Sunday 18 March 2018

Outside The box

Paul Whitington

A good reality TV show should make you ashamed of the idiots who made it, and ashamed of yourself for watching it. And that's certainly the case with 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo', a horror show of a series charting the career of Alana Thompson, a seven-year-old beauty pageant contestant who rose to fame in the fascinatingly awful TLC show 'Toddlers & Tiaras'.

That programme followed insane mothers and their strategically spray-tanned and buffed young daughters around America's child beauty pageant circuit, and there was something simultaneously stomach churning and compelling about watching parents goad their children into performing outrageous, sexualised catwalk routines.

One mother was castigated by the media for padding her daughter's chest to make her look like Dolly Parton; another was criticised for getting her daughter to smoke fake cigarettes while playing a femme fatale on stage.

Thompson, who goes by the stage name of Honey Boo Boo, was one of those contestants, and it was clear from the very start that Alana had star quality. Not that she was a particularly good child beauty contestant: in fact, she's never won anything, but her self-belief is unshakable – and God loves a trier.

In 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' we watch Alana prepare for pageant after pageant surrounded by her noisy Georgia backwoods family, who are a kind of unholy cross between 'The Beverly Hillbillies' and the Gallaghers from 'Shameless'.

Alana's mother, Mama June, has been called "the most fearsome television matriarch since Livia Soprano", and she is definitely on the scary side.

Mama June tells it like it is and, though no sylph herself, happily criticises the immodesty of larger women who dress inappropriately. "All that vajiggle-jaggle is not beautimous," she announces in one episode.

All the Thompsons speak in this bizarre sub-language, though Alana's father, Mike 'Sugar Bear' Thompson, says little and seems a forlorn figure, a timid man surrounded by a small army of bossy behemoth women.

Much has been made of the fact that Mama June feeds Honey Boo Boo a performance-enhancing blend of Red Bull and Mountain Dew before every pageant, and the Thompsons' daily diet would make your hair stand on end. Their favourite meal is a concoction they've christened "sketti", which consists of a giant tub of tomato ketchup microwaved with a tub of margarine and poured over a mountain of pasta.

The family insist they're healthy because they each fart at least 12 times a day.

It would be easy to just sneer at the Thompsons and dismiss them as hopelessly uncouth hillbillies. But they're a lot more likeable than the Kardashians, for instance, and Alana is a plucky little girl who's devoted to her homosexual uncle and says there "ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a little gay". Indeed there isn't.

The second series of 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' begins on Tuesday, July 23, on TLC. And want to hear something funny? The acronym TLC stands for The Learning Channel.

Though we snobbish Europeans all recoiled in horror when we heard that a cable channel called AMC was planning an American remake of the sublime Danish drama 'The Killing', the US version starring Mireille Enos turned out to be surprisingly good.

Equally big things are expected of 'The Bridge', a new FX series based on the rather brilliant Danish-Swedish co-production of the same name. In the original series the severed halves of two bodies – one belonging to a Swedish politician, the other to a Danish prostitute – were discovered in the middle of the sea bridge that connects the two countries, leading to an uncomfortable cross-border investigation.

The US 'Bridge' shifts this promising story to the American-Mexican border, and stars German actress Diane Kruger as a cop from El Paso, Texas, who must cooperate with a salty Mexican detective played by Oscar-nominated actor Demian Bichir to solve a particularly grisly crime.

'The Bridge' debuted on American television last week and will appear here next year, but meanwhile Sky are working on a British version, which will involve British and French corpses and be set around the Channel Tunnel.

So much for the entente cordiale.

Until pretty recently, the Sky network has devoted most of its energies to importing the best US dramas and comedies, and has used the Sky Atlantic channel to exclusively show acclaimed American shows such as 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Game of Thrones'. But last week, Sky's director of entertainment channels, Stuart Murphy, announced that the network intends to buy "fewer US shows" and concentrate instead on making homemade dramas and comedies.

The UK version of 'The Bridge', which, for obvious reasons, will be retitled 'The Tunnel', is part of this drive, and so is 'Fleming', an ambitious new Sky Atlantic mini-series that stars Dominic Cooper as naval officer, ladies' man and author Ian Fleming.

Fleming is best known for creating James Bond in a series of 1950s spy novels that seemed like moronic potboilers at the time, but have since been reassessed and are even taken seriously as literature – by some. Fleming supposedly based his bloodthirsty, misogynistic hero on his own wartime experiences, and the new series will follow his adventures during the Second World War, as well as his colourful private life.

During the war, Fleming had an affair with Anne O'Neill, the beautiful wife of a wealthy Viscount, which caused scandal in their social circle. Lara Pulver, who played Sherlock Holmes' devastating nemesis Irene Adler on the BBC's 'Sherlock', will play O'Neill in a drama that Sky says will be "a no-holds-barred look at the man behind the James Bond legend".

Don't expect a happy ending, though. A couple of years after the Bond film series kicked off, and Fleming was finally beginning to make real money out of 007, he had a massive heart attack while holidaying with friends in Scotland. His last words to the ambulance men who tended him were: "I'm sorry to trouble you chaps ... " He was 56.

'Fleming' will appear on Sky Atlantic this autumn.

Irish Independent

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