This startling bit of video was brought to my attention on twitter from Hollywood Elsewhere's "Arthouse Cowboy" and friend Moises Chiullan. It's a series of commercials starring the late Jim Varney's loveable country-fried icon Ernest P. Worrell, except that's not Varney in the cap and vest -- it's Varney impersonator John Hudgens.

Hudgens has been impersonating Varney's creation since 1980, and although at one time he was threatened with legal action from Ernest's copyright owners, Carden & Cherry, they changed their tune in the wake of Varney's death, employing Hudgens to shill as Ernest in all-new ads (starting with Hudgens providing the voice to a cartoon Ernest in a 2005 commercial). It seems like the proposed ads weren't a hit (suprise?) - Carden and Cherry's website, linked in Hudgens' Ernest demo reel, is nowhere to be found. (a webpage that will make you go blind) reported in 2004 that Hudgens was in talks to revive Ernest on the big screen, but I'd guess that went over with Varney's fans just as well as the ads did. I hope things fare better for Blake Clark, who voices Slinky Dog in Toy Story 3, a character Varney brought to life in the previous Toy Story films.

Hudgens does a fine vocal impersonation, but he's missing the broadly comedic spark Varney brought to the role. I'm morally conflicted on this. If I can whole-heartedly enjoy Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek, after the death of DeForest Kelley (who I love), then shouldn't I be fine with Hudgens picking up Varney's mantle? There's something about it that bothers me though, maybe because Varney created Ernest for himself, while Kelley was hired to play a role. Knowhutimean?

It may not matter what I think, as the Hudgens Ernest appears to have died a quick death, but you can make up your own mind after watching the footage behind the jump.