‘Alaskan Bush People’: ‘The Long Road’ (RECAP)


On Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People episode “The Long Road” (June 28), a major diagnosis shakes the Brown family, and forces them toward a decision that could reshape their lifelong journey. While medical analysis continues for Ami in the lower 48, oldest son Matt attempts to get back to normal as he reunites with Noah.

Noah is a solitary sentry, protecting the once pristine and beautiful Southeast Alaskan rainforest that his family turned into the heap of trash that is Alaskan Bush People. He’s playing with his GP100 .357 Magnum revolver, shooting a target at close range. “The way my mind works, it can kind of go off in bad directions, so I like to keep my mind very occupied,” Noah says.

“Charged with safeguarding the family’s remote Alaskan homestead, youngest son Noah Brown has gone weeks without word from the rest of the Wolfpack,” says Our Dear Narrator, Asa, who managed to pack five falsehoods into one sentence. It’s also Noah’s job to pick up garbage with his garbage-pickin’ spurs on.

In Southern California, the rest of the Browns minus Bam are waiting for the results of Ami’s lung biopsy. “The best news we can hope for? Uh, ‘Everything’s fine, go home,’” says Billy. Uh, Billy, what about all that pain that Ami’s been in for weeks and clearly isn’t going to go away? So Billy’s best hope is that their physician is so dangerously incompetent that he fails diagnose a serious disease and gives her a clean bill of health so Billy can go back to his Bush Fantasyland? Oh, Ami’s a tough Bush Lady. She can handle a little bit of unrelenting, agonizing pain.

Billy and Ami return to their rented home, and it’s pretty obvious the news is not good. Billy says nothing, giving Bear the coldest of shoulders.

Billy gathers the family and breaks the news that Ami has Stage 3 cancer, and that she still needs more tests to determine how far the disease has metastasized. Here’s the moment Billy reveals the diagnosis.

It’s a very personal, poignant moment for this family (or at least it’s the reenactment of one for a TV show). Yet in this moment, I’m distracted by a blurry blue blob above Ami’s head. I am nearly certain that it’s a plush toy of Dory from the Disney PIXAR blockbuster animated hit movie Finding Dory. Is someone at Park Slope or Discovery so concerned about having a toy depicting a character from Disney’s intellectual property in the frame of a reality TV show that they felt the need to digitally blur out a stupid stuffed animal, thereby botching a pivotal scene in this whole damn series? Seriously? That is so Alaskan Bush People.

Let’s try to ignore the fact that high-school students are producing this show for a class project and focus on the seriousness of this scene and its revelations. The Brownlings are all kind of shocked, and who wouldn’t be? “They’re all worried,” Ami tells Billy. “I tell them, ‘Don’t Worry. Please don’t worry. Just be happy. Be happy, ’cause whatever it is, it is. Keep the faith. Good or bad, you know, it’s God’s will and we’ll walk that road.’” When facing the fight of your life, that’s probably the best thing you can tell your kids.

Back at Brownton Abbey, Noah survives playing with electricity. He’s finally hooking up the power from the stupid wind turbine from last season. Remember how WINTER WAS RIGHT THERE and the Browns had to get this wind turbine up and running pronto or the evolution of Brownton Abbey would be stalled for years to come? Why is Noah finally getting around to doing this in May? Because the Browns don’t live there in winter or in any other season.

Noah is making a “control station” in the family’s old meat smoker, and it’s just a bunch of wires hooked up to a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) that’s designed to keep your computer running in the event of a power outage. I think I had this very model gathering years of dust under my desk at work.

(Electrician friends: Assuming the turbine functions, would this setup even work?)

Noah boasts about being Mr. Fixit, but he can’t fix the family’s biggest problem, and that frustrates him. “I don’t know who’s fixing things for them right now,” Noah says. If it were up to his dad, Dr. Nick Riviera would be fixing things for them right now.

Billy and Ami have a discussion about their future and the possibilities of having to leave the Bush. “We’ve lived a long time in the rainforest. It flows through our veins,” Ami says. “But there’s a lot for the kids to experience. I want to be there. I want to hold their babies. I want to hear them laughing. I want to see their eyes wide with enthusiasm as they experience these new things.” I can imagine that this is heartbreaking. For someone as obsessed with grandbabies as Ami, the realization that you’re probably never going to see one must be devastating.

