Monday, September 22, 2014

Texas Ranch House Revisited

Ten years ago, I fell in love with a house: The 1900 House. It was this British miniseries that was shown on PBS. 1900 House was so popular that more House series soon followed: 1940's House (2001)Frontier House (2002)The Edwardian Country House / Manor House (2002)Colonial House (2004), and Regency House Party (2004)

Each show took a group of ordinary people and "transported" them to a specific era. The participants had to wear the period clothes, eat the food, do the housework, put up with the sexist nonsense, and try to both survive (without going crazy) and be as authentic to the time period as is humanly possible.

In 1900 House, just one family (a mom and dad and four kids) participated. 1940's House featured a multigenerational family; Frontier House included three families; Colonial House used multiple families (and some single folks); Manor House featured one central family and a bunch of other individuals alongside them; and Regency House Party boasted a mass of eligible singles.

Even though I missed watching the shows when they originally aired, I devoured them via Netflix. And, like many fans of the House shows, I was excited when I heard another was coming to television in 2006.


Now, I run a fan group on Facebook for the House series, and over many discussions, two things have made themselves pretty clear:

1. Frontier House is generally everybody's favorite.
2. Texas Ranch House was a disaster.

It's sad because Texas Ranch House sounded so promising -- a House show set in the U.S. in 1867... an era not too far removed from the one featured in the beloved Frontier House (1883). Corsets, horses, the great, wild outdoors... how could it not be a whole lotta fun?

Well, here's how I remember Texas Ranch House...

*Cooke Family (mom, dad, three daughters) arrives
*Cowboys arrive
*Friction Ensues
*Cattle are rounded up
*Horses Are Stolen
*Cooke family is lazy and sloppy
*Cooke dad, head rancher, doesn't know crap
*Jared the cowboy is adorable
*More cattle are rounded up
*Cowboy gets kidnapped
*The maid of all work becomes a cowboy and that is SO ANNOYING because that would NEVER HAPPEN
*Cattle Drive happens
*Cooke family is SUPER HORRIBLE, especially the mom
*Cowboys get fed up and all leave the ranch on horseback in a blaze of glory
*I stand and cheer

Then, last week, for the first time in over five years, I watched the entire series again. And for whatever reason, I saw things a bit differently this time. I saw them more like:

*Cooke Family (mom, dad, three daughters) arrives
*Cowboys arrive
*Friction ensues
*Cattle are rounded up
*Some of the cowboys are jerks
*Some cowboys lack interpersonal skills
*Cooke daughters are smart and well-spoken 97% of the time
(I feel bad for them)
*Cooke dad is wishy-washy
*Cooke mom has two tones of voice, one that sounds polished like she's Miss America
*Jared the cowboy is adorable
*Cooke family doesn't seem to know what they're doing; but they're 21st century transplants, so can you blame em?
*The cowboys are semi-lazy sometimes
*The Cookes are really lazy sometimes
*More cattle are rounded up
*The maid of all work, Maura, becomes a cowboy because several cowboys have left the ranch or been fired, and she is needed. She is treated pretty crappily by just about everyone.
*I like Maura, dangit!
*Cooke Parents should record themselves and just LISTEN to themselves played back and maybe they'd realize how disjointed and hypocritical they sound
*Cattle Drive happens
*Cooke dad turns creepy-sinister and pisses off the cowboys
*Cowboys get fed up and leave the ranch on horseback in a blaze of ehhh

I'm not particularly surprised that my opinions were so different upon the second viewing. I've actually had changes of heart after re-watching some of the other series (ie Frontier House -- I keep going back and forth, every time I watch it, on my feelings toward Mrs. Glenn and Mr. Clune. Good? Bad? It's always changing!) With each viewing of any of the series, I notice new things, which can change my opinions still further.

But Frontier House is a series I can watch over and over (in fact, I purchased the DVDs so I could do just that), whereas Texas Ranch House... yeah, it's still pretty much a disaster.

Reasons:

1. Poor, perhaps misguided, casting choices. Very few of the participants seemed like they were fit for the project. Some viewers have suggested the casting directors chose people who they knew would stir up drama. Drama = good ratings, maybe... but not necessarily a good House show.

2. Dopey opening credits. This was the only House show that featured an opening sequence showing the participants and listing their names, like it was a sitcom. This may have been a small thing, but it made this show feel different from the others... and not in a good way.

3. The Cookes. I'm sorry; I'm sure in real life they're swell people, but they just did not seem to really grasp or embrace the project as many viewers would've liked. Mr. Cooke hardly ever went out cattle-hunting with the cowboys, and when it came time for the main event, the cattle drive? He spent half his time riding back and forth from the cattle to the ranch because his family "needed him." It was revealed that the garden, which should have been a huge source of food, was badly neglected, and sometimes dirty dishes were left that way for days. Maybe the Cookes just had bad luck in getting caught by the cameramen during their down moments, but they ended up coming across as super lazy.

4. Maura. I'm only saying this because Maura wanting to ride in the cattle drive and become a cowboy ticked off a lot of viewers. (Mostly because it wouldn't have happened in 1867, also because sometimes she was a little annoying.) I like Maura, personally, and think what she did was really cool. But her "storyline" did perturb many viewers, so I'm including it as a reason, here.

5. The setting. (Sorry, Texans!) Brown, dusty, and dry. Cows and manure galore. Nearly everybody looked hot and miserable. When watching a House show, I like to imagine being there. Not with this show. I did NOT want to be there, not in 1867, not ever!

6. The drama. The participants were swimming in drama throughout the series. The cowboys clashed with their original foreman. The foreman clashed with their cook. The cowboys clashed with the cook. The new foreman clashed with the ranch owner. The ranch owner clashed with his wife. The wife clashed with the cowboys. Maura clashed with the cowboys. DRAMA, DRAMA EVERYWHERE! :(

Since Frontier House aired in 2006, no other House shows have found their way to PBS. There have been more shows produced since then: Victorian Farm, Wartime Farm, Coal House, Coal House at War, Electric Dreams, and Turn Back Time: The Family, to name a few. But these UK-based shows, many of them available on YouTube, have never aired on PBS. Why?? Why did the House shows -- which, for the first five years of the 21st century, were so beloved -- just STOP BEING ON MY TV??

I say Texas Ranch House killed the House series. I BLAME TEXAS RANCH HOUSE.

And until PBS puts another House show in my living room, I will continue to do just that.

(P.S.: PBS? Take note.)

Want to witness the carnage for yourself? Check out Texas Ranch House on Youtube!


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