“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” premiered six weeks later, and the reaction was even worse. Viewers, critics and idea-strapped pundits pounced on TLC’s reality series about Alana Thompson, a tyke pageant contestant from rural Georgia who lives with her parents, sisters and baby niece in what appears to be perfect “redneckognized” contentment.
Alana (a.k.a. “Honey Boo Boo”) and her family were treated like catfish in a rusty barrel, an irresistiblty easy target for not only critics of television but critics of modern American lifestyles. In the aggregate, the Thompson/Shannon family was slammed for being fat, stupid, slobbish, ill-mannered, too Southern and then not authentically Southern enough. (A typical online comment, from a Huffington Post reader: “What a sick country this is, physically and mentally.”) More than one person likened the show’s success to a harbinger for the apocalypse. While giving a lecture last fall about popular culture and the collapse of our zombie-fixated civilization, I, too, projected a slide of Alana, in one of her sassy poses, up on a giant screen to make my point. Big laughs.
As a critic, I took shots at both “The Newsroom” and “Honey Boo Boo,” but I also stuck around to see what developed. I wanted “The Newsroom” to get better, and I wanted “Honey Boo Boo” to play itself out.
A life spent parked in front of the television sometimes throws you a nice curve. The show you’re supposed to pay attention to has nothing to tell you, and the show that’s supposed to rot your brain actually turns it on. The show that’s supposed to be robust and sparky (in an NPR sort of way) just isn’t, and the show that gets everyone wagging their scoldy fingers (in an op-ed sort of way) is refreshingly jam-packed with opportunities for purposeful discussion.
For all its topicality, for all its credentials and high production values, for all its well-intentioned desire to be spot-on about modern politics and society, “The Newsroom” doesn’t work. As revealed by the first four episodes of the second season (beginning Sunday night), even a tweaked “Newsroom” is a still pretty much a bore. And then, for all its cheapness and apparent vacuity, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” (returning Wednesday night) gives us a million things to tell one another IN ALL CAPS.