I consider myself a guy. I dig football, action movies, Aerosmith and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. You know, guy things. So when I heard that The History Channel was premiering a new non-fiction series, Ax Men (Sundays at 10 pm), about the lumber industry, my interest was piqued. What could be more masculine than a bunch of men risking life and limb as they saw down tall trees in the Pacific Northwest? Not much, I say. In the tradition of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and The History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men promises a show for guys — and it doesn’t disappoint.
If you’re familiar with the aforementioned series, you know the format. Over the course of a season, we, the viewers, will follow four logging crews in various locations of Oregon during the timber-cutting season. In each episode (I assume — I only saw the premiere episode) the action cuts between the four crews throughout the hour. We meet the Pihl Logging crew, the lifeblood of small town, Vernonia, Oregon. Everyone in Vernonia knows someone who relies on the company’s owner, Mike Pihl, to keep food on the table. Then there’s JM Browning Logging, whose owner sets the no-nonsense tone. Jay Browning lost a hand in a logging accident and wears a prosthetic. He refused any handouts during his recovery and demands the same kind of balls-out attitude from his crew. We also meet the guys from Stump Branch Logging, run by 32 -year-old Melvin Lardy (considered a young guy in the business). Melvin’s been in the trade for a decade, but his equipment is breaking down. When the series begins, his company has taken on a monstrous job that just may break him, too. Finally, we also follow Darnell Holthusen of Gustafson Logging. Gustafson is one of the largest companies in Astoria, Oregon, and Holthusen oversees multiple job sites. As busy as he is, he’s a devoted family man and still finds time to coach pee wee football and counsel underprivileged youth.
What I like about the show is the utter lack of pretense all of these men display. These guys don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about the cameras following their exploits; they have a difficult job to do, and if they get caught up int the “glamor” of being on television, they run the risk or injury or worse. All of these guys have seen or known men who have died on the job, and TV means nothing if you’re screwing around and wind up in a casket. The screener I watched was unedited (trust me, the sound editors are going to have a lot of fun placing “bleeps” in this show) and these loggers kept it real throughout the entire hour. While each episode will provide educational information about the nature of the logging industry, The History Channel has created a comprehensive minisite to accompany the series. There, you will be able to learn more about the history of the logging industry (imagine that) and watch more than 50 shortform pieces, among other interactive activities.
Ax Men is definitely aimed at a specific audience (in particular, the guys who aren’t watching Brothers and Sisters at 10:00 on Sunday nights). I’m not sure how much appeal a series like this will have for women who aren’t interested in a bunch of sweaty guys hiking up their grungy jeans, smoking their Marlboros, and flexing their tired muscles (hold on, I just described a night of clubbing). Anyway, if these type of non-fiction shows are your shot of Jim Beam, Ax Men will definitely entertain you. Check it out tonight. You could do worse; you could be watching The Moment of Truth.