Back before there was a second STAR WARS movie in theaters, one of the top shows on network TV was THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. On the tube for seven seasons, the show found a second life later in syndication and then on country cable channels such as TNN, before it became SpikeTV. As for myself, I remember watching the Duke boys careen around Hazzard Country on Friday nights, and for the most part, have fond but fuzzy memories of the show. For a nine-year-old like myself it wasn't a must-see like THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO but still, can any kid that age resist the charm of a show that practically guarantees plenty of cars jumping off of ramps every week?
Now that I've had to chance to watch the second season of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, all thanks to the miracle that is DVD, that sentimental feeling of being nine and not having a care in the world washes over me once again. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD wasn't cutting edge programming; it's essentially the same story week after week, just with different guest stars. Even the backroads of Hazzard County, which turned out to be just the backlot at Warner Bros., get recycled again and again, but the beauty of DUKES is that it's a fun show to watch without engaging your brain too much.
Perhaps the show's greatest strength came from the performances of the actors. Tune into the DUKES and you know Sorrell Booke's Boss Hogg is going to be the same slimy guy week after week, or that Denver Pyle's Uncle Jesse ain't ever going to lose his grouchiness, but their characters are all likeable and, more importantly, relatable even to people who've never been to the South. It also helps that even though the show's premise is based on two grown Southern men behaving like borderline criminals, there's a strong sense of family between all of the players, even with the bad guys like Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane (James Best). That's probably what's kept the show in the minds of viewers this past quarter of a century, moreso than the car chases and short shorts that Daisy (Catherine Bach) wears every episode.
I could explain some of the episodes in greater detail but really, is there a need? You know what to expect, and to the show's credit it does spice things up a bit this season with guest appearances from country singer Loretta Lynn (remember, Sissy Spacek's COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER was huge around this time) and race car driver Cale Yarborough. Still, you know the drill: there's some kind of shady dealing going on, the Duke boys gets wind of it, car chases happen and by the end of the show everything has worked out just fine. It's bulletproof!
Included in the set are two bonus supplements, the first being the screen tests for the two Duke boys, stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider. The other feature is a documentary covering the 25th anniversary festival celebrating the show, and I have to admit that it was here that something clicked in my head and the show's appeal became all the more clearer. Watching thousands of fans come together to meet the stars, show off their garage built General Lees and see some of the show's car stunts played out in real life, the thought occurred to me that this was really no different than what happens at a STAR TREK convention (that is, minus the flying cars) or any other kind of gathering where one facet of pop culture is celebrated by its fans. Maybe it's the geek inside of me, but when I made the connection between what was going on with this DUKES festival and the various nerd cons that I've been to, I realized that the idea of having a DUKES OF HAZZARD get together makes just as much sense as any of the others. Also, pay attention here: no STAR TREK con that I've ever heard of has a bunch of good-looking folk dressed up Daisy, Luke or Bo Duke; and on the nine-year-old coolness meter the General Lee manages to rate as high as Han Solo's Millennium Falcon.
In the end I liked my trip back to Hazzard Country but that I would recommend watching these episodes one or two at a time or saved for a lazy Sunday spent around the house. While enjoyable, it's remains best to spend my time with the Duke boys in short doses.