Truth time, friends: I'm a little disappointed in this week's episodes of "Amazing America with Sarah Palin."
What's my problem, you ask? Well, to be honest, I was hoping for more Sarah Palin. Her name is literally right there in the name of the show. But after last week's amazing (American!) dog mushing adventure, this week Our Sarah isn't given much to do besides intros, outros and the occasional straight-to-camera aside.
"Truly," Sarah says at the beginning of this week's first episode, "if you can dream it, you can be it." Memo to The Sportsman Channel: I can dream of seeing more Sarah Palin on "Amazing America with Sarah Palin." Next week I hope I can be seeing it.
The consolation prize in all this is Jerry Carroll, one of the show's "field hosts." I dare you to watch this show and not fall just a little bit in love with him.
This week's two episodes of "Amazing America" are about, respectively, accomplishment and altruism. Basically. The highlight of the evening is Jerry's trip to Dixon, Tenn., to meet country singer Craig Morgan, who, as Sarah puts it, is all about "utilizing nature with great reverence and respect."
What this means, as it turns out, is that he's a singing, shooting, beekeeping renaissance man. Despite being a clean-cut country guy, Craig (who, by the way, is a very good-looking man in a rugged, Todd Palin kind of way) is basically living the Portlandia dream. He's got a chicken coop (his hens lay little blue eggs, because of course they do) and a beehive, and he and Jerry (both of whom are weirdly well-versed in the properties of honey and the importance of honeybees to the world's ecosystems) have an exchange about beekeeping during which they say things like "the process of pollination is probably the most important thing in the world" with the same level of enthusiasm you or I might reserve for telling people that Village Inn gives away free pie with every purchase on Wednesdays (this is a real thing, by the way).
Craig also has a man cave full of taxidermied animals. Including an honest-to-god, no-joke alligator. There's also a state record black bear he shot with a bow right here in Alaska.
Craig's collection of animals is dwarfed by his collection of medals from his career in the Army, and that collection has nothing on his knife collection, which he declines to call a collection, so I'll just call it a big-ass box of knives.
"I wouldn't call 'em survival knives," he explains to Jerry. "These are self-sustaining blades."
Then he shows off one of his other hobbies: "When I get bored on the bus, I make my own little blades for fun."
He makes his own knives. Out of LAWN MOWER BLADES. I kid you not. Get this cat an Etsy shop, stat.
Let's review: Decorated Army veteran. Professional musician. Beekeeper. Chicken lover. Alligator-bagging bow hunter. Knife crafter. Also, in case I failed to mention it, very good-looking. Craig Morgan is basically an all-purpose people pleaser. At this point, I'm convinced that if you don't like Craig Morgan, there's something wrong with you. I mean, maybe vegans would have a hard time finding something to latch on to. Maybe. (Like I said, he's an attractive man.)
And then Craig takes Jerry out to his shooting range and brings out the rifles.
"I hate to admit it," Jerry says. "I got a crush on this guy right now." Me too, Jerry, and despite our blossoming, imaginary, one-sided, TV-based friendship, I will fight you for the death for him.
Sarah breaks in with a little lesson on the AR-15, and then Jerry and Craig get to shootin'. Jerry shoots left-handed (me too! I'm telling you, Jer, we could be besties), and he fires off round after round, sometimes even hitting the target, God bless him.
Finally, Jerry takes us to Nashville and the stage door of the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry, of which Craig has been a member since 2008, and where he is about to perform. Cruelly, we are denied any of Craig's music, but thanks to the magic of the Internet, please enjoy my new favorite Craig Morgan song.
To be honest, the episode goes downhill from there, because next we go to Hardin, Ill., with Mark Christopher Lawrence to meet Jonah White.
The inventor of Billy Bob Teeth.
Billy Bob Teeth are basically the grossest thing ever, and I'm inclined to revile Jonah for unleashing them on society. But the guy's got a compelling story. He claims to have lived in a cave for a year. He takes Mark to the cave and tells the tale of how he realized, living in the cave, that he wanted a life that revolved around fun. He pawned his .45 and founded the Billy Bob Teeth Co., and now he lives in a huge log home with a tortoise named Torton. Jonah built the house himself, mostly with a chainsaw (it's about 9,000 square feet), and literally all the furniture is also made out of logs. He seems to be big into shooting raccoons, because if the camera angles are at all accurate, the house is chock full of raccoon taxidermy.
