its scope beyond areas past the Atchafalaya River Basin to other parts of Louisiana and even Texas. This doesn’t mean the action is hard to follow; even first-time viewers can jump into this season easily.

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Season 4 takes place during the 2012 alligator hunting season, which was delayed due to Hurricane Isaac. This means the usual 30-day season will only be 25, forcing the hunters to work harder and faster. Early episodes show the hunters taking extreme measures to fill their quota, including jumping into the water and putting the gator in a headlock.

At this point, reality television has become a slickly produced, tightly edited machine, with many of these shows using the same beats, editing tricks, “cliffhangers” etc. in order to keep viewers invested. Reality show production companies have the formula down at this point. “Swamp People” distinguishes itself by providing insight into an industry most people have never once thought about, while also featuring a fascinating panoply of born and bred Cajuns whose accents are so thick the show has to be subtitled.

If the show has a “star” it’s so-called “King of the Swamp” Troy Landry, a bayou legend and master gator hunter. If this season has “villains,” it would be the two Texans, T-Roy Broussard and Harlan “Bigfoot” Hatcher (so named because he never wears shoes; it’s pretty gross). T-Roy and Bigfoot are portrayed as interlopers dead set on taking over as kings of the swamp. The stakes are set early, as Landry and the Texans make a not-very-friendly wager to see who will catch the largest gator during the season.

There’s also an endearing guy named Glenn, who begins the season mourning the death of his younger brother. Another pair is Willie and his dad, Junior, who spend the bulk of the season arguing with each other, and a woman named Liz and her daughter who occasionally yell at each other, and a kid named ZZ with, I think it was his granddad, not to mention Landry’s sons, or Jeromy and his stepdad, or Bruce and Ron, or . . .whew. As it went on, I understand why there were 22 episodes: one for seemingly each person on the show.

I was reminded of a couple of other reality shows while watching “Swamp People” - “The Deadliest Catch,” which itself portrays an array of people living, working and bonding within a dangerous environment, while the down-home Cajun atmosphere and family hijinx added a bit of “Duck Dynasty” to the proceedings, although “Swamp People” isn’t nearly as focused as those two shows. At times the show can get too scattered as it hops between over a dozen different indecipherable fishermen.

If you are a fan of reality television set in life-threatening conditions that are rarely portrayed on television, you’ll enjoy “Swamp People,” a good-if-unexceptional entry in the documentary reality genre.

A/V Quality

A highlight of the series is the second unit cinematography shot in the backwoods and bayous of Louisiana. Audio is average, but the nature footage is very good in spots, especially the aerial shots. Some of the footage appears to be shot with lower-quality Go Pro cameras, but the difference in video quality isn’t too distracting.

Extras

Extras include 5 short webisodes titled “Bruce Rolls a Fatty,” “Father and Son,” “Bruce’s Discovery,” Family Froggin’,” and “Daddy Dearest,” totaling over 40 minutes.

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