Watching "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" (TLC, premieres Wed. 10 p.m. ET) brought up a range of emotions for me, not dissimilar to the roller coaster one goes through while watching a Terence Malick movie or perhaps when reading "Ulysses." Okay, maybe more like watching a NASCAR race or "Hillbilly Handfishin'." But still, "HCHBB" isn't the horrifying, non-stop slow-mo car wreck I expected. Sure, it has moments of nausea-inducing horror, but I was able to watch the whole thing without shrieking, which I'm pretty sure my colleague Dan didn't think was a remote possibility. Stranger still, there is something honestly charming and, yes, poignant about the show. And no, I am not mistaking poignancy for a craving for pork rinds.
We kick things off with an introduction to the family. Honey Boo Boo, whose real name is the surprisingly elegant Alana, has three older sisters; Pumpkin, Chickadee and Chubbs. Her parents are Mama and Sugar Bear. As Mama informs us, Sugar Bear bring the "trestosterone." I had to re-type this several times to convince my computer's spell check that I did, in fact, want that extra R in there.
Life in Georgia does not seem overly difficult, at least not if you're a stay-at-home Mama. During the summer, she and the kids sleep until noon or maybe two, if they feel like it. They eat cheese puffs. They bounce up and down on the furniture, or at least the kids do, as Mama weighs over 300 pounds (309, to be exact -- that comes up later in the show) and probably shouldn't put too much pressure on any of the home furnishings.
But such home bound fun isn't all! The family is soon off to the Redneck Games in East Dublin, which gives Pumpkin an opportunity to bob for raw pigs' feet. Pumpkin only retrieves two from the bucket, but Mama and Sugar Bear are proud that she made an effort. Mama, it should be said, is not a full-bore redneck. She doesn't let her kids jump into a body of water bearing a sign that says, and I quote, "It has been reported that the Oconee River contain high levels of bacteria which is harmful to humans. Enter this water at your own risk." Oconee River? FULL of people. People who can't read, I guess.
But as much as her kids beg ("It's okay, Mama! It only affects one of 300 people! You've gotta have an open wound or something!"), she will not risk them being contaminated with flesh-eating bacteria. I'd like to tell Mama exactly what one might get by putting raw, wet pork in one's mouth, but really, there's no point. The woman has her standards!
Okay, I'm poking fun at Mama, who is actually weirdly charming. She takes jabs at the truly jumbo-sized women (and yes, there are women who make Mama look relatively svelte) at the Redneck Games who wear bikinis ("All that vagiggle jaggle is not beautimous"), trades jokes with her kids (some of which do not center around farting, though that is a consistent theme) and truly seems to love her oddball little family because of, not in spite of, its uniqueness. Mama is who she is and she doesn't care what you or I or anyone thinks, and that may be her most impressive quality. That, and she does seem to have all her teeth (which, as her older children point out, disqualifies her from redneck status).
As we all know from "Toddlers & Tiaras" (or maybe we don't, in which case Honey Boo Boo may come as something of a shock to the senses), Alana was such an arresting character on that series a show was built around her. It's no surprise, as Honey Boo Boo appears to be both blissfully unaware of how she might be perceived and absolutely in love with the camera. This blonde, pie-faced six-year-old seems unable to complete a sentence without squishing her prodigious belly fat together, as if she's trying to form words with her belly button, and likes to say things like "A dollah makes me hollah!" Her goal in life, which she apparently shares with all of her family members, is that she someday win a Grand Supreme title on the pageant circuit. And this, oddly enough, is where things get a little sad.
Mama, it should be said, is not blind to the obstacles facing her children. When Chubbs (also known as Chubbette) says she wants to go on a diet (a statement made, it should be noted, while Chubbette is eating a bag of pork rinds), Mama understands. Mama herself wants to lose 100 pounds, which she believes can be done through farting (I want to be clear that I am not making up these details). But she seems quite blind to the fact that Alana is not a tiny, perfect princess destined for pageant success. Sugar Bear addresses the camera and says, without any hint of humor, that if Honey Boo Boo continues her pageant training, "One day Alana could be Miss America." Even a brief glimpse of Alana's gene pool would indicate this is highly unlikely.
But in the second half of the show, the family treks down to the Beautiful Faces of Georgia pageant wearing Boo Boo-emblazoned T-shirts and dull grins of determination. This pageant is a natural pageant, which means the trickery of fake tans, hair and eyelashes must be cast aside to let personality and "natural beauty" take center stage. Honey Boo Boo pouts and preens, but it's no surprise that she goes home empty-handed.
Still, she dissolves into tears. She isn't quite old enough to realize that the rest of the world doesn't see her through the forgiving, rosy glasses through which her family views her.
Mama consoles Honey Boo Boo, but she's already thinking about the next time. The family as a whole seems determined to encourage Alana right into the winner's circle, as if determination and high hopes are enough to make Honey Boo Boo into something she's clearly not. In a sense, these cheerful rednecks are the embodiment of a particular American belief -- that if you try hard enough, you can become president, or a professional athlete, or just take home a stupid Grand Supreme tiara someone bought at the 99 cent store.
At the end of the day, Honey Boo Boo has her own television show, which undoubtedly pays more than all of these ridiculous kiddie beauty pageants put together. People may be laughing at her, but more are probably rooting her on. And while I'd like to see Mama consider adding green vegetables to the family's daily intake of neon orange corn puffs, I can't say these people are unhappy. Honey Boo Boo may never be Miss America, but I'd like to think that at some point, she'll realize some things are more important.