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Reality Check: Nice family, bad show -- the problem with the Kilchers

Emily Fehrenbacher

With Netflix, HBO Go, DVR and on-demand TV all at my disposal, I have very few excuses to watch commercials. It's a waste of time and it signifies that I've given up trying to be at all productive, even in my television consumption. Typically, if I'm brain-dead enough to sit through commercials, the shows I'm watching are "16 and Pregnant," "Teen Mom," whichever bunch of housewives is yelling at each other on Bravo, or "Alaska: The Last Frontier."

On an unseasonably warm Sunday last week, I looked outside, saw it was raining, sighed and sank in for an episode of "Last Frontier," commercials and all.

The show is about the Kilcher family in Homer. They are famous because Atz Kilcher, the family patriarch, is the father of pop singer Jewel. In this season of the show, Atz and his extended family prepare their homes for winter. "Last Frontier" follows a similar format in nearly every episode: one or two of the Kilchers set out to fill the freezer or fix something; they run into trouble along the way and ominous music plays; nothing major is wrong; they kill an animal or fish; they go home with food or fix whatever is broken. That's why this show is in my "given up on life" category of TV, because it's just not that interesting.

For the record, I don't believe the Kilchers are the reason this show fails to resonate. In fact, I applaud them for not going out of their way to become caricatures of themselves and ending up in Us Weekly, unlike the cast of "Duck Dynasty." The Kilchers seem to be the kind of Alaskan family that decided to try to distance themselves from money the best they could, and I can understand that. What I don't understand is why they would allow the cameras into their lives.

The problem with "Last Frontier" falls squarely on the Discovery Channel's shoulders. The narration is the worst. "Deadliest Catch" and "Ultimate Survival Alaska" are good shows that rely on a narrator to provide context (example: What time of day is it? Which boat are we watching?). In "Last Frontier," the narrator carries the weight of the story, making it far too edited and over-produced.

The biggest complaint I hear about the show is that the narrator frequently comments on how if the family doesn't kill a fish, deer or moose they'll basically go hungry. This is obviously false, since they live just outside Homer and near several grocery stores and restaurants. I don't blame the Kilcher family for their TV edits. This is the plot that some team of writers came up with in California, and they've edited the Kilchers to fit a storyline.

Despite my skepticism, people must love it, because "Alaska: The Last Frontier" has developed one of the craziest social media followings of all the Alaska reality TV shows. You can go to Discovery Channel's website at any time and see live video feed of the Kilchers' chicken coop, yard and woodshed. When I went on the site on Sunday, there were 117 people watching Eivin Kilcher's chicken coop at 11 p.m. Alaska time; 1.25 million people had logged in at some point.

The website has polls asking viewers questions like "What would you do if you spotted a bear?" and "Outhouse or running water?" The Kilchers also have several Facebook and Twitter pages where they promote the show and keep fans updated on their lives. Charlotte Kilcher has 6,243 followers, more than almost any other Alaska reality TV star.

I can see why people living in big cities, completely distanced from any kind of wilderness, find this family entertaining. But for Alaskans, it should be reserved for the gloomiest of winter days.

• Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV.

Alaska: The Last Frontier

Season finale: 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, on Discovery Channel, Channel 56. Bonus online Q&A with Atz Kilcher on Discovery Channel's website at 4:30 p.m. (dsc.discovery.com)

 


Emily Fehrenbacher
Anchorage