Montana has attracted more than a few reality television shows over the years, but this summer features two that debuted within days of each other. "Mountain Men" (Thursdays on the History Channel) is produced by Missoula-based Warm Springs Productions and stars Tom Oar, a former rodeo cowboy who lives in the Yaak Valley with his wife Nancy. Tom's one of three menthe others are in North Carolina and Alaskawho battle the elements and struggle to live off the land in often extreme conditions.
"American Colony: Meet the Hutterites" (Tuesdays on the National Geographic Channel) focuses on a religious community located about 100 miles from Billings. Episodes mostly follow a strong, single mom named Bertha as she tries to balance the colony's strict religious beliefs and modern day amenities while raising two teenagers. After the first three episodes of both shows, we decided to line them up against each other and see how they represent the Treasure State.
Mountain Men: Sends the message Big Sky Country is full of grizzlies and wolves, and cold.
Hutterites: Sends the message Big Sky Country is full of golden fields of grain and not much else, and cold.
Primary story lines
Mountain Men: Survival, both tedious and extreme. On the less dramatic side, Tom spends an episode trapping some devious beavers in order to protect his neighbor's water supply.
Hutterites: Soap operas of every kind. For example, Claudia, Bertha's 19-year-old daughter, battles against the elders' traditions, meets boys on Facebook and convinces a younger group from the colony to road trip to a Canadian wedding.
Secondary story lines
Mountain Men: Killing things. Beavers, deer, elk and lynx all make their way onto stovetops or into freezers for meals.
Hutterites: Killing things. Cows, pigs, ducks and chickens all get shot, slit or decapitated on the farm for family-style meals.
Best supporting character
Mountain Men: Eustace Conway, who decided to live in the mountains of North Carolina after the spirits suggested it. He possesses the slow drawl and understated confidence of someone with whom you'd want to share a jug of moonshine. Also, he's "passionate about hammers" and "lusts" after them; he owns more than 200. You end up loving Eustace sorta like he loves hammers.
Hutterites: Wesley, who is as central to the show as anyone but doesn't live under Bertha's roof. He's a farmer who drives a school bus part-time, volunteers as a firefighter and also earned an online college degree, allegedly with just a 12kbs internet connection. His biggest accomplishment, though, was scoring a date with an attractive Canadian waitress during the aforementioned road trip.
Mountain Men: In a clip from a future episode, Eustace cleans a freshly killed deer and takes a cleaver to its head, only to toss a hunk of skull-and-brains to his loyal dog for a crunchy snack.
Hutterites: Aside from Wesley's date, the harvest party shows Hutterites know how to get down. Bottles of Jäger made the rounds, shots were kicked back and a keg of Bud flowed freely.
Most memorable quote
Mountain Men: "We never get ready; we just run out of time"Nancy Oar talking about the couple's never-ending effort to prepare for eight months of Montana winter.
Hutterites: "I'm just a Hutterite with my hair down, that's all"delivered by Claudia after she had the courage to attend the harvest party without her traditional head covering.
Mountain Men: Eustace's doggy treat was featured on "The Soup" blog, complete with disgusted staff reactions.
Hutterites: Numerous newspapers report elders are "deeply disappointed" over the "distorted" portrayal of their followers, with particular disdain for the show's focus on heavy drinking and cursing.
Worst reality TV ploy
Mountain Men: The editing makes it look like stock footage of drooling predators surround Tom every time he leaves the house. Unnecessary. We get it: He lives in the wild.
Hutterites: The elders have a case in that, despite NatGeo's insistence that the show is pure, it comes across painfully scripted and set up.
Reason to keep watching
Mountain Men: It's the better of the two, and Eustace.
Hutterites: Can't say. Despite strong women like Bertha and Claudia, it's just not that interesting.