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Ugly reality of child beauty shows

If the collapse of civilisation is televised, it will probably look a lot like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The American reality show about the eponymous seven-year-old would-be beauty pageant queen, real name Alana Thompson, from Georgia, and her family begins on TLC tonight, having already become popular and infamous, in roughly equal measure, Stateside.

After the first two episodes were broadcast there last August, The AV Club, the review section of satirical newspaper and website The Onion, called it "a horror story posing as a reality television programme".

The Hollywood Reporter also described it as "horrifying", adding: "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a car crash." Actually, car crash doesn't come anywhere close to doing it justice.



Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is more like two articulated lorries colliding head-on on an icy road, before being hit by a runaway train full of toxic waste and then flattened by a collapsing bridge.

The nominal focus is Alana/Honey Boo Boo and her continuing failed attempts to win a pageant, but the real star of the show is her mother June, a woman so massive that her digital weighing scales cease to function when she steps on.

When June is not stuffing her face full of cheese puffs or shovelling down the family's favourite dinner – "sketti", a heart attack-wooing concoction of ketchup and margarine, microwaved and then slathered over pasta – or ostentatiously farting (12 to 15 farts a day are the secret to staying healthy, she maintains), she's belching out a continuous stream of incomprehensible drivel in an accent that sounds like the snapping of a banjo string and requires subtitles to decipher.

In fact, nearly everyone in the programme is subtitled, including June's husband Mike, nicknamed Sugar Bear (nearly everyone in the programme has a nickname, too), and their 17-year-old daughter Anna, otherwise known as Chickadee, who's pregnant and in her third trimester.

"This is a cross-section of your abdomen," says the nurse giving Chickadee an ultrasound scan.

"What's a abdomen?" Chickadee wonders.

Well, that's the bit of your body you flop into a pool of mud, which is what June and the family do at the annual redneck festival, which they attend in the first episode.

The only person who escapes subtitling is an etiquette coach called Barbara, who June hires to put some manners on Honey Boo Boo and her 12-year-old sister Pumpkin, in the hope a little refinement will increase HBB's chances of bagging a pageant title.

For the first, and probably last, lesson, Barbara tries to teach the girls the importance of respect; leading to blank expressions on bored faces.



Then, during a session on dining etiquette (which, by the way, includes not farting at the table), Pumpkin decides to blow her nose in a napkin.

"Did they learn anything?" June asks.

"I think so," Barbara lies, rooting around for her car keys. "They're very bright, June."

Honey Boo Boo begs to differ. "In etiquette class I learned nothing," she declares, proudly. "Etiquette classes are for stupid people." Etiquette out the window, the Thompsons decide to buy Honey Boo Boo a pet teacup pig as compensation for not winning a pageant.

She christens it Glitzy. It's a boy pig, but Honey Boo Boo makes it wear a dress and a tiara, her reasoning being that it will make the animal gay.

The critical consensus in America is that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is reality television at its rancid, exploitative worst, although some reviewers have spied a little merit in it. They might just have the makings of a point.

The segment where the Thompsons attend a food auction suggests there's the kernel of a decent series about the state of America's low-income, ill-educated underclass in there somewhere.