TLC's latest reality offering -- Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a spin-off from the network's Toddlers & Tiaras centered on one of that show's more memorable pageant princesses -- has since it appeared out of the heat and humidity three weeks ago become one of the most talked about series on television. No surprise there -- it's a perfect train-wreck diversion at the end of a punishing summer of record-breaking heat, roaring wildfires and increasingly nasty political confrontations. What's more, even with its pig pooping, mud flopping and armpit farting, it may be one of the most culturally significant entertainment programs of our tumultuous times, if only because it's about how certain people get by without mounds of money.
I may be exaggerating a bit, but there are things about Boo Boo that are worth calling attention to. It's just too easy to dismiss this series because it showcases a lifestyle that makes millions of people uneasy or to accuse it of advancing certain regional stereotypes. Unless one happens to live that lifestyle, which many people might locate under the general heading of "redneck," the everyday antics of 6-year-old Southern beauty pageant fixture Alana Thompson and her family and friends in McIntyre, Ga. (population approximately 700) can appear utterly foreign.
But there is something of value beyond that first blush: Alana's mother, June Shannon, and her father, Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson, an unmarried couple, are clearly devoted to Alana and her three half-sisters (from other fathers) and are doing the best they are equipped to do (within the limited parameters of their own life experiences) to provide them with a loving home life and to teach them right from wrong. They may eat too much junk food and use atrocious grammar, but the four girls are not spoiled, they are made to take responsibility for their actions (June even takes away their pet pig when they fail to take proper care of it), and they are constantly engaged in family activities, whether it's a day at the local spa for mom and the girls (yes, there is a spa in McIntyre) or an afternoon at the local Redneck Games, happily described by June as "similar to the Olympics, but with a lot of missing teeth and a lot of butt cracks showin'."
Boo Boo ostensibly revolves around the perilously precocious Alana, but whether by design or default mama June steals the show, and while many viewers will likely recoil at her outlandish quirks, it's worth nothing that she seems to sincerely like herself exactly as she is. Yes, she ought to drop some weight for health reasons, but it is nevertheless somewhat refreshing to watch someone so perfectly at peace with herself go about her business.
This column continues here.