i Need Media

i Need Media

Over the course of writing this column, I’ve made no secret of my deep appreciation for trash TV. When it comes to consuming the crud scraped off the bottom of the cable scrap heap, I have a stomach made of steel. No amount of Kardashians or guidos or any other vacant, appallingly self-unaware attention whores has ever made me gag.
Well, dear readers, I regret to inform you that something terrible has happened: I’ve met my match.

It’s called Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. If you haven’t seen or read about the show, it’s a spinoff of Toddlers and Tiaras, which is now only the second-worst program on TLC. It stars a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant named Alana and her family of proudly self-declared rednecks living in a small town in central Georgia. Although her nickname is in the title — because how could “Honey Boo-Boo” not be? — the child is less the star than the excuse for the show’s existence.

More central is her 32-year-old mother, June. She is the walking embodiment of every stereotype the world holds about rural Southerners. She weighs more than 300 pounds, has sagging eyes and a mouth that perpetually hangs agape. Words slide out of her throat in such a greasy garble that the show is forced to use subtitles half the time. She got knocked-up with her oldest daughter at age 15, of course. (And, of course, that daughter is also a teenage mother-to-be.) Of course, she obsessively clips coupons and buys in bulk at the local Piggly Wiggly. Of course, she thinks there’s nothing wrong with being on the border of morbid obesity. Of course, she allows her kids to eat cheese balls off the floor, then chides her 15-year-old for being fat.

I watched two episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, pretty much entirely because of the title. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the show was too much for me. I recoiled from it like an episode of Hoarders.

Let me be clear: I’m not pretending I’m above gawking at and mocking poor folks who submit to having their lives splayed across national television. It’s just not as fun as mocking the privileged. And it gets damn near impossible when there’s a child stuck in the middle. Alana’s precociousness — she’s prone to yelling phrases like, “I’m sassified!” and fawning over her “gay” pet pig Glitzy — is overshadowed by the awful notion that she’s being paraded onto the airwaves to serve as her family’s meal ticket, either via the pageantry circuit or reality TV stardom.

Worse than that, it’s clear to see where her future is leading. Most reality shows have an aspirational quality, either explicitly or implicitly. There’s little indication anyone in Alana’s family is truly striving to break the cycle of poverty, premature pregnancy and health issues they’re mired in. Even more repellent, the producers clearly hope that doesn’t happen, either, so TLC can make the inevitable Honey Boo-Boo Is Pregnant! spinoff in seven years. And that’s one piece of trash I just can’t swallow.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just happy Breaking Bad is back. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.

i Need Media

i Need Media

It seems like forever ago now, but Dexter, the Showtime drama with a morally ambiguous serial killer as its protagonist, was once in the conversation about television’s greatest shows. Bloodier than just about anything else on cable and featuring a magnetic lead performance from Michael C. Hall, for its first four seasons the series provided a masterful example of tension-wracked, episodic storytelling.

Then it promptly fell the hell off.

After a great fourth year that saw a season-long game of mental cat-and-mouse between Hall and nightmarishly creepy guest villain John Lithgow culminate in the sudden, surprising death of a major character, it seemed as though the show was on track to resolve itself in a taut five seasons, and end as one of the more notable programs of the aughts. Instead, Dexter basically reset, then went on autopilot. Season five was astonishingly uninspired. Last season showed glimmers of a slight return to glory early on before falling back on its rapidly curdling formula. At least it ended with the only cliffhanger the show has left — Dexter’s cop sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) walking in on him mid-murder — but even that felt desperate.

There’s still time for redemption, though. Dexter’s seventh season — it’s second-to-last — starts on Sept. 30. That gives the producers more than a month to implement the following suggestions and, almost surely, save the show from itself:

No more guest serial killers With Deb finally encountering her brother’s “dark passenger,” it’s time to pull the show as far away from its own clichés as possible. Unless Lithgow’s Trinity Killer rises from his watery grave, having yet another outsider with a famous face slaughtering the citizens of Miami is just dull at this point.