And then Billy can’t shut up. “Their future dreams were there,” he says of his kids and the Bush. “They were born in the forest. It’s all they’ve ever known. And I think it’s deeper in them than it is in Ami and I.” Blah. Maybe your future dreams for your kids were there. You already fulfilled your dreams by turning your family into the Bush von Trapps on TV. Now it’s time to let go.

“We’re either too stupid or too stubborn or have too much faith, but you can’t stop the Browns,” Billy tells Ami. Discovery Channel honcho Rich Ross should’ve stopped the Browns two years ago.

Billy assembles the “guys” for a Council of the Browns. He makes a point of telling Ami that her illness is very hard on Birdy. He might as well say, “Ami, your cancer is making Birdy really sad, so could you just maybe stop it with the cancer?” Insensitive jackass. He needs another coma.

Billy proposes that they close down Brownton Abbey, and some of them should go back up there to get their stuff, which is mostly trash. “We don’t mess around with words, we say it like it is, and it’s going to be a long road,” Billy says, knowing he’s never said it like it is to anyone, ever.

The Browns are very sad about having to leave a place that they didn’t even live in. Brownton Abbey is a set for a TV show, built by someone else on land that the Browns don’t own. It is just a facade, and their boo-hooing over having to leave it is a farce.

“We fought so hard for freedom,” Billy says. “We fought so hard for independence and everything that gave us the freedom we had our whole life now is working against us right this minute.” Huh? What does this even mean? What’s working against you, besides your wife’s illness? So much for not messing around with words, Billy.

Our Dear Narrator needs to shut up, too. He just piles on more falsehoods, talking about the Browns’ dream of a permanent homestead supported by faith, freedom and family. The Browns’ dream is a set for a TV show, supported by Park Slope, Discovery Channel, advertisers, pay-TV subscribers and idiots like me that watch this show and perpetuate it. Brownton Abbey is built on a foundation of B.S.

“Browntown to me is the spirit of the Bush. It’s something that we’ve been chasing our whole life,” Matt says. “Browntown has always given me the freedom to be myself. It’s my environment. I’m like the animals here. I wouldn’t know any different.” Not true. The animals there are much smarter than Matt.

Matt’s the first one to head back to Brownton Abbey. He’s got the task of telling Noah the bad news, though Noah probably found out from someone much earlier than this.

With that unpleasantness out of the way, Noah and Matt start the arduous task of washing out the stain on Alaska that is Brownton Abbey. Noah starts burning stuff that he deems “useless,” while throwing things that he might give away — such as pieces of tires — into a different pile. Yeah, I’m sure Kenny could use that crap.

They should just set fire to the whole place. As much as forest fires suck, they’re necessary to rejuvenate the ecosystem. Fire is destructive, but also cleansing. Here’s Lost Footage of the production crew cleaning up Brownton Abbey:

Matt revisits his abandoned Yoda hut, where he seems to be experiencing the DTs.

That’s a good boy, Matt. We’ll make fun of you a lot more later.

Noah believes that the best time to pour his heart out to the camera is while he’s cleaning a pistol.

[DIGRESSION! Back in ’93, my buddy’s family threw him a high-school graduation party at their house. It was a beautiful day. The food was good. We’re all hanging out the backyard enjoying ourselves. Then things turned weird when their neighbor saw it as the opportune time to take out his firearms and start cleaning them in front of the all the party guests.]

Noah can’t be taken seriously. He’s always got this grin, like he understands that his character is ridiculous.

Yeah, that’s the one. He’s a terrible actor, even worse than Gabe.

Again, what’s with blurring out the painting on the wall? Good Lord, someone was fussy that day in the editing room. If only the rest of the production was as concerned about minor details. The whole premise of the show is a lie, but God forbid we show this painting of a bridge or whatever it is.

Let’s lighten the mood, shall we? Back in Cali, Birdy’s trying to amass an army of peacocks, luring them with Chex and her peafowl mating call.

