Beauty and a little beast

At first, it sounds like Muskrat Lovely is some kind of Christopher Guestian spoof, given its surreal subject: the National Outdoors Show in Golden Hill, Maryland, where a muskrat-skinning competition shares billing with the Miss Outdoors beauty pageant. But it’s all true, and it’s been true every year since 1954.

The hour-long Muskrat (on PBS beginning Tuesday, 10/31; see below) is a funny, sweet, beautifully made documentary about a little-known rite of the American vernacular.

What makes Muskrat hugely winning is that each of the eight teenage girls in the Miss Outdoors part of the show is an idiosyncratic charmer. Among the skills they choose to show off in the talent portion of the competition: singing, pancake-making, and, yes, muskrat-skinning.

Everybody — including championship muskrat skinner (and average American mom) Cindy Paul — seems possessed of a whimsical pride that director Amy Nicholson obviously admires. (Mercifully, very little skinning is actually shown.)

Given that most of the best documentaries intend to shock and disturb, and most “reality TV” is contrived, here is a refreshing hour that’s un-PC and unpretentiously, joyfully real.

VIEW a preview for Muskrat Lovely

CHECK your local PBS listings for Muskrat Lovely, airing as part of the Independent Lens documentary series. Muskrat Lovely will air 10/31 in most areas, 11/1 in New York City, and a few days later in other cities.

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Beauty and a little beast