“Turtleman” (real name Ernie Brown Jr.) made his return to Animal Planet last night in two new episodes of Call of the Wildman. In the episodes, we not only got to see Turtleman in action capturing an array of critters in his home state of Kentucky (beyond just his namesake turtles), but the show has also appeared to start developing his personality and humor a bit more, and it sounds like we will be seeing more of that as the new episodes progress (there are 14 more new ones after last night’s premieres).
The first half-hour episode, “Miner Threat,” begins with Turtleman confronting the annual spring dilemma that so many of us also face – how to deal with all the weeds sprouting up around his house. Naturally, instead of using a weed whacker or herbicide, he decides to go along a more “hillbilly” route — by purchasing a goat and letting it graze on the offending plants while he and buddy Neal James embark on their next job.
This job takes the duo to a coal mine. The miners there are afraid to go back to work, since the mine is on the brink of collapse. Something down in the mine has been gnawing enough on the wooden support beams that they are about to give away and unleash several hundred feet of mountain onto anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck down there. Turtleman has been hired to find and catch whatever creature has been doing this. Turtleman and Neal meet up with Jake “Muscle” Ison (pictured right) at the mine, since they think they might need a strongman on this case (Neal explains that ever since he got the nickname “Muscle,” Jake has taken to cutting of the sleeves on his shirts and showing off his guns).
Taking a look at the incredibly tight quarters of the mine, Neal decides that he is not the man for this job, and I don’t blame him one bit, being somewhat claustrophobic myself. Turtleman, Jake, Lolly the dog and some miners lie on their backs (well, not Lolly) on a cart and begin what I would consider a harrowing trip nearly a mile into the earth, down to the bottom of the mine, at some points during the trip almost finding their faces scraping the rock, the quarters are so cramped.
Eventually, they reach the bottom and are able to stand up and walk around to investigate the damage. Turtleman sees that they were not exaggerating — the support beams have been chewed nearly through and are very close to giving way, and even tough Jake suddenly has qualms about being down there, where the weight of the mountain could come crashing down at any moment. Turtleman realizes that only one type of animal could be chewing the beams like this, and he asks the miners if there is a water source nearby. They point him in the direction of the water, and when he gets there, sure enough, almost immediately, he comes upon a large beaver.
Turtleman gives chase to the beaver, trying to avoid its large, sharp teeth, splashing around after it in the mud and water. He grabs it by the hind legs and starts to lift it up, but forgets about a beaver’s other powerful weapon — its tail. The beaver gives Turtleman a few slaps in the face with its paddle-like tail, including an uppercut to the chin. “He slapped me like it was a bad date,” quips Turtleman. After slipping away momentarily, the beaver is recaptured by Turtleman (who manages to avoid the tail this time), and Jake arrives in time with a cage to secure the beaver. The group returns to the surface with the beaver. The miners are happy that their mysterious beam-chewer has been thwarted, and that they can replace the gnawed beams and get back to work. As a show of gratitude, one of the men gives Turtleman an antique miner’s lamp that belonged to his grandfather, and Turtleman says he will hold it close to his heart. (It’s a good thing Turtleman has this show, as many of his clients often can’t afford to pay him in cash.) Turtleman and Neal release the busy beaver into the wilderness to begin a new life where it won’t disrupt human industry.
In the second part of this episode, Turtleman and Neal visit a pond containing two snapping turtles. The problem is that recently a tornado has ripped through the countryside, and lethal chemicals, including oil, has begun running off into the pond. Turtleman has been called on a rescue mission to save the snappers before the oil kills them.
