Friday, June 22, 2018
TV and Media

Here's why you should admire 'Honey Boo Boo'

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, TLC's divisive reality hit about the antics of an energetic, self-identified redneck family, began its second season Wednesday night. To celebrate the show's return, TLC wedged scratch-and-sniff cards into issues of People and Us Weekly, and prompted viewers to use them during the show's premiere, possibly scratching to sniff bad breath, fish, rotten milk, a baby diaper, a fart, or maybe something more pleasantly aromatic — cheese puffs?

The scratch-and-sniff effectively establishes just how the producers want us to feel about 7-year-old Honey Boo Boo and her family: that they are totally fun and totally gross. I'm with them on the former, but it's the producers who are gross.

The only TV program that could imaginably contain more farts than the one-hour premiere of Honey Boo Boo is How Stuff Works: The Whoopee Cushion Edition. But the show is intimately concerned not only with the output, from whatever orifice, of its characters — irrepressible Alana Thompson who, due to her imitation of a "sassy black lady," got herself the nickname Honey Boo Boo and a TV show; her 300-pound mother Mama June; June's three other daughters and her baby daddy, Sugar Bear — but what they put into their bodies as well.

There is no show on television that plumbs the extremely real and loaded connections between food and class in America like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a series that regularly sneers at the lower-class family it films because of what and how they eat and how what they eat makes them look. But there are worse things than never eating your vegetables, and more important ones, too. The Honey Boo Boo clan often transcend the narrow condescension of the series' producers — between-scene interludes include shots of humping dogs and the sound of a toilet flushing — with a deep familial affection and a rousing, Amelia Bedelia-esque esprit de corps.

Mama June is a brash, morbidly obese, I-am-who-I-am sort of woman who farts, yells, extreme coupons, and talks about her weight all with a Jersey Shore-like freeness and facility with language. She may not be an Emily Post-approved child-rearer, but she is intimately involved with every aspect of her children's lives and is clearly adored by them. And she adores them in return, at very high volume, no less.

Though June has certainly committed one cardinal sin of parenting — she has let her children appear on a reality TV show, a crime for which she at least has the defense of needing the money — the sin for which she is most mocked by her television show is what she is willing to feed her children and herself. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo exists because of food: Alana and June first came to attention on TLC's pageant series Toddlers and Tiaras, when June served the already high-strung Alana go-go juice — a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew — and watched her go-go, a segment that became an outrage-stirring viral video.

The dietary habits of the family were a regular topic in Season 1, and that's even more the case in Season 2. In last night's premiere, the family was notified that a hog has been hit by a car, and they get to butchering. This is a family people know to call when they see fresh roadkill: It's a part of the diet.

"Why spend money at the store when we know it's fresher and cleaner at the side of the road?" June asks, which is maybe supposed to make her look crazy, but is actually just true.

June, who is regularly shown at horrifying angles and having trouble getting into and out of go-karts, turns the meat into a meal of pork and beans. She's seen sautéing big chunks of fatback, massaging pig hooves, and then giving Alana a tail bone to happily gnaw on. Later, Sugar Daddy tries to seduce June with a Hostess Cupcake. She replies that he should give her a deep fryer.

And yet, despite their love of all things fried, the Henderson-Thompson-Shannons are living life the exact right way. Their priorities are: love, enjoy, and hang with your family.

For a certain segment of the population, the idea that a loving parent could not give a hoot about what her children put in their mouths or how loud they farted it out or if they exercised is beyond the pale. Mama June genuinely doesn't seem to care about these things and if her kids are unhealthier than they might be, they also seem, especially compared to many reality-TV families, loved.

Alana, a little ham who in a more affluent family would just be enrolled in acting classes, talks about how wrestling and making dog piles are her family's favorite things to do, which essentially means everyone jumping up and down on each other in June and Sugar Bear's bed, cackling and screeching in the small house with one bathroom that they all share.

If the producers want to make much of all the noises emanating from that bathroom — and they do — the stink is on them.

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