Let's just say Dr. Phil wouldn't last 10 minutes with the squabbling Teutels of Orange County Choppers in Rock Tavern, New York. American Choppers, the wildly entertaining reality series from cable's Discovery Channel, is a hybrid television show blending serious family dysfunction with gearhead razzmatazz and deadline tensions in a motor shop (as with that other Discovery series, Monster Garage, where nonconformist engineers work frantically to build unique vehicles). Choppers concerns generational feuding between two highly talented designers and builders of one-of-a-kind, sometimes beautiful choppers (no, no--don't call them motorcycles), a father-and-son team who happen to share the same name. Fiftysomething Paul Teutel Sr. is the walrus-mustachioed owner of OCC, a boulder of a man with a sharp tongue, ironic sense of humor (he's the first to laugh hysterically when he and his son, simultaneously backing out of OCC's icy driveway in a macho display of speed, collide their trucks) and passive-aggressive tendencies. Even to a casual viewer, Paul Jr., OCC's Chief Fabricator and Designer, is clearly the target of his dad's mid-life anxiety over creeping irrelevancy. But the younger Teutel has a nasty streak, too, especially a working knowledge of how to make his father feel isolated, marginalized, even unloved.
Most of the 13 episodes in this boxed set find Paul Jr. immersed in some kind of expensive project, building a spidery display chopper for a big trade show in New York City, a NASCAR-themed bike for a special event, or a Firebike to honor the fallen firefighters of 9/11. In each case, Paul Sr. hovers over his son's shoulder, observing skeptically, criticizing one or another detail, barking about the schedule. Junior fights back, attacking what he perceives as the old man's cluelessness, mocking his unwanted efforts to collaborate. It's ugly, but it's also compelling and somehow even fun--perhaps because both men are so transparent in their complementary issues. Not every episode is full of friction; there are lighter moments and times of emotional release and bonding. Late in the season, when Junior's brother Mikey gets involved in the family business, an added layer of sibling rivalry brings a whole new dimension to this unusual psychodrama. --Tom Keogh