For too long I have envied British menfolk for being bestowed with channel Dave (Sky 111, Virgin 128, Freeview 12) which, I’m given to understand, is “The Home of Witty Comedy Banter”. Here’s a channel that knows its clientele. Top Gear, The Gadget Show, Russell Howard’s Good News, Griff Rhys Jones and Rory McGrath in ceaseless mirth in a canoe. Dave, a lovingly bespoke smorgasbord of telly targeting one imaginary bloke called, well, “Dave”, who – in my mind – has a wife, Karen, who tends to go to bed at about 10 o clock, y’know after Dave and her watch the BBC1 news with a cup of tea and a Jacob’s Cracker with a Laughing Cow triangle. Then Dave sits in his favourite chair and unthinkingly stares at QI XL and Man v. Food, one hand nestling casually down the front of his elasticated waistband easy-fit M&S pants which his wife bought him mainly for walking their bulldog, Bess. I’ve thought a lot about Dave. Why has Dave got a channel and I haven’t?
My first notion that channel Grace was being launched – which they appear, coyly, to be calling TLC (Sky 124, Virgin 167) was last week when a friend on maternity leave told me in awed tones about a new American show Extreme Couponing. “It’s on TLC! The new channel that’s showing back to back Oprah, Cake Boss, Chasing Amish and The Golden Girls!’ she said. ‘They’re going to play Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the one about the seven-year-old redneck pageant queen! The one who can do that ghetto princess clicky-finger Z shape in mid-air while waggling her head like 54-year-old Sydney drag queen. You know!? But better than that, EXTREME COUPONING!”
I had to give it a go, and I implore you to too. But first let me ask you, does paying full price for groceries rankle with you? Are you a fan of a BOGOF voucher? Do you have no shame at all about jamming up busy supermarket checkout queues for two hours demanding $800 of hot dogs, Gatorade and loo-roll for $22 due to your A4 ring-binder of money-off coupons? Are you stockpiling tins of cling peaches, toothbrushes and nappies in your basement like some end-of-days “the rapture is coming” fruitcake? OK, are you none of these things but you’d like to peer in bewilderment at people who are?
“In this house ‘full-price’ is the F-word,’ announces one contestant, leading cameras down to his basement filled to the ceiling with multi-purchase oven cleaner, jars of chickpeas and end-of-line Odor-Eaters. Warning: after two or three hours of watching Extreme Couponing the folly of paying full-price for anything becomes quite galling. One almost begins to overlook that many of the contestants have – to my mind – unaddressed psychological issues surrounding control, catastrophising, delusional ideas and obsessive compulsive disorders, because, hey, they got a freezer-load of Oreo ice cream for $10!
And while we’re glossing over moral concerns, please meet Mike and Trina, from Florida, on TLC’s My Strange Addiction, who have a shared obsession in coffee enemas. They’ve had 7,000 of them in over two years! Or Lisa who loves to eat little balls of cat hair. She finds chewing it so relaxing. Or Margaret, who loves being stung by bees so much she administers 15 stings a day to her own arms and legs. Or 20-year-old Mark, who has an a really very, very creepy obsession with inflatable pool toys. It is literally impossible to turn TLC channel on even for five minutes without staring in horror, then in fascination, then in sympathy, then series linking The Golden Girls as you’ve forgotten how funny Blanche Devereaux bitching about Dorothy Zbornak is, then realising five hours have passed and you’re hungry and loath to go to the supermarket without first snipping out coupons.
Of course, the jewel in TLC’s current crown is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Twenty-minute-long stories – stretched out with a lot of washing powder and nappy adverts – about a proudly redneck family in Georgia with a host of young daughters, a pet pig, a dearth of teeth and flatulence issues. The show is mostly filmed in and around the family’s hometown in rural McIntyre, Georgia, United States and everyone is subtitled, which is particularly needed for Honey Boo Boo’s dad, “Sugar Bear”, who is forever swilling some sort of chewing tobacco and phlegm around his mouth then depositing it on the floor, mid-soundbite.
The unexpected thing is that the family is really rather lovable. Honey Boo Boo loves pageants and her gay “uncle poodle” turning up to “teach her some sass”. She loves earning money and wiggles about snapping her fingers, doing her catchphrase, “a dolla makes me holla”.
When Honey Boo Boo’s teenage sister got pregnant, the whole family stood by her and showered her with love. Dad works tirelessly in the chalk mine to support them all. These are exactly the sort of honest, hard working families that David Cameron gets all misty about. He should pop by next time he’s stateside to examine the “rust” (flaky stained skin patches) on Mama’s neck-fat folds.