The richest irony about Here Comes Honey Boo Boo may be the name of the channel that brings it to us -- TLC, formerly The Learning Channel, which began life delivering educational content in the States but later discovered a far more prosperous existence as a feed-pipe for low-brow reality swill.
Newly arrived in the UK it last night unveiled its biggest American hit -- a show built around a junior beauty pageant contestant and her cheerfully déclassé Georgia family. And here are some of the things you could have learnt from the first episode. Human biology: “If a person farts twelve to fifteen times a day then they’re healthy” (this courtesy of Momma, the family matriarch and a woman so committed to the virtues of flatulence that she farts every week in the opening credits). Grammar: the superlative of pregnant is “pregnantest” (this courtesy of Honey Boo Boo, who at least has the excuse that she’s only seven years old). Sociology: full dentition is not compatible with redneck status, at least if we’re to believe Honey Boo Boo’s sister who indignantly rejects the title during a family argument with the conclusive line “We all have our teeth don’t we?”
I’m not sure that Sugar Bear, the man of the house, actually does have all his teeth, but let that pass. Whatever the family thinks they are, most of the audience will happily categorise them as rednecks, that term being a necessary licence for the complacent sense of superiority which is the series’ chief attraction for its fans. And that no-one is immune to the satisfactions of condescending disdain is demonstrated when the family go off to visit the Redneck Games, and Momma gets to pontificate about the downmarket appearance of fellow visitors. As a woman carrying a bit of extra weight, she explains, she understands the need not to wear anything too revealing: “All that vajiggle-jaggle is not beautimous” she says, the wilder patches of her Southern drawl subtitled so that we miss not a single delicious solecism.
Honey Boo Boo herself seems to have taken to television celebrity like a hog to a mud-pool, her commentary on her life played straight into the lens, as if it was all a turn in one of the exploitative pageants which punctuate each episode. And if you enjoy laughing at poor people there are a couple of things that will enable you to feel a little more dignified as you do it. The first is that Honey Boo Boo and her family appear to be enviably cheerful, loving and self-assured. “You like us or you don’t like...we just don’t care”, said Momma at one point, and you believed her. The other thing is that they almost certainly aren’t poor any more, the success of the show in America having delivered the usual rewards in terms of fame and cash. They won’t be buying junk food at cut price auctions for much longer -- except, of course, when the script of “reality” requires it.
I think Frankie, the lead character in Lucy Gannon’s new drama about a Bristol District Nurse, is meant to be saintly and charming -- a cup-half-full type for whom nothing is too much trouble. I wanted to kill her from about twenty minutes in and by the end of the first episode I’d been joined by Frankie’s partner, after she’d missed the birthday party at which he was planning to propose. Characters speak as if they’re all television writers (“If you were a pie-chart work would be 90 per cent and I’d be the sad little crumb of boring pastry”) and occupy a world in which genuinely intractable problems can simply be wished out of existence. “I laugh at cutbacks. I sneer at them” says Frankie promising something undeliverable to a patient. I think she may actually be some kind of sociopath. I really hope Lucy Gannon knows this too.