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Television shows have a short shelf life. With the possible exception of Jerry Springer, in which balletic ensembles of overweight pugilists of many genders slug it out in pursuit of marital harmony, romantic understanding and who knows, maybe even world peace, only Frasier among old shows manages to maintain its attraction for this dazed hack.
Why should this be so? There are two reasons, with the dialogue in first place. While jokes may tire with age and bore with repetition, the snappy chatter of the Crane family, its curious live-in servants and passing guests maintain a pleasing electric buzz. So too do the performances of the Crane brothers, with each the perfect foil for the other, their timing astute, their many good lines dulled only by the intrusive clatter of the canned laughter. Fans of this show can currently find it on Sony.
Humour of a very different sort interlards the boykie antics of Top Gear. Certain strata in British society are beginning to tire of Jeremy Clarkson, the main ou in Top Gear’s line-up. They object to his crass jokes about shooting people, his up-your-bum approach to suicide and to a lesser extent, the bad company he keeps. This latter includes the Eton bully boy and Trustaffairian currently heading the British government and a slurry of Murdoch journalists and newspaper owners.
On the other hand, viewers who enjoy a private snigger as he and his buddies insult Mexicans and Indians, will undoubtedly find a lot to enjoy when his rumoured Durban-based show hits the screen.
Meantime, those of us who take more acceptable pleasures in motor cars, the automobile industry and the sight of three grown men licensed to have a really good time will continue to watch avidly as this massive-earning machine of a show continues to dominate broadcast television. I tremble for my city, though. We Durbanites have frail egos, excited by the city’s potential yet truly unkeen to have it trashed on screen by three middle-aged Poms in fast cars.
Meanwhile, back in the swamps of Louisiana, the History Channel continues its spectacular exploration of a 300-year-old way of life. This is the life of the alligator hunters: rural folk who live near the waters of the biggest swamps in the US. Some are Cajuns, the descendants of French colonists who in the 18th century fled the British occupation of their native Canada. Until World War II when the military call-up thrust these French speakers into an English-speaking environment, English was little spoken by the Cajuns despite their long settlement in the US.
In a landscape that reminds one of True Blood, these hunters in their skiffs enjoy a one-month hunting season for alligators. The show embraces some tiny aspects of reality television, specifically the on-camera monologue by the hunters and their families. Accents are so thick that subtitles are necessary despite the English most of them speak. The hunts themselves are thrilling, featuring as they do the danger of the prey and the random events that dominate the moment of capture.
One of the least expected was the curious inaccuracy of one of the hunters who managed to miss his alligator target three times with a rifle from five or six metres.
For South Africans like ourselves, the gators themselves are small fry compared to a Nile crocodile, but despite this, it is near impossible to believe the bad marksmanship considering the target was 3m long and on dry land.
For all that, it’s a great show documenting a fading yet fundamental relationship between humans and their environments.