The last time MTV aired a reality show about out-of-control millennials living in a small rural community, it didn’t end well. “Buckwild” — set in West Virginia and a ratings hit — was abruptly canceled last year after star Shain Gandee died while going “mudding” in his car.
The tragic accident happened off-camera and between seasons, but even MTV realized they couldn’t in good conscience go forward with a show that celebrated wild outdoor antics when one resulted in a cast member’s death. So it was a bit surprising when the network recently announced plans for “Slednecks,” a series that chronicled the tales of a group of hard-partying, heavy-drinking friends in Wasilla, Alaska.
“People think of us as a bit more redneck, more ‘sledneck,'” one cast member says in the opening of the show, which kicks off with a 90-minute special on Thursday night. To drive home this point, the camera continually cuts away to scenes of trailer parks and plumbing-free homes. Plus, dangerous-looking stunts in freezing temperatures, such as “airboating” (a watercraft that can cruise across land) through the snow and merry swims in 12-degree lakes.
Throughout the first episodes, the cast — ranging in age from 19 to 24 — repeatedly proclaim how you have to be tough to live in Alaska, especially when there’s not a lot to do. Then they are guided to engage in the supposedly quintessential Alaska activities they have invented to amuse themselves. A barbecue on a glacier. Driving cars through nearly frozen lakes. Going wakeboarding in frigid water. Taking part in a strip show at the local all-male revue. Drinking games. Doing shots of caribou blood.
“You guys are dumber than a stump,” says Leonard, the stereotypically grizzled old guy who runs the airboat shop and is the boss of two truly dumb dudes, Kelly and Trevor. He confides to the camera he’s pretty close to firing them both, which seems justified when he finds them turning on a huge fan and seeing how far it can shoot them down an ice patch. Leonard rants they could have taken out an eye with flying ice. Kelly and Trevor just giggle.
Trevor calls himself a “fungineer,” building random inventions out of junk, which, later in the season, appears to be a couch rigged up with an engine so they can ride it on the lake. The whole thing is uncomfortably reminiscent of the dump truck the “Buckwild” crew filled up with water to serve as a swimming pool: Let’s all laugh at the stupid and possibly dangerous ways small town folks have fun! Unless it ends in tragedy.
The cast is clearly urged to amp up the drama. The show’s central couple, Sierra and Kelly, constantly fight — luckily, no one is injured when Sierra uses homemade explosives to blow up Kelly’s couch and clothes after they break up. Young people doing stupid things has been in MTV’s DNA for awhile now thanks to the breakout success of “Jersey Shore.” But it seems like a little too soon after the network’s very real reminder of what could go wrong.