The lives of TLC's newest reality stars are more complicated than you want them to be.

Promotional photo from TLC
The cable show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo opens with a shot of the Shannon-Thompson clan—the mom, June, stands in front of her small south Georgia house with her four daughters, Anna, Jessica, Lauryn, and Alana, and her boyfriend of eight years, Mike—interrupted by June farting. “Mama!” the girls scream. It serves as a good illustration of June’s philosophy as a mom. “I raise my girls to be who they are,” she says later on in the show. She repeats, often: “You like us or you don’t like us. We just don’t care.” Much of the chatter about the show has revolved around the challenge June throws down in the show's premiere: Like us or don’t. Plenty of critics are horrified; more can’t look away. It’s clear what the producers want viewers to think about the show: They assume that we’re going to sneer at it, at least a little bit. The tenth episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo ended the first half of its season last week, but the seven-year-old Alana was already a star before the show’s debut in...

Louis CK's Big Win

Louie's third season on F/X explores the territory of the sitcom man. 

(Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)
Louis CK’s Emmy win Sunday for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy cemented his rise from relative obscurity to America’s most cherished comic voice. The win for the episode “Pregnant,” which aired last year as part of his critically acclaimed F/X series, Louie, topped other beloved shows like Parks and Recreation and Community . The Emmy also came just a few days after the final episode of a three-part series called “Late Show,” which exemplified what Louie does best: take tired themes from other, more traditional comedies, like middle age or relations between the sexes and spin them so they feel more real, more human, and subsequently funnier. With these episodes, CK faced down the familiar terrain of American men's fear of maturity but ended up in a very different place than most sitcoms. The three-part episode involved a complex story line in which Louie, the fictionalized alter ego of CK who is also a stand-up comedian, is offered a chance to audition to replace David Letterman as...

Way Down in the Hole

Every era has its great narrative art form, stories delivered via the au courant medium that simultaneously show us the small characters of individuals and the vast social panoramas that limn their decisions and lives. The Anglo-Saxons and ancient Greeks had epic poetry, its tropes, rhythms, and assonances perfect for delivery via roving troubador or bard. Urban Greeks and Elizabethans saw the peaks of their cultures’ theatrical drama, where everyone from the aristocracy to the masses gathered for social and moral insight peppered with bawdy jokes. Nineteenth-century England had its sweeping novels, ranging from Austen to ; the 1970s gave us Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Nashville, and their kin . We are living in the age of the great television series. From Hill Street Blues to The Sopranos , from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Rome , I know I’m not the only one who’s more eager to find out what’s happening with “my” characters and plotlines than to go see some cinematic blockbuster. (I might...

Bowties Are Cool, but So Are Kickass Female Characters

How women are portrayed in the BBC's Doctor Who

(AP Photo/ Donald Traill)
(AP Photo/ Donald Traill) Actors Matt Smith and Karen Gillian are seen on location filming "Doctor Who" in New York on Wednesday, April 11, 2012. F or fans of the BBC’s reboot of the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who , the beginning of season seven this September has a lot on offer so far: The Doctor in full badass hero form, a new potential sexy genius Companion, dinosaurs on spaceships, and Daleks, the villains that have been fan favorites since nearly the beginning of the series. The show, which had its first impossibly long run from 1963 to 1989, got a reboot in 2005. The new version, while retaining the goofy time-travel plots and the monster-of-the-week elements, has a 21st-century spin. In the years between the first and second series, comic-book movies had become summer blockbusters. Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had shown that superheroes and spaceships could make for critically acclaimed television. The new Doctor Who positions itself in this world of...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

Hooray for Hollywood?

Flickr/The City Project
The article of the day is Jon Chait's piece in New York addressing the question of Hollywood's liberalism. To simplify it a bit, Chait argues that conservatives are basically right in their belief that Hollywood liberals are warping our minds with left-wing propaganda, though they seem to have all but stopped bothering to complain about it. I find it hard to disagree with the first part of Chait's premise: Hollywood is, indeed, dominated by liberals. There are a few high-profile conservatives there (Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood), but they're a small minority. It's not hard to figure out why. Any industry that is made up of creative people is going to be dominated by liberals. Most novelists are liberals too. I'm sure most graphic artists are liberals. There's a whole lot of psychological research demonstrating that liberals tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, open to experience, and interested in change than conservatives, while conservatives tend to be more...

