I'm disappointed by Buckwild. I know that's a ridiculous thing to say about a reality show premiering on MTV in 2013, but it's true. In the lead-up to last night's series premiere, I'd been quietly (or not so quietly) hoping that this show would be like an extended True Life episode, the way Jersey Shore was supposed to be but never was. You know, actual people who seem like people doing actual things that they do in life. Plus the setting — rural West Virginia, Appalachian land of hollers and hootenannies — is undeniably fascinating. Years ago I was riveted by the excellent, and somberly serious, Frontline film Country Boys, a grim look at the effects of Appalachian poverty on youth with only the slightest glimmers of hope dancing at its edges. So maybe, I thought, this silly Buckwild show would play as the counterbalance to that, a show about not-so-rich holler folk having good times, enjoying life, facing nothing grimmer than figuring out plans for a Friday night. But I thought stupidly. It's not that at all. In some ways, Buckwild is even more depressing than the documentary version of Buckwild that was supposed to be depressing.
The show follows a group of post-high school kids, some in college and others content to join the work force and put money in their pockets. This seems pretty much drawn along gender lines, with the girls living in "the city" (Morgantown, home of West Virginia University) and going to school and the boys staying back in the country, particularly Wolf Pen holler, and working jobs like trash collecting and at a spark plug factory. The lead country boy, a genial good-timer named Shain, is reluctant to venture too far from home and seems the most "authentically" country of anyone in the cast. Truth is, most of these kids resemble anyone from something like MTV's Two-a-Days, about a reasonably well-to-do football community in Alabama, or really any kid out of an Atlanta suburb. With the exception of Shain, they've all got smartphones and Hollister clothes and all that other boring anytown middle class America stuff. Good for them — I'm not saying that MTV should have gone out and found the poorest kids they could just so I'd be better entertained — but the all too generic nature of these kids has caused the show, and in turn the cast, to try to amp up the characterizations, and the stakes. These are good kids who go to school or work good jobs and that's about it. But MTV wants you to think they are a rare and fascinating species, giving us lots of subtitles when we only occasionally need them (Shain is really the only one with a thick accent) and forcing the kids into staged situations that are painfully obvious in their insincerity.