NEW YORK - When "Duck Dynasty" returned for its third season last week, it was greeted by an audience of 8.6 million viewers. Pretty good for an A&E reality series about bearded bayou brethren who manufacture duck calls and love to go bird hunting.
Except that's not what "Duck Dynasty" really is. Viewers who have ducked this show thus far, assuming it's just another mocking redneck display on the order of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," have it all wrong. And they're missing out.
Nor, by the way, is this a show that has much to do with the duck-call business (life has many distractions for the Robertson clan), nor is it a show that dwells on people killing animals (are you listening, Morrissey?).
Instead, "Duck Dynasty" (airing two half-hours at 10 p.m. EST Wednesday) is a warm and witty family show that is more akin to a classic sitcom than it is to the likes of "Buckwild."
Typically, an unscripted series aims to jolt and titillate the viewer with the bizarreness of its characters and their weird lifestyle.
By contrast, the backwoods Louisiana setting of "Duck Dynasty" provides colorful trappings for a comfortably eccentric and engaging brood. Watching the Robertsons, you don't look down on them as just a bunch of odd ducks. Instead, you may find yourself wanting to share a Mason jar of sweet tea with this quack pack and join their fun.
But that, of course, assumes you could hold your own with their down-home bons mots. These duckmen are funny!
In one scene last week, Willie Robertson, the self-proclaimed "redneck millionaire" who serves as the president of Duck Commander, weathered a fusillade of wisecracks as cantankerous uncle Si and brother Jase teased him about his reluctance to rough it during their planned duck-hunting trip.
Si: "Willie's idea of roughing it is opening a garage door manually."
Jase: "... Having the wrong comfort setting on his sleep-number bed."
Si: "... Watching a DVD instead of Blu-ray."
Jase: "... Having to unload his dishwater because (wife) Korie's out of town."
Si: "... Having a shower head that has only three bouffant settings."
These quips (whether spontaneous or prepared, and who cares?) reflect the sly charm and skilled delivery you'd expect from your favorite sitcom.
The story premises feel just as pleasantly familiar. On one of last week's episodes, Willie and Korie are looking forward to their high school reunion. Except Willie can't quite fit into the leather jacket Korie bought him only weeks ago.
Maybe he needs to shed a bit of the bulk he's gained since high school. It's a mission that leads him in various humorous directions including - mortifyingly for this red-blooded male - Korie's yoga class.
Meanwhile, Si's dog, Ruby, won't hunt. Literally. Si's crotchety manner seems to invite Ruby and any other canine to defy his every command. But after doggedly searching for a pooch that will do his bidding, he finds the perfect specimen: Amid much ribbing from the other guys, Si has chosen a poodle.
"He's got `killer' written all over him," Si declares.
Then back to Willie the night of the reunion. He slips into his jacket with ease. His weight-loss regime has been a success.
Or has it?
"A great wife saves the receipt," Korie confides to the audience - "and takes the jacket back for a bigger size when nobody's looking."
Oh, snap! A final twist this perfect is worthy of the meticulously plotted "Modern Family" at its best or "The Cosby Show" in its prime.
Just how "unscripted" is "Duck Dynasty"? It doesn't matter. The ties that bind these characters are true-to-life, and the star quality they exhibit just being themselves couldn't be faked.
The rest - self-aware but not self-conscious - feels like a smart collaboration between them and the show's producers. The upshot is a delightful hybrid. Comedy foie gras.