Breaking Bad TV Expectations

Skyler White and other anti-hero wives have been doused in haterade lately instead of getting the sympathy they deserve.

(AP Photo/AMC, Ursula Coyote)
Breaking Bad’s Skyler White should be taking her place as one of the most beloved TV characters of all time. Performed with vanity-free honesty by Anna Gunn, Skyler, wife of the show’s protagonist Walter White, has gone through a lot the past three seasons: discovering her husband’s secret meth business, agreeing to cover it up with him, and eventually realizing that she’s stuck in a domestic violence situation with no clear path to escape. Despite all this, the character has shown remarkable fortitude and cunning that often equals her husband’s, as if she were a better version of Walter, equipped with the compassion and humility he lacks. So why do the fans hate her so much? That fans hate Skyler isn’t up for debate. In a recent poll during the show’s online scrolling service Story Sync, 55 percent of fans disagreed with Skyler’s assertion that she’s Walt’s “hostage” and not his wife, even though in the very episode before he made a speech where he explained to her that he controls...

The Incongruous Olympics

Will the Olympics be a break from Europe and England's problems, or make them more vivid?

(Photo courtesy of
Try as I might—which is, OK, not very hard—I'm having a tough time getting jazzed for the Olympics this year. I get the feeling I'm not the only one. The locals are reportedly grumpy already about the mobs of untrained tourists futzing up London commuters' very own Olympic event, which is predictable enough. But then Mitt Romney got into the act. Giving us a preview of his smooth idea of international diplomacy—I guess he has been talking to John Bolton—he wondered on his arrival in town whether the Brits really had it in them to properly "celebrate" the games. Being accused of not knowing how to party by Mitt Romney has to sting. A man who now has a brand-new reason to root for Obama, David Cameron frostily guaranteed that Britain would "deliver," not exactly the most rambunctious of verbs. Even so, I wondered whether, for once in his life, Mitt had a point. Starting with the games' Bizarro World mascots—Wenlock and Mandeville, a pair of one-eyed Pixar rejects destined to give...

Sorkin's Newsroom

So Aaron Sorkin is redoing The West Wing , but this time in a newsroom. The West Wing redid the Clinton administration, but better, with everyone making the right decisions for the right reasons despite their charming and lovable personal failings. In the same way, HBO's Newsroom gives us a set of high-minded, hyper-educated, East Coast elite liberals (in some cases disguised as Republicans, snort ) play-acting their way through the past two years, but—with the benefit of hindsight—presenting it the way it should have been given to us the first time around. The BP oil spill is recognized instantly as a major crisis, and is announced as such, with no one worrying about being sued. Arizona's immigration bill is instantly recognized as a civil-liberties disaster. The Koch Brothers' takeover and bankrolling of the high-minded original Tea Party, dragging the Republican Party far to the right, is made headline news every single night. (Someone over there has been reading AlterNet's Adele...

Can Broadcasters Use Dirty Words? Court says, “#$%& If We Know”

(AP Photo/E. Pablo Kosmicki/file)
Thursday was First Amendment day at the Supreme Court. But the Court ducked the chance to decide what is literally its most visible case of the term—the “dirty words on broadcast TV” case. Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations , was on its second trip to the show. Seven justices delivered an opinion that sheds no light at all on the interesting issue—whether the government may ban “fleeting expletives” on broadcast TV. Briefly, the case concerned a new FCC rule subjecting broadcasters to fines if their shows included even brief, or “fleeting” uses of dirty words or nudity. In 1978, the Court held that the FCC could discipline broadcasters for transmitting sustained “indecent” speech—in this case, George Carlin’s magnificently profane 12-minute “Filthy Words” monologue—during daylight and early evening hours, when children might hear it. Since that decision, decency groups have badgered the FCC to tighten the rules on dirty words. Not until the George W. Bush...

