Every Sunday at 10 pm, my butt is firmly planted in front of the television to watch Breaking Bad. The computer is turned off, my phone is charging and my awesome Nexus 7 Google tablet has been powered down for the evening. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman have my full and undivided attention for the next 62 minutes, which is what they deserve. However, without the usual electronic distractions at my disposal, I have nothing to entertain me during the inevitable commercial breaks during the show and I find myself actually watching the advertisements. I rarely see commercials anymore; I’m usually watching something that has been DVRed so I can fast forward through the ads or I use that time to surf the web or go get a snack. But Breaking Bad can be so intense that I sometimes need the commercials to give me a break from the action and drama. The world of crystal meth can be a little overwhelming.
It was during these breaks in Breaking Bad when I saw the commercials for Small Town Security, a new reality show on AMC. I don’t know that I would have heard about the show otherwise or if I had, if I would have paid much attention to it. I’m kind of over the whole reality genre and I’m certainly not actively looking for new shows to watch. I’m woefully behind on my summer viewing projects that I laid out a few months ago. But because I was a captive audience, I noticed the advertisements for the show and decided to take a gamble on it. I will generally try any show that is on AMC – they’ve built up enough good will with me from Breaking Bad and Mad Men that I’m willing to take a flyer on other shows on the network and forgive their missteps along the way (The Killing, I’m looking at you). I was also intrigued that AMC was branching into reality programming. They aired The Pitch earlier this year, which chronicled the life of advertising agencies and had a clear automatic tie-in with Mad Men. Small Town Security didn’t have as clear a connection to Breaking Bad, so it seemed like more of a departure from brand. I knew, because it was AMC, that Small Town Security wasn’t going to be the generic reality show. The cast looked very average and were mostly older. There was clearly not going to be a lot of beautiful people lounging around a pool and trying to find love or win prizes. I figured it was going to be another occupational based show, pulling the curtain back on a small security firm and how it operates.
What I didn’t expect was just how bizarre the show is.
Small Town Security follows the inner working of JJK Security and Investigations, a small family owned security company in Georgia. The company is owned by Joan, a 61 year old woman who is vulgar and crude and has what could be called a “colorful” past. She is fairly unpleasant, yet fascinating. She is joined in the company by her husband Irwin, who is just as eccentric as she is. Irwin likes to dye his hair on a regular basis, but buys the hair color at the dollar store so the quality is severely compromised. He also wears suits that are ridiculously outdated and is a hoarder. He seems to have a good heart, but it is amazing that he makes any sales. He reminds me a little bit of Herb from WKRP in Cincinnati (a tremendously underrated show from the late 70s and early 80s).
Joan and Irwin alone might have enough material for an interesting show. Between the two of them, there is plenty of quirkiness to mine. But where things really get interesting is when Lt. Dennis Croft is introduced. Croft is Joan’s right hand man and devoted servant. He is in charge of training the new security guards (using a hilariously outdated training video) and takes his job very seriously. He literally lives at the office. He also has an interesting past, as we find out about his discussion of his time in the military and how during the Y2K craze he and his family totally went off the grid and took survivalist classes in preparation of impending doom that never surfaced. He’s a weird guy and his devotion to Joan is odd.
And then you find out Croft’s secret.
I won’t say what it is, though it is revealed in the first episode, but it puts an interesting spin on the entire show and it makes the relationship between Joan and Croft even more bizarre. Small Town Security features one of the more unusual love triangles that you’ll ever see on television (here’s a taste – reincarnation is involved). Small Town Security actually has a lot in common with another program airing on Sunday nights. Though it airs after Breaking Bad, it has some of the same Southern gothic pedigree as True Blood, minus all the supernatural elements (though it wouldn’t surprise me if in one episode of Small Town Security, someone reveals that they think they are a vampire).
I think that The A.V. Club website put it best when describing Small Town Security as a John Waters movie come to life. It is sometimes hard to believe that these are not actors, but real people who really behave this way. I don’t know how they stumbled upon this little klatch of kooks, but they should be thanking their lucky stars that they did. Small Town Security could very easily feel exploitative if not handled properly, but so far the episodes that I have seen have been respectful of the people and their stories. It helps that there is some genuine affection between all the people involved, though it is sometimes buried under insults and cuss words. I’m hoping that future episodes delve more into office manager Brian, who seems far too normal and well-adjusted to be in the midst of all this insanity.
This is not to say that the program is necessarily good. After watching the first three episodes, I’m a bit ambivalent about how I feel about the show. While I don’t think it is exploitative, it does walk a fine line and there are moments that are uncomfortable. Though these people seem to own who they are and their quirks, I felt a little sad watching the show. Yet I keep tuning in. I don’t know if that says more about me or about the show. I can definitely say that it features people that are not normally on TV and it is not boring. If you like the odd and the unconventional, Small Town Security might be a show worth checking out.
Small Town Security airs Sunday nights at 10 pm ET on AMC.