Rocket City Rednecks debuts tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern on the National Geographic channel.
“This seems fun. Let’s build it and see what happens!”
The National Geographic Channel’s new show Rocket City Rednecks is built on this premise, just like Mythbusters before it. And Rocket City Rednecks seems like a high-concept irrelevance initially, simply “Rednecks doing Mythbusters on another channel!” And to be honest, an abrasive intro song playing up the redneck-ness of the main characters does nothing to help that. But get past some of the show’s frustrating but understandable framing devices, and this is actually one of the more ridiculously fun shows around.
Rednecks has three big advantages that keep it watchable at such a level. The first, and probably most important, is the host, Travis Taylor. He, and the other “Rednecks” who form his team, aren’t just random guys fiddling with motors, but they’re literally rocket scientists, working or having worked for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. Travis’s father, “Daddy,” states at one point that he worked on the Apollo 11 mission. But pedigree is one thing, being confident on camera is another, and Travis has that ability and then some. He’s a charming host, whether he’s teasing his buddies, describing his feelings, speaking in idioms, or breaking down the science. His four friends and family who work with him prove capable foils, but Travis carries the show.
Travis is also clearly whip-smart, both in pragmatic and academic fashion, which leads to the second strength of Rednecks: It is rare and exciting to see southerners treated as geniuses, as Rednecks does. The title and premise suggests a kind of voyeuristic, reality TV-style “making fun of the rubes” show, but the characters’ good humor, excitement, and clear competence put you firmly on their side. When Travis starts an episode by amusingly declaring “Well, I think there’s an alternative to rocket fuel called ALCOHOL”, then builds a still and fires a rocket (named REDNECK 1) with its high-proof whiskey, it’s a clear sign that Rocket City Rednecks is making the absolute best of its high concept, while possibly breaking down stereotypes about southerners.
The final thing that makes Rocket City Rednecks work so well is that it’s focused and edited to go down easy. I don’t know about you all, but when I’ve watched Mythbusters, I’ve been frustrated by it setting up an interesting idea, then teasing the results of that over the next hour and several commercial breaks, while less interesting myths get busted. Rednecks takes a single idea, shows the guys developing the idea, then building what they need to build, then testing it. It’s simple chronology, and it works.
The ideas are both interesting and well-grounded, too. Running a rocket on alcohol works with NASA’s apparent desire to explore alternative fuel sources. The other episode is built around using beer cans as armor for trucks against IEDs. It’s not deep, but it works. There’s some odd, repetitive reality show-style editing that can be awkward, but it’s a small price to pay. Rocket City Rednecks is a smart, fun, fast-paced show that you won’t feel guilty about watching—except maybe during the intro.