Animal Planet renews Jockeys, which was more docu than drama during its first season

Jockeys, the Animal Planet docudrama that debuted earlier this year, will return this summer for a second season. Seven hour-long episodes–the first season had 12 half-hour episodes that aired back-to-back; they’re viewable online–will debut this summer, although the network doesn’t say what it’ll focus on. The first season was filmed during the fall Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita and “brought in more than 9.2 million unique viewers (P2+),” Animal Planet’s announcement said, and since P2+ means viewers over 2 years old, it begs the question: how many elementary school viewers did the show actually have?

All seven jockeys will return except Jon Court, who the network says “departs in the first episode of season two as he makes his way to the racetrack in Kentucky.” Two jockeys who appeared peripherally in the first season, Garrett Gomez and Corey Nakatani, will join the cast, although I’m not quite sure what that means, since those “featured” in season one got varied amounts of screen time. Alex Solis, for example, was barely present, while a young jockey who wasn’t listed as part of the cast, Brandon Meier, had a multi-episode arc.

That oddness with the featured cast members is illustrative of the one thing that really stood out to me throughout the first season: the show rarely settled on one person or one story for very long. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but as a result, it wasn’t a show that I was waiting to watch every week, like Animal Planet’s awesome Whale Wars.

Kind of like actual races themselves, the narrative arcs were over quickly, so there was nothing that really held the season together as a whole. But what happened in those smaller arcs was interesting and watchable. The show provided a window into a really interesting, exciting, rough, and sometimes horrifying world, from the jockeys’ justification about the absurd way they lose weight by “flipping” (a euphemism for their bulimia) to the rough economic reality of their jobs (they only really make money if their horses place, and it’s a struggle to even find a mount sometimes).

There were a few weaknesses in the series: The horse racing footage was half-assed at best, with original footage being combined with non-HD footage and what seemed like B-roll being used to attempt to make it more dramatic like Seabiscuit, and the announcer who called the race after the fact was too heavy-handed and annoying as he tried to make the race feel like a contest between the jockeys that episode was focusing on. And the narrator had to work overtime to ramp up the drama because what was filmed wasn’t all that dramatic.

Overall, though, as reality blurred horse racing adviser Mary Beth Ellis wrote, “the dangerous, often hardscrabble life most jocks live was highlighted” and “[t]here’s enough for newbies and old railbirds alike to dig in Jockeys.”

But like the conversation I had with most of the jockeys back in January in L.A., which was interesting but didn’t really give me any noteworthy material to write about, the show itself didn’t exactly have highs or lows.

Still, I’d prefer the focus on documenting their lives over the fakeness of The Hills any day. That Jockeys was produced by Go Go Luckey Productions, the company that created Laguna Beach, is kind of ironic (although it’s notable that Go Go Luckey did not produce Lauren Conrad’s super-fake spin-off). Here, what they produced was real, informative, and interesting.

Sometimes when you film real life, it’s more docu than drama.

Jockeys: B+

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.