Gaining the trust of peacocks is pretty easy. They freely roam the grounds of our local zoo, waiting for patrons to drop popcorn or whole cheeseburgers or whatever from their picnic tables. My son chases the peacocks around. He’s 5 years old. How old are you, Birdy?

Just about every one of Noah’s “inventions” are rip-offs from things that already exist. Noah introduces us to this game he created called Triumph, which is not related to the Canadian rock band nor the sarcastic dog puppet of the same name. “Basically, it’s like dodge ball with discs,” Noah says. No, basically it’s like a very bad rip-off of Discs of Tron. Noah and Matt suit up in their Triumph gear, which is ideally worn at night when all of the glow sticks attached to the suits are illuminated. Then they just throw padded duct-taped Frisbees at each other.

“How do I look? Like the main character of some sci-fi movie just about ready to kick butt and walk away with the chick? Or a dweeb in the forest wearing bike gear?” As if you have to ask, Matt. Hey, maybe you should leave that helmet and stuff on all night, you know, just in case…

Noah can feel secure in knowing that there’s always a career waiting for him whenever Tron Guy retires.

How does Bear cope with his family’s situation in Southern California? The only way he knows how: by being EXXXXTREME!

“Even if I’m not in the Bush, I am of the Bush,” he says. “EXXXXTREME is a way of life to me.” Bear then makes a Bush punching bag out of a paper grocery bag and the plastic garbage bag he probably used to make his EXXXXTREME-squeezed fruit juice last week.

YEAH! Punch that bag, Bear! Punch it good! I could see Bear someday making himself available to rent for children’s birthday parties or mitzvahs. Or he might have a career in lucha libre as the character El Oso Chinchoso. ¡EXXXXTREMO!

Bam Bam has finally made his presence known in Los Angeles after hearing of the severity of his mother’s illness. He’s been off on Lower 48 sexytime adventures since the middle of last season. Some people are put off by Bam’s arrogance, but I like his levelheadedness and respect of the danger. He’s also the first of his family to bail on this show, so I give him props for that. Bam has a man-to-man with Billy to discuss the dire situation. Bam and Billy are very tight. They once did time together for PFD fraud.

But Billy’s pretty far detached from reality, too. Some clear-minded reasoning isn’t always welcomed when you live with a family of wackos. Take this exchange between Bam and Birdy:

Bam: “We’re all kind of a bit in denial. Everyone’s afraid Mom’s dying.”
Birdy: “She’s not.”
Bam: “Mom could die from this.”
Birdy: “Won’t happen. Quit saying it. She’ll be fine.”

“There’s good and there’s bad, and sometimes the worst-case scenario is what happens,” Bam says to the camera. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to. But it might, and you have to face that. You have to face it head on.”

[DIGRESSION! My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer in the spring of 1989. I was 13 years old. I didn’t know all the details of the illness. I knew that it was serious, but my grandfather was undergoing radiation treatments and I remained blindly optimistic that he would survive. At some point, my father very calmly but bluntly said to me, “Grandpa is very sick, and he’s probably going to die.” My father had prepared himself for the worst. He wanted me to be prepared, too. There is nothing wrong with hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Being in denial or not talking about it is going to make it much more difficult when the worst outcome is realized. My grandfather passed away July 4, 1989, earlier than any of us expected. I am grateful he did not suffer long and hard as so many stricken with cancer do.]

After their Triumph match, Matt and Noah partake in a little crab dinner—a “last supper” (groan) as Matt puts it—and a knife-throwing contest. Matt reveals that he was setting off fireworks in the wee hours of the morning.

Alrighty, then. That’s not something a sober, sane 34-year-old usually does.

Noah decides that it’s time for him to be with the family in California, leaving Matt alone in Brownton Abbey to blow himself up clean things up. Noah’s a little worried about what might happen to Matt all by his lonesome in Brownton Abbey. There’s nothing to worry about, Noah. Matt’s just going to blow up firecrackers at 3am like all sober, sane 34-year-olds do every night.

Black clouds! Ominous music!

Matt screams!

Head trauma!

Ouch! What’s that feel like, Matt?