Things are gettin' real on "Alaskan Bush People" as the family decides how to treat Ami, the matriarch of Browntown who was recently diagnosed with late-stage cancer.
Producers are navigating how to deal with such a serious situation on a show that typically manufactures bear drama as the main plotline. The past few episodes have focused on how the Brown children are dealing with this news, the family uniting and the decision to close down Browntown.
Instead of addressing those issues, last week's episode spent an entire hour going back to a simpler time. A time when they got Mr. Cupcake, an unfortunately named dog. Mostly this is led to some money clips of the Brown boys courting cruise ship passengers in Ketchikan with failed magic tricks and really crappy pickup lines. For example, Bam says, "I didn't know there was a cruise ship full of models in town," to impress a woman shopping for souvenirs. Not surprisingly, it did not work.
We did get to meet a new character, Dean, who took Billy gold panning. In typical fashion, he had a large beard and a slightly crazy laugh. He was also hard to understand because he had just pulled his own teeth the night before. The thing that has always made this show is the random Southeast residents who show up to react to the family, and Dean did not fail at this role. He referred to a downed tree as a "nice pooper" and called dentists "quackpots." While he exceeded in personality, he lacked in knowledge of where to find gold in Ketchikan.
The entire episode was like going back to a more innocent time, before they were famous and when their biggest problem was getting charged with Permanent Fund dividend fraud. It was like watching a "Saved by the Bell" episode as an adult and remembering that you once thought this was interesting and not the cheesiest thing you've ever seen.
This week's episode was the exact opposite, when several of the kids traveled back to Browntown to close it up for the foreseeable future. First, my favorite of all the random side characters, Kenny from the dump, comes back to have a heart-to-heart with Matt. After they say goodbye, the show quickly takes yet another serious turn. With black title cards, show producers claim that just after 9 p.m. there was an explosion at Browntown. They then show Matt losing a disturbing amount of blood from his head and getting airlifted to Juneau with producers and medics all around him.
In typical "Alaskan Bush People" fashion, details are sketchy, but when Matt returns to California to see the rest of the fam he says he was trying to make an improvised bear deterrent with gunpowder and it blew up. He apparently ended up with nine staples in his head and a new sense of humility.
Next, Bear, Rain and Snowbird (the three children who are probably the least suited to move a homestead) return to Browntown. For some reason, they decide the most important thing they can do to shutter their home is to take down the wind turbine. Which they eventually snap in half. Then human Bear sneaks up on an animal bear with no apparent purpose. They each eat a stick of butter, and in that moment I almost forgot that this has become the most depressing show on TV.
Finally, "Homestead Rescue" has flipped the script back to Alaska, as the Raney family seeks to build their own homestead in the Talkeetna Mountains. It's a needed change from the typical format, where the Raneys deal with someone else's predator problem, build some kind of garden and/or livestock pen and help a family find a water source. You can check out both these shows on Wednesday nights on Discovery Channel.
Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @ETFBacher.