When Turtleman and Neal arrive, they can tell something is wrong with the area immediately. The pond owners show the black spots of oil that they have gotten on themselves, and Turtleman notices that Lolly already has black spots of oil on her just from wandering around the area a little. Turtleman realizes that it is imperative the turtles are rescued immediately before the oil causes too much damage. In his trademark Turtleman way, he sheds his shirt and goes into the pond to begin his search for the two snappers. However, the pond holds more hazards than just the oil. It is filled with broken glass, razor-sharp pieces of metal, rusted nails and other potential dangers that Turtleman must avoid as he walks through in his search, holding out his arm and fingers in front of him to block the sunlight on the water as he looks for bubbles from the turtles (“He looks like Elvis” when he does this, jokes Neal). And, of course, the turtles themselves always have the chance to pose a threat, as Turtleman is reminded of when one of them launches itself at him under the water when he nears. Eventually, Turtleman rounds up both reptiles, both of whom have sizable traces of oil on them alread. The first one he names “Slick” because of the oil on it. Slick also has a bunch of leeches attached to it. Turtleman says leeches are a sign of poor water quality, so it’s good that Slick and the other turtle are being relocated. And that other turtle is pretty unique — it only has three leg. Turtleman names it Triple Threat. Turtleman asks Neal to help him clean the oil off of Slick and Triple Threat before releasing them into another environment. Neal again marvels at how he always seems to find himself engaging in some odd things whenever he hangs out with Turtleman, but he obliges. Turtleman brings out some mayonnaise, and at first Neal thinks they are going to make Turtle Salad Sandwiches. But Turtleman explains that the mayonnaise helps break up the oil. He slathers Slick with mayonnaise on top and bottom (Slick almost looks like a dog getting its belly scratched at one point) and then washes the mayonnaise — and the oil — off in the water of a stream before releasing Slick and Triple Threat into their new watery homes.
The “Miner Threat” episode ends with Turtleman coming home and finding that his new goat has done a bang-up job — eating nearly all of the troublesome weeds in his yard — before he heads off into yet more adventures.
“Killer at Shaker Village”
In “Killer at Shaker Village,” we start out by learning that Turtleman is not a morning person, which is kind of surprising, since most of the critters that he likes to after seem like they might be more active in the dawn hours. But not our hero. Neal arrives to pick him up for their latest job at 6am by honking the horn, then knocking on the door. Eventually, Turtleman answers, wearing only his pajama bottoms and telling Neal he’ll be out in a few minutes. After another honk, Turtleman eventually comes out, wearing his traditional garb and hat. In the meantime, Neal has told us, the audience, about Turtleman, that “a morning person he is not,” and that Turtleman will be grumbling about this early wakeup call in the car.
Indeed he does grumble a bit about it, wondering why they have to hit the road at 6am. Neal explains their job: At Shaker Village, a Kentucky tourist attraction, a sanctuary for migrating birds is featured. There, various songbirds have been being killed by a creature, and the Village’s naturalist would like Turtleman to investigate. Since the Village is very popular among tourists, going before it opens to the public was decided to be best for the investigation.
Turtleman examines the wooded area around the songbird sanctuary and determines that something has walked the same trail over and over to get in and out of the area, and was able to leap up and grab birds on perches. His instincts lead him to a nearby stable, and to a door. He has a suspicion, and feels under a crack in the door. Smelling his hand afterward, the musky odor that comes off his fingers confirms his suspicion — raccoon. Turtleman believes that a rogue raccoon has been attacking and killing the birds, and that it is likely holed up behind that door in the stable. He works out a plan with Neal. Turtleman will go alone behind the door and face off with the raccoon, hoping to grab it. When he has it, he will call for Neal, who will rush in with a bag, into which Turtleman will put the raccoon, and they will quickly wrap the bag up. Neal doesn’t like leaving Turtleman alone in the room with a rogue raccoon, but he agrees to the plan.
Turtleman tries to enter the room as quietly as possible, but as luck would have it, it turns out to be what he calls a “haunted house door” — very loud and creaky. He quickly spies a raccoon tail, and then its face. The raccoon darts out, and actually climbs up the wall — something Turtleman has never seen a raccoon do (“this was more like a bat-coon,” he exclaims). With the raccoon hanging on the wall staring at him, hissing, Turtleman has to find a way to grasp it behind the neck. Outside, Neal (pictured left) can hear the ruckus, and Turtleman tells him to be ready. Turtleman at last does grab the raccoon by the neck, and it is none too happy — it is writhing and hissing the whole time. Turtleman calls for Neal to bring in the bag, and he does. Turtleman calls “Tornado!” I assume to mean the twisting motion that they will do to the top of the bag once the raccoon is in it. They get the animal in the bag, and do indeed twist the top up tightly. Eventually it is transferred to a cage, which is put in the back of Turtleman’s truck, with Lolly laying next to it to keep guard, I suppose.
