Mountain Men is roughly a quarter of the way through its third season and continues to surprise critics with its popularity. The second season averaged between 3 and 3.5 million viewers per episode.
What makes this remarkable is the incredibly repetitive nature of the show. The mountain men give voice-overs where they discuss the inevitable difficulties of living off the land as well as the dangers they face. The camera then moves to B-roll of beautiful landscapes. Predictably, a challenge arises and the characters must overcome it, until next week at least. There is almost no variation from this pattern, and yet the show remains quite popular. Why?
There are two reasons for Mountain Men‘s success. First, it isn’t critically acclaimed shows that garner the highest ratings; even my favorite Mad Men gets crushed by formulaic (and entertaining) shows like The Big Bang Theory. These programs are popular because parents and families know what they are going to get. They can tune in and tune out because each episode is a self-contained story arc. Mountain Men is no different.
Mountain Men also resonates because of its conservative ethic. While none of the characters on the show talk politics, the way they live their lives reflects conservative attitudes regardless of whether they vote D or R in elections. These men don’t ask or expect help except from their neighbors, families, and friends. They hunt their own food, make their own clothes, and build their own houses. If something breaks, they fix it or find a friend who can fix it. Additionally, family is central, with fathers showing their sons the outdoors, and sons learning to hunt and fend for themselves. A man providing for his family is a shrinking value in our culture, but Mountain Men can’t stop talking about it. Each character yearns for a time gone by and acts accordingly. What could be more conservative than that?
Viewers of the show might not realize it, but what they are getting is an idealized version of the conservative life. No, that doesn’t mean conservatives want to live off the land and kill bears. But they do value independence, self-reliance, family, and community. Mountain Men has that in spades. The ratings suggest that many Americans want it too.