Looking around, there are plenty of bellwethers for The End of Civilization as We Know It. For you, it may be global climate change. Or gay marriage. Or the end of the Mayan calendar. Whatever floats your boat, people. If I were to pick my poison, I’d have to say the unending tidal wave of reality television shows is a cultural death rattle of Doomsday proportions. Galloping high and proud as the lead Horseman of that particular Apocalypse is TLC’s new series “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
A spin-off of the already reviled unscripted series “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the show follows the allegedly real adventures of 6-year-old beauty pageant star Alana Thompson (known to one and all as “Honey Boo Boo Child”) and her “redneck” family. The “HCHBB” points its cameras greedily at the Thompson clan in their clapboard home alongside the railroad tracks in McIntyre, Ga. There’s Honey Boo Boo Child, her stage mom, Mama, and her dad, Sugar Bear. There are also three tweenage/teenage sisters—Pumpkin, Chubbs and Chickadee. I can’t remember which is which, but one of them is pregnant (of course). It’s neither easy nor necessary to distinguish the individual members of Honey Boo Boo’s tribe—each is a walking (well, sorta) poster child for cheeze balls and diabetes medication.
There are occasional visits to children’s pageants to maintain the link with “Toddlers & Tiaras.” If you’re not a pedophile or a controlling stage mom, these will be the least interesting parts of the show. To pad things out, TLC gives the family something to do each week: attend the Redneck Games, go on diet, adopt a pet pig, take etiquette lessons. Mostly, though, the show-runners bide their time waiting for the Thomspons to do something embarrassing. They don’t usually have to wait long. “HCHBB” never passes up the opportunity to spotlight one of the family members farting, sneezing or blowing their nose—making this the first TV show to get more mileage from outtakes than from actual footage.
Oddly enough, the sugar-addled Honey Boo Boo comes across as the most entertaining and quick-witted of the bunch. Her manic speech often requires subtitles, but she frequently comes up with the best lines. Mama occasionally spouts patently scripted Southern witticisms like, “All that vagiggle-jaggle is not beautimous.” But little Honey Boo Boo scores points for awesome non-sequiturs—even if she does have a propensity to deliver them by making her belly button “talk.” In one scene, for example, she decides to paint her pig’s toenails so he’ll “be gay.” When her sister points out that a pig can’t be gay, Honey fires back with the surprisingly progressive, “It can if it wants to. You can’t tell my pig what to do.”
“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is as indefensible as it is mesmerizing. Shamelessly, it revels in the same sort of “let’s all goggle at our rural neighbors” mentality as “Rat Bastards,” “American Hoggers,” Swamp People,” “Hillbilly Handfishin’,” et al. Still, it’s damnably hard to look away. You may find yourself simultaneously entertained and appalled, wondering about such brain-teasing sociological conundrums as, “How many rolls of toilet paper can one family have in their kitchen?”