That’s not quite the end of Turtleman’s adventures at Shaker Village. He has some human Live Action, too! He meets an older lady dressed in Shaker attire, and, in a gentlemanly way, he kindly asks her if she would accept a dance with him. She responds that while Shakers liked to dance, they did not touch when they did so. Turtleman doesn’t go for that! He wants some Live Action! We cut to Turtleman and the woman dancing — in the usual way, with touching and everything — and having a grand old time. He even literally sweeps her off her feet at one point, picking her up as he has so many turtles before, to her delight, and to what likely would have sent many Shakers of the past into fainting spells. (This way with the ladies may be a precursor to one of next week’s episodes, where Turtleman gets bid on by three women at a bachelor auction.)
As Turtleman and Neal are about to leave Shaker Village, the naturalist comes out with a rocking chair, and says the words that Turtleman has probably heard too many times to tell: “We can’t afford to pay you much, but …” He gives Turtleman the hand-crafted chair as a token of thanks for capturing the killer raccoon. Turtleman adds it to the back of the truck with Lolly and the caged critter, and they drive off. They eventually release the raccoon into the wild 50 miles away to make sure it doesn’t come back to its old haunts.
The final half of this episode finds Turtleman and Neal visiting a family who have been troubled by strange, scratching noises in their walls that have been keeping them up at night. Some people might have automatically thought this to be signs of a haunting or demonic possession (and it’s somewhat surprising that this particular family doesn’t; in most scenes, almost every room in their house seems to have a cross on the wall), but they called the Turtleman, suspecting some sort of animal. It also helps that their young son is a big Turtleman fan, and the boy even gives the famous Turtleman “ya-ya-ya!” yell when his idol arrives on his doorstep to help. Turtleman first explores the outside of the house and deduces that some sort of animal — most likely a squirrel — has leaped from tree to tree and made its way in through a hole in the attic wall that he can see from outside. He and Neal then make their way into the attic to explore this theory further. In the attic, something suddenly darts right over Turtleman’s head, and we cut to commercial break. And we’re left wondering. Was it a bat? Bird?
When we return to the (not quite) Live Action, we not only see a creature flying around, but also crawling on the floor at a rapid pace. So we know it’s neither bat nor bird. Turns out it’s a flying squirrel! This is part of what makes this case one of my favorite Turtleman adventures so far. I have never seen a flying squirrel (which doesn’t actually “fly,” but rather glides, using the flaps of skin under its arms) that wasn’t animated on The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. They appear to be pretty cool creatures. (Not so cool in your house, however.)
What also made this fun to watch was what happens next, as Turtleman and Neal run around trying to catch the two flying squirrels on the loose in this house. Eventually the chase ends up in the couple’s master bedroom, with Turtleman leaping after the squirrel on the floor and on top of the bed, the critter squirting through his hands like a wet bar of soap. Neal joins in the pursuit, and the camera cuts to the homeowner downstairs, understandably concerned about what sort of destruction might be taking place in his bedroom. Eventually, the first flying squirrel finds a perch on Neal’s back, and as Neal laughs nervously with his new “buddy” resting on him, Turtleman comes up behind him and grabs the squirrel and bags it.
But there is still another one in the bedroom, and it quickly makes its way into an adjoining bathroom. Turtleman goes in after it, and finds the animal on top of a mirror, dampened as if it had been in the tub, sink … or someplace else. Turtleman wrangles it, and eventually the flying squirrels are both grounded and released to more appropriate surroundings. There is a cute moment when the little boy who is such a fan of Turtleman presents, as a token of thanks, his idol with an egg painted to look like a turtle. The couple also gives Turtleman $60 for his work.
The episode comes to a close with Turtleman, Neal and Lolly relaxing at Turtleman’s place after a hard day. Turtleman takes a load off, kicking back in the rocking chair he had gotten at Shaker Village, ribbing Neal goodnaturedly about how Neal can’t enjoy the chair because of his weight. The trio takes in the last rays of daylight, and some cool, evening Kentucky breezes before getting up and heading off to retire for the day, wondering what adventures might lie in store in the days ahead.
Photos credit: Jonathan Hanson/Animal Planet