Cue Banjos

Tune in to Real World: Windermere, a reality series that’s rich in poor behavior.

Illustration: Pat Kinsella

Kicking up dust on the dirt streets of Windermere, it’s hard not to whistle. That kid with the cane pole may sport baggy shorts and a wife-beater, but the mere image conjures memories of “Opie,” the cowlicked TV sheriff’s son, elbows high, shuckin’ along to his favorite fishing hole in Mayberry.

It’s a pretty picture—the one most residents of this tiny township see when they look out their double-paned custom Pella bay windows across their manicured lawns. Lately, however, life in Central Florida’s most affluent bedroom community has been less TV Land and more MTV, full of trash talk, fighting and generally uncivil behavior—and that’s just Town Hall.

Call it Real World: Windermere—a bizarro Mayberry where the top lawman—a guy with the last name of Saylor, not Taylor—is a suspected dirty cop,1 Aunt Bea is the town manager, Floyd the Barber has been elected mayor and presides over pancake breakfasts wearing a blue blazer with a pocket dickie, and Otis the town drunk not only has the keys to his cell but also the police evidence locker, where he’s been helping himself to some good drugs.2

In Real World: Windermere, outwardly pleasant residents issue anonymous death threats when riled over a local issue,3 and every morning Deputy Barney Fife drives around the town square in a golf cart, removing protest signs that sprouted overnight like weeds.4 Highest ratings would have to go to the episode where Briscoe Darling, the gruff and socially awkward mountain man, dumps a load of white trash in the mayor’s front yard, accusing him in a town meeting of being a drunk and a skirt chaser. At the center of the ugliness is Darling’s sweetheart, Aunt Bea, whom the mayor had just scolded for paying more attention to pie-baking contests than the police department. The show ends in a cliffhanger, with the mayor lying unconscious at Darling’s feet.5 The town council says the mayor started it,6 though no one in the packed room saw what happened. The mystery ranks up there with “Who shot J.R.?”

As the credits roll, we see the kid fishing off a bridge near a “No Fishing From Bridge” sign, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He looks up at a fast-approaching dust cloud with a numb expression on his face as we hear the roar of an engine growing louder. Aunt Bea and Briscoe fly by on a shiny black Harley, bound for nearby Ocoee, where the streets are paved, the residents are civil and the mayor wears a trucker cap with “Ocoee Mayor” emblazoned across the front. Cue banjo music as the cloud of dirt settles and the show’s trademark logo—Welcome to Windermere Among The Lakes—comes into view. The camera zooms in on it—someone has spray painted an “F” before the “L” in lakes. Fade to black.

1 Ousted Police Chief Danny Saylor is charged with corruption and accused of obstructing a child rape investigation. 2 Florida Department of Law Enforcement report found myriad violations of police procedures, including guns and drugs missing from the police evidence locker. 3 One of the town’s seven paid staffers resigned, citing anonymous death threats over council-approved plans to relocate a historic 1890s schoolhouse to the town square. 4 The landscaped roundabout in front of Town Hall has become a popular planting ground for handmade signs bashing the town manager and town council candidates. 5 In a March town council meeting, Mayor Gary Bruhn chastised town manager Cecilia Bernier over the Saylor scandal and demanded her resignation, spurring Bernier’s husband, a Harley-riding retired steelworker, to accuse Bruhn of behavior unbecoming of a public official. A confrontation between the two men ended with Bruhn on his back. 6 The day after the incident, the Windermere town website posted a letter signed by four council members. It apologized for the drama and criticized the mayor for starting it.
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