It's hard not to like Honey Boo Boo.
The one-time Toddlers & Tiaras star otherwise known as Alana Thompson is a plainspoken bundle of 6-year-old sass—a girl so filled with moxie and heart that you can't help smiling when you see her … or hoping that she makes it out of this train wreck of a show somewhat intact.
Because while Honey Boo Boo herself is a reasonably awesome little girl (albeit in need of a little gentle discipline and better eating habits), TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a horrifying monstrosity.
The show centers around Honey Boo Boo and her rural Georgian "redneck" family: "Mama" June Thompson (who tips the scales at 300-plus pounds), father "Sugar Bear" and older sisters "Chickadee" (who is 17 years old and with child), "Chubbs" and "Pumpkin." TLC follows the family around as members care for pet pig Glitzy (known to defecate on the kitchen counter), pick up recent roadkill for dinner and fuel Honey Boo Boo with "go-go juice" (a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew) before another pageant.
The Thompsons, in other words, are shown to embody pretty much every rural/Southern stereotype held by black-clad, absinthe-sipping, Mercedes-driving East Coast elites whose knowledge of the South begins with The Dukes of Hazzard and ends with Deliverance.
The opening theme song consists of four seconds of banjo music terminated by the unmistakable sound of flatulence. And while the Thompsons do seem to care about one another, their day-to-day interactions are littered with profanity, disrespect, bathroom humor, sexual innuendo and, well, litter.
But if you're suddenly thinking that maybe Honey Boo Boo functions as some sort of cautionary tale, I can tell you that such an approach doesn't solve the problem. The Thompsons are, after all, a real family—and their activities are obviously thwacked down into half-hour increments and edited to make them seem as uncouth and mock-worthy as possible. Every discussion of body odor or Mama's weight is kept in; everything that might show them in a more redemptive light is edited out. Dialogue is subtitled—not because the Thompsons' Georgia accents are that hard to decipher, but seemingly to accentuate their oddness to the rest of us. It's TLC's way of saying to us viewers, "See?! Look how weird and different they are! Aren't you glad you're not them?"
Sasha Baron Cohen shows more sensitivity to his subjects than TLC does.
The Thompsons, one must suspect, are in on the joke. With their previous experience on the almost as loathsome Toddlers & Tiaras, they must know a thing or two about how exploitative reality television is, and USA Today suggests that the family might be ratcheting up their redneck bona fides to make the show more "interesting." Says Pamela Roberts, a city clerk who works near the Thompson family home, they're "putting on a little bit. A lot of a little bit, put it that way."
If so, their strategy seems to be working. Ratings have been strong. Fans and even some critics have taken a liking to the Thompsons and their unapologetic ways. "You like us or you don't like us," Mama says at one juncture. "We just don't care."
The Guardian's Megan Carpentier was charmed by the Thompsons but appalled by TLC's exploitation of them—and the network's insistence that they deserved to be mocked. "Instead of getting the family access to cooking and exercise classes (for instance), the show's producers shelled out for etiquette school for young Honey Boo Boo," she writes. "That way, the audience can laugh at her lack of middle-class manners and not have to think too hard about what it means when the only help you get from the local authorities to feed your four kids is a notification of where the freshest roadkill can be found."
The show's been called a sure sign of the apocalypse. After all, a program so sick in mind and soul must signal end of the world. Some wonder whether Mama and Sugar Bear, by allowing their children to be filmed and mocked on TLC, are guilty of child abuse.
Writes Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter, "This is exploitation squared, Honey Boo Boo Child. There's no doubt that a dollar makes TLC wanna holler. Once hilariously known as The Learning Channel, it has no equals when it comes to showing the underbelly of America. And the neat trick is that everyone who watches can't really call bulls‑‑‑ on the practice—precisely because they're accomplices in the success of selling and promoting trash."
Of all the genres of reality television, this form of exploitation "reality"—examining someone's home and family for the express purpose of mocking said home and family—is the worst. And Here Comes Honey Boo Boo makes even that wasteland look wholesome by comparison. The only way TLC can ratchet up its penchant for seamy voyeurism any more would be to film a series entirely in a public restroom.
"What Is a Door Nut?"
The Thompsons hold a "Christmas in July" charity drive, at which Sugar Bear dresses up as Santa Claus in a suit that smells like a "chain-smoking goat." They're forced to get rid of their squealing pig Glitzy (much to Honey Boo Boo's anguish). Thus, we're treated to a flashback of the time the oinker pooped on the kitchen counter.
Toward the end of the episode, 17-year-old Chickadee goes into premature labor. She complains that the baby is hurting her privates (her actual choice of words is bleeped; subtitles substitute "biscuit") and repeatedly talks about how much she needs to urinate and defecate. Mama tells her she'll just have to hold it, because they don't want the baby landing in the toilet.
When an offscreen cameraman asks Honey Boo Boo what a door nut is (something she'd mentioned earlier), the 6-year-old mimics him in an effeminate voice, adding, "Like totally OMG!" The family four-wheels with friend "Crazy Tony," and one of the ATVs topples over and lands on the guy. (He's ostensibly uninjured.) Tony and others try to drag Mama like a beached whale into a muddy lake; the cameras pixelate a part of Tony's behind as his jeans sag. Mama and Sugar Bear engage in sexual banter. About seven obscenities are bleeped. Vulgarities that aren't censored include "d‑‑n," "a‑‑" and "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused a half-dozen times. References are made to passing gas and "man boobies."