Oh, there's also a pen full of goats and sheep, a rabbit hutch, and a pet bear named Nibbles.
A. Pet. Bear.
"Cave man has a bear," Mark whispers.
America, you are amazing.
Jonah asks Mark if he wants to come in and say hi to Nibbles.
"Heck, no," Mark replies, sensibly. Then he agrees to feed Nibbles some candy through the bars.
"I've seen your cave. I've seen your bear. What else is there?" Mark asks.
"Shotgun season starts tomorrow," Jonah says. "We should head over to the bunker."
This is The Sportsman Channel, and despite the devastating lack of Sarah this week, this is supposed to be her show, so of course Jonah also has a room full of guns. Are you surprised? They head out to the deck and shoot some Kalashnikovs for a while.
"Jonah is certainly an interesting guy," Sarah says in her outro.
Indeed. And fortunately, we are spared too much Billy Bob Teeth screen time.
The evening's second episode is all about giving back. We go with Mark to Hardy, Ark., where we meet Nathan Circle, who has the most epic house we've seen yet -- 35,000 square feet, with the requisite animal hides and antler chandelier. And an indoor archery range. Because why wouldn't you?
"Place this big, you wouldn't even notice when I moved in here," Mark says. (There's a lot of house gawking on this show. "Amazing America" is, in some ways, a CMT version of "MTV Cribs.")
Nathan's weapon of choice is a Matthews bow. But he also has a man cave full of shotguns, which gives Sarah a chance to break in with a comment about how she used to get to shoot her dad's old Remington rolling block when she was moose hunting as a kid. This is nowhere near as fulfilling as watching her actually shoot a rifle. You tease, The Sportsman Channel.
Nathan and his wife own a combination grocery store/gun shop, and they get Mark licensed up to hunt. All the deer they shoot will be going to Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a nonprofit that coordinates donation of game meat to -- well, feed the hungry. It's a pretty accurate name.
Mark then learns a valuable lesson about patience as he and Nathan spend the rest of the day camped out in a deer blind. "I don't know why they call it huntin'," Mark says. "They should call it waitin'."
With no deer in sight, they end up instead raiding Nathan's freezer for donations. It's a bit anticlimatic, but it does give Sarah the opportunity to bust in and point out that "kindness and altruism" are "the legacy of" (presumably amazing!) "America."
And finally, Jerry goes to Knoxville, Tenn., with Remote Area Medical, a charity that travels to rural areas on health care missions, and he talks with an eye doctor who's been everywhere from Haiti to the Aleutians to provide free care with RAM.
RAM founder Stan Brock isn't actually from America -- he's British -- and, fun fact, he was the co-host of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom." He's also been a cowboy and an Amazon bush pilot, earned his black belt in karate and had a species of bat named after him. (For real.) And now he's the founder of an organization that sometimes literally parachutes doctors into remote areas. Amazing imported American!
RAM has a small fleet of aircraft, and the "flagship" is a C-47 that flew over Normandy on D-Day, and Jerry, whom I love more and more with each on-screen minute, takes a moment to reflect on how the plane was once an instrument of war and is now a vehicle for peace.
While I'm placated by my ever-growing love for Jerry Carroll, I can't help but feel a little cheated by "Amazing America" this week. I signed up for this show because I wanted to watch Sarah Palin falling off dogsleds and popping right back up before offering moose chili to famous mushers, and the first week delivered on all these fronts. I feel like I was invited to a Tupperware party and I showed up only to be told, "Well, we've got Tupperware, but you can't actually buy it or touch it, and we're only going to take it out every once in a while when it's handy to reinforce a thematic point or introduce a new segment. But look, we've got cupcakes and beer!"
Jerry Carroll, you are the cupcakes and beer to my Tupperware disappointment.
Will next week bring more Sarah-centric screen time? Let's keep our fingers crossed. Remember, in amazing America, if you can dream it, you can be it.