The Blander Bush

HBO's 41 asks none of the hard questions about George H.W. Bush's uninspired career

(Wikimedia/Reagan Library Archives)
P remiering tonight on the channel that just got through bringing us Season Two of Game of Thrones —believe me, you'll miss its brute realism— 41 couldn't be a tenderer, more wart-free portrait of George H.W. Bush if one of his grandkids had put it together for a private screening on Poppy's 88th birthday. Which was, as it happens, Tuesday, and many happy returns. But that's no excuse for HBO to air nominal documentarian Jeffrey Roth's (who is he, you ask? Beats me.) feature-length Hallmark card. There's a place for valedictories this thoroughly pablumized. Namely, presidential libraries, one venue where even mediocre ex-Chief Executives are allowed to appear in a cloud-cuckoo-land that stays unmarred by anything less than awe at their wonderfulness. But since those who don't learn from the History Channel are doomed to reruns, or however that saying goes, I'm concerned the HBO brand may give today's youngsters the wrong idea. Few people would dispute that Bush the elder has gained a...

Mad Men's Shark Week

This season hasn't lived up to our reviewer's high expectations.

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Maybe an excess of cultishness will just always disgruntle me. It's not like I've read every last online analysis of last week's episode of Mad Men —of course not, because I'd still be at it at age 90. But I got irked anyway when I couldn't turn up any heretics willing to opine that the big shock of Christina Hendricks's Joan consenting to be pimped out by her bosses at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce for the sake of landing the Jaguar account was kind of, how you say, jiveass. Even recappers who acknowledged that the point being made was on the sledgehammer side —wow, life in the advertising world is really all about prostitution? You don't say—did a quick 180 to praise Matthew Weiner for making it work. (That's the advantage of having a rep for subtlety; even turning crude looks clever.) And Mad Men fans are so invested in the damn thing, myself not totally excluded, that it's no fun to wonder if last Sunday's ep amounted to Fonzie donning his waterskis to jump the you-know-what. The...

Woke Up This Morning, Got Yourself a Gun

We’ve been talking all kinds of heavy-duty topics lately, haven’t we? Rape, anti-gay violence, fistulas—the kinds of things things that you might not want to bring up at your family’s dinner table. (Speaking of which, having family dinner conversation about your day can be a bit strained when one parent is a prosecutor who focuses on murder, child rape, and sexual assault, and the other is a journalist drawn to social injustice and evil deeds generally. “Hi, honey, how was your day?” “Saw some autopsy photos. Dude smashed her face into a zillion pieces with a mallet. And you?” “Oh, learned more about that Sierra Leone story in which four-year-olds were kidnapped for American adoption. A presidential commission confirmed the birthfamilies' stories. Please pass the tater tots.” Umm, nope.) So today I want to offer up a far more serious topic: television shows’ credit sequences. We’ve discovered Game of Thrones , and are now midway through the second season. The prosecutor likes the wars...

The Wonder of TV Debates

Me, some years ago, sneering at a pompous ass who is sneering right back.
Whenever Paul Krugman goes on television, you can see his discomfort coming off him. Or at least that's what I see; since I've never met him in person, I don't know how much his television manner differs from his ordinary manner. But he always looks as though inside he's shaking his head, saying to himself, "This is such bullshit. I can't wait to get out of here." And it's hard to blame him. The other day, Krugman did a debate on Bloomberg TV with noted economic crank Congressman Ron Paul, and came away utterly disgusted : Think about it: you approach what is, in the end, a somewhat technical subject in a format in which no data can be presented, in which there's no opportunity to check facts (everything Paul said about growth after World War II was wrong, but who will ever call him on it?). So people react based on their prejudices. If Ron Paul got on TV and said "Gah gah goo goo debasement! theft!" — which is a rough summary of what he actually did say — his supporters would say...

Rove Goes Mean Girls on Obama

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Barack Obama is too cool to be President: It’s the implicit argument of the new ad from Karl Rove’s mega PAC American Crossroads , which shows President in a series of his cooler moments, and tries to argue that such coolness undermines his ability to do his job. The ad makes no logical sense, of course. There’s no reason to think that a quick wit or good taste in music somehow prevents someone from understanding how to run a country. But then again, this is Karl Rove we’re talking about, a man who built his career tapping the animal instincts of the electorate, hoping to activate the knee-jerk reactionary inside all of us just long enough to win at the polls. The only question is, why does he think this particular appeal will work? Rove does have a fine-tuned ear for every grievance uttered by the privileged but petty, so it’s no surprise that he’d try to find a political angle to the sport of hipster-bashing. As I’ve detailed before , hipster-bashing used to be the province of...