Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was either the nadir of televised entertainment or a surprisingly funny, winking, heartwarming bit of summer reality TV fun, depending on whom you ask. Those who found the show odious felt that an oblivious, unattractive family and unfortunate little girl were being exploited for the point-and-laugh masses. Fans of Honey Boo Boo fell for the jokey editing, or lack thereof (sneezes were not only left in Mama June’s interviews, but became her hallmark), family fun, and above all, the loud, hammy 6-year-old dynamo that is Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, who emerged as a Toddlers and Tiaras star.
The T&T producers knew they had struck gold when Internet comments lit up about Alana’s catchphrases and unconventional pageant looks (for a little girl, Alana is cute; for a pageant girl, she’s unpolished to say the least) and her overweight, heavy-lidded coupon-queen mother June. But Alana was far from a tragic figure: a finger-waving, head-weaving sassmouth hopped up on go-go juice*, she was the odd T&T girl who seemed to actually like pageants, enjoyed being on television, and somehow appear to be a happy child in general.
How exotic or repulsive one finds the rural Georgia Thompson family (June’s last name is actually Shannon, but I’m going to refer to the family by Alana and her father’s last name here) will determine what you may say about the arc of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. If you’re partial to the Thompsons, the show followed Alana on her pageant quests as she enjoyed time with her family of six on trips to the water park, roller skating rink, and summer festivals. Or, one could choose to focus on how June and Sugar Bear aren’t married to each other, and that Alana’s sisters all come from different fathers, and that 17-year-old Anna is pregnant, and that the family buys food at an auction and jumps in the mud like hogs.
I happen to fall into the pro-Honey Boo Boo camp. I love a funny, weird little kid, so Alana was the main draw of the show, but I also enjoy June’s weirdly stately sneeze-punctuated interviews; the way the show does, at its core, seem to be about family values; and that I never perceive the Thompsons to be anything other than in on the joke.
When the show was at its showiest was when it was weakest. Occasionally the producers would try to get “ordinary people” to show up and tell the audience what a weird group the Thompsons were, like the etiquette coach hired for Alana or the saleswoman at the wig shop “Shh! It’s a Wig!” (As if an employee of a store called “Shh! It’s a Wig!” has any say in what’s normal or not.) Just watching the Thompsons do they thang was often enough to spend an enjoyable if mindless half-hour of entertainment, like the tension wrought from the big reveal of June’s mangled forklift foot, or Alana’s belief that Elvis helps Santa make his toys. Me, I got a kick out of watching Alana be a kid and shout things like “Yayy! This is the best EVER!” at some fireworks.
The finale of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo wasn’t the ideal representation of the show, namely because a show this admittedly-trifling has no business being more than a half-hour long. The moment that everyone will talk about is that teenage Anna finally had baby Kaitlyn, who, yes, was born with an extra thumb. This will probably upset a lot of people who figure that extra digits are only bestowed upon babies that come from bad stock who eat crap, but the editors of the show followed the family’s lead: While Sugar Bear and Anna’s sisters riff about Kaitlyn resembling a Swiss Army knife and having an easier time picking up cheese balls, the extra thumb is revealed with a small happy fanfare. Alana, meanwhile, loses her mind with joy over the prospect of meeting her new niece while noting, “I poop bigger!” than the size of the baby.
For the rest of the episode, Alana prepares for the last pageant of the summer. A segment with Sugar Bear’s gay brother, Lee, goes on too long, although, again, you can cut his presence on the show however you please: Is it offensive that Alana calls gay men “poodles,” or do you choose to go with Alana’s declaration that “There’s nothing wrong with being gay”? But, really, the majority of the episode is June sneezing and everyone swatting at gnats, which grows thin over an hour. A cat did go bonkers and run around for awhile, though, and that was funny.
My greatest wish for Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is that it would be a one-and-done show, a weird, singular phenomenon that we can remember years from now as an odd cultural touchstone to tuck away with the election and Olympics and teachers’ strike and whatnot, so that Alana (and Kaitlyn) can continue her childhood in peace. Alas, it’s been renewed for a second season, all but guaranteeing that the producers will find new ways to spin material out of the Thompsons while they, their redneckness and the show will become much more contrived and hard to like. They’ve chosen the dark path of Jon, Kate, and the eight. Of course, to many people, there’s no way the show could possibly get any worse, but I think that’s also been said of the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, and Real Housewives as well.
(I swear I like good shows, too.)
- *A mix of Red Bull and Mountain Dew. Let it be known, though, that fueling small girls with caffeine and sugar is a common practice on the pageant circuit.
- I know it was probably a bit cruel, but I liked that June asked Anna, post-labor, “Do you recommend anyone else get pregnant at 17?”
- June looked downright beautimous during the family portrait session.
- Did we ever find out what the family’s chihuahua’s name is?
- “I have chicken nugget power!”