Resurrect Mos Def, somehow Speaking of rising from graves, the best thing about the last season of Dexter was Def . . . sorry, “Yasiin Bey,” as the reformed criminal Brother Sam. He reinvigorated the show with a nuanced, internalized performance before getting killed off after a few episodes. His death was pretty unambiguous, but who cares? Dexter isn’t so dedicated to realism that he couldn’t just reappear one day and say something like, “Uh, no, I didn’t die, I just needed to get out of town for a few days.”

More Masuka He’s the minorest of Dexter’s minor characters, but the delightfully pervy forensics investigator, played by C.S. Lee, is the show’s humor and, I’d argue, its heart. (He’s also the only member of the supporting cast who isn’t boring and/or annoying.) I’m still holding out hope for an eventual spinoff called Masuka After Dark.

Bring back Doakes Obviously, Dexter’s biggest problem is constantly smiting its best characters. In Season two — still the show’s best — the no-bullshit police sergeant discovered Dexter’s true identity, and got blown to bits for his troubles. My suggestion for getting him back on the show: He whacks Harry, the late father who appears to Dexter as an apparition, and becomes Dexter’s new conscience. C’mon, don’t tell me the show wouldn’t immediately get better just by Doakes yelling, “Kill that mothafucka!” every time Dexter experiences a moment of doubt. Writers, make it happen!

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just happy Breaking Bad is back. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.

i Need Media

i Need Media

As I write this column, I am watching the Olympics. Specifically, I’m watching the U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball Team potentially choke away a two-sets-to-none lead against Serbia. Full disclosure: I know nothing about volleyball. I’m not even totally sure how it’s scored. (It’s like tennis, right?) And yet, after stumbling across the game on a listless Sunday afternoon, I find myself developing a rooting interest in the outcome. That’s the Olympics for you: For four years, you couldn’t care less about archery or badminton or handball (although it should be said that Olympic handball is actually pretty awesome); next thing you know, the trampoline gymnastics semifinal’s got you on the edge of your seat.

Here’s the thing, though: Allegiances are crucial to the experience of spectating an athletic competition. Without knowing anything about these sports or the people participating in them, how do we choose whom to invest our emotions in? As an American, the default, of course, is to cheer on the Americans. That’s fine for some people. But for me, the Olympics are about stories, not blind loyalty. That’s why, if there’s a narrative in the United States’ defeat, I will root against my own country. Call me an unpatriotic pinko liberal. But what’s the fun of watching our volleyball team crush a hapless Eastern European squad? They’re the defending gold medalists. Winning is what they’re supposed to do. But if the Serbs come back and actually beat them? That’s a great story. Who knew Serbia even had a concept of the game of volleyball? I’m presuming it’s only because they’ve got a surplus of Top Gun videocassettes lying around.

In other words, I watch the Olympics the same way I watch any sporting event in which I have no preconceived bias: I just want a close game, and I want the underdog to pull out a win. And in most cases, the United States is the Goliath. Even in basketball — my favorite sport by a wide margin — I’d rather see Team USA get upset than destroy its opponents by 37 points. I derive no joy from watching LeBron James posterize some poor Tunisian forward. Barring a string of injuries or a catastrophic meltdown, this team is going to cruise to the gold, and frankly, that’s boring. A lot of the chatter this summer has been about the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, the alleged “greatest basketball team ever assembled” that dominated the 1992 games in Barcelona. I find the 2004 team, which barely managed a bronze, far more intriguing. Unexpected failures are always more interesting than guaranteed victories. It’s the reason the Miracle on Ice still captures the American imagination more than anything else that’s ever happened at the Winter Olympics, except in reverse. Wouldn’t a “Miracle on the Parquet” be just as thrilling, even if happened against our guys?

Of course, by definition, those kind of stories are rare. Speaking of, the American volleyball team held on to beat Serbia three sets to zilch. I was unmoved. 

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just happy Breaking Bad is back. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.

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