Guntucky: TV Review
9:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21 (CMT)
CMT's "Guntucky" series, celebrating family and firearms, suffers from an uncomfortable and unavoidable association with the tragedies at Sandy Hook, in Boston and in West, Texas.
CMT's Guntucky was originally meant to air in January but was unsurprisingly postponed after the Sandy Hook tragedy. In the week before its new premiere date, tragedy struck again: this time not guns, but bombs at the Boston Marathon, followed by a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, more violence in Boston and bomb threats around the country. Guntucky trades in both guns and explosives, but the problem with its presentation is not in the story of a family-owned Kentucky gun range, nor in the hillbilly entertainment, but in some of the more insidious implications. "America is the greatest country in the world," an Argentinean man says after the range allows him to blow up his boat on their property, "because you can pretty much do whatever you want."
Guntucky comes from Leftfield Pictures, who brought the History channel the incredibly successful Pawn Stars series. Like Pawn Stars, as well as A&E's juggernaut Duck Dynasty, Guntucky puts family first ("and guns second") in a familiar half-hour docu-drama format that plays up the quirks of the business alongside the oddities of those profiled. The Sumner family has owned the Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Ky., for three generations, and the the series shows three generations at work today, from patriarch Gran-pa Biff and his sons Kenny (the responsible one) and Steven (the wild one) to Steven's "spoiled" son Payton and his sister Stephanie. In addition to buying and selling firearms, the Sumners also indulge patrons in reenactments (like blowing up a Civil War cabin replica) as well as help them settle bets ("which looks better being shot up, a bowling ball or a watermelon?")
Some of the situations are entirely harebrained, but the show attempts to throw a little bit of value into the proceedings with pop-up boxes that give historical facts ("steel was scarce during the Civil War so many guns were made out of brass") and allowing the gun enthusiasts to lovingly explain the significance of the guns shown. The series also is unusually stylish at times, showing slow-motion shots of the guns being fired as well as the items they are causing to explode. There are many aspects of Guntucky that remind of Mythbusters, whose "big finales" usually include a huge explosion or regarding an action in extreme slow motion. It can be mesmerizing.
On the other hand, the laid-back country attitudes of the Sumners (even in the set-up situations) is in stark contrast to some of the overeager behavior of their clients, or those from whom they buy guns. One man had firearms partially hidden all over his house ("you never know where you'll be when someone kicks down your door"), and another requested a reenactment of a gangster shootout, where he employed the infamous Tommy Gun, among others. Initially, he comments that he simply likes watching The Godfather and other gangster films. But later, during the shootout, he hauntingly says of the paper targets, "I made sure they all got a mouthful of lead."
Guntucky goes to great lengths during the show to give disclaimers about what is being presented ("never imitate") and the way it's being presented ("all according to the law") and by whom its presented ("professionals only"). But even though there are humorous parts to Guntucky (some of the family members are genuinely funny and the schemes often ridiculous), viewers may not help but wince, given recent events, at the plethora of explosions in the first two episodes. This hesitation, though, seems to have less to do with Guntucky itself and what it suggests (a controlled celebration of gun culture), but the fact that in the wrong hands, out of that controlled environment, violence is also occurring with alarming regularity.