Last year, TLC invited America into the railroad-track adjacent three bedroom-one bath home of 7-year-old Alana Thompson, her mother June, her father Sugar Bear and her three teenage half-sisters located in McIntyre, Ga., population 642.
As audiences went wild for subtitled Southern denizens of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," members of the media proved what snots we can be when dealing with demographics that do not include hardwood floors and a working understanding of the juice cleanse.
The show was derided, for exploiting children and the poor, for perpetuating Southern stereotypes, for ignoring the perils of obesity. It was also celebrated for portraying a family that seemed actually happy, for showing body types not normally seen on television, for showcasing a wry and loving matriarch who was very much in on the joke.
But whether praising or attempting to bury the show, most of the reaction arose from the same place: Mystification. Just as if reality television hasn't been pointing and gaping at extreme examples of our citizenry for years.
Morally and ethically, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" is no better or worse than any reality show that involves children; it is a very straight line from "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" to the Thompson household, albeit through blue highways through red states. And that is precisely what caused the culture shock.
Audiences, and critics, are far more accustomed to the walk-in closet version of America — peering at, and taking down, the middle class and up is our idea of "reality." And while shows such as "Nanny 911" and "Teen Moms" dipped into the double-digit demographics, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" shook things up, probably because it reflects a higher degree of American "reality" than its predecessors.
The members of the Thompson family are mostly overweight and often stationary. They watch TV and trade good-natured insults. They use many paper towels, which they buy in bulk (Mama June's a couponer), and eat things that come out of cans.
This last may explain why flatulence has become something of a leitmotif, which many members of the media Could Not Get Over last year. In scripted drama, disembowelment and/or fornication is all but required these days, but enough could not be said about the farting on "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo"!
A habit that, it must be noted, continues in a very big way this season (I did mention the watch 'n' sniff element, did I not?), as things pick up a few months after they left off. Baby Kaitlyn, born at the end of last season, is now 5 months old, and with her 17-year-old mother, Anna, back in school, June is her primary caretaker. Say what you will about a woman who massages drifts of white sugar into slices of canned cranberry sauce and calls it "cranberry lasagna," she knows how to handle a baby.
The first two episodes deal with the girls losing their phones as a result of not doing their chores; wrestling; the procurement and preparation of a roadkill hog; a very messy "redneck slip 'n' slide"; and Sugar Bear's birthday. Alana, three years older than when we first encountered her as a wannabe pageant queen on "Toddlers and Tiaras," has lost none of that hyperactive loquaciousness that made her "a star." June still could not care less what anyone thinks and Sugar Bear remains in a perpetual state of drowse.
The "roadkill hog" segment will probably generate a lot of horrified blow back, but while the veracity of the situation is questionable — surely the hog belongs to someone and if it's feral, could we test the meat before eating it? — any family able to render a hog carcass into a meal deserves nothing but respect.
I cannot bring myself to love or hate "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo!" Like all point 'n' gape shows, it makes me a little sad. But I grew up in a small town in Maryland and the ashy brown sectional on which the family spends so much time is quite familiar to me, as is the omnipresent frying pan and the disturbingly overstocked pantry shelves.
If the Thompsons' values are not my own — Alana's charm is 3/4 rudeness, less attractive each passing year — they do seem to genuinely love one another, which is more than you can say for most of the people engaged in this particular profession.
More important, if the Kardashians are allowed to make money off our voyeuristic natures, then so are the Thompsons. Show after show depicts wildly imperfect parents and pillories certain types of people; they just usually have better stuff. (A&E's "Duck Dynasty" may be the hit that it is because it manages to be both down-home and rich.)
On the spectrum of reality families, there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the Thompsons that another bathroom and a visit from Jamie Oliver wouldn't fix. And June, though legally blind, seems to see things pretty clearly: Fame is fleeting; coupons are a better bet.
'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo'
When: 9 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)Copyright © 2015, RedEye