The Shocking Rise and Fall of ‘Honey Boo Boo’

TLC’s hit series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was canceled after charges that its star, Mama June, is dating a sex offender. For better or worse, its end actually means something.

Noel Vasquez/FilmMagic

As quickly as Honey Boo Boo came, there she goes—even more quickly.

TLC swiftly canceled its massively, and perhaps embarrassingly, popular reality series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on Friday, thereby robbing off us of our voyeur look into the lives of effortlessly precocious Toddlers and Tiaras breakout Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson and her endearing, ready-to-be-gawked-at, Mountain-Dew-addicted family. (Not to mention their “little bit gay” pet pig, Glitzy.)

The abrupt end to the series, which was in pre-production for a fifth season to premiere in January 2015, comes following news that Alana’s mother, June “Mama June” Shannon, was in a relationship with a man who was convicted of molesting a young relative of Alana’s 10 years ago.

Considering that the appeal of the series has always been the loving, down-to-earth environment that Mama June and her ex-husband Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson (Mama June and Sugar Bear separated earlier this year after nearly a decade together) provided for her girls, that’s understandably alarming news.

In a statement, TLC said that it “cancelled the series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and ended all activities around the series, effective immediately. Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children’s ongoing comfort and well-being.”

The report is that Shannon has been seeing 53-year-old Mark McDaniel, who served 10 years in prison for molesting an 8-year-old relative of the family’s and was released from prison in March. The graphic charges included forced oral sex. He is now a registered sex offender.

Considering that the most vile thing to happen on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was a self-explanatory game played by the family called “Guess Whose Breath?,” it’s safe to say that any relationship Shannon might currently have with McDaniel is off-brand for the network and the show.

For her part, Shannon has already posted a video on her Facebook page that she recorded minutes after receiving the phone call that her series was canceled. “The statement of me dating a sex offender is totally untrue,” she said. “I would never ever, ever put my kids in danger. I love my kids too much. That is my past. I have not seen that person in 10 years.”

She hesitated to explain any further because, she said, “TLC has kind of told us to hush-hush.”

And so, just two years after Honey Boo Boo, her self-described “redneck” family, their “bisketi” dinners, their aversion to “big fenagly words,” and their pledge to stay classy (because “all that vajiggle jaggle is not beautimous”) stumbled barefoot into our lives, they are being taken out of them.

(Or, at least as much as TLC has to do with it. We can look forward to years of Us Weekly and TMZ tabloid coverage of these stars to come. Hello, Kate Gosselin.)

Surely there’s a bit of “who cares?” sentiment to this whole thing, that the cancellation of a reality series about a venerable kewpie doll with a Dixie drawl is not something to obsess over. But it’s important to remember how, well, important Honey Boo Boo has been culturally. Really.

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To begin with, it can’t be understated how popular this series is. Its premiere episode attracted 2.2 million viewers and 1.6 demo in the coveted 18-49 age demographic. For context, that’s on par with—actually slightly better than—the most recent season premiere of Mad Men. We truly are a nation divided.

Famously, a 2012 episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo drew better ratings than cable news coverage of the Republican National Convention. By double the viewers. Clearly, the decision to end this series is one that a lot of people will care about. Apparently even more than they care about who will be the future leaders of our countries. How soon before that Honey Boo Boo 2016 superPAC?

(Just how popular are these people? Mama June, at least as of now, appears in a cameo in the upcoming sequel Dumb and Dumber To. No word yet on whether that will be cut in the wake of this news.)

While it’s easy to roll your eyes at, the success of Honey Boo Boo meant something. At face value, it was brilliant counterprogramming to the Real Housewives and Jersey Shore franchises that were dominating reality TV, programming that celebrated vapidness, debauchery, and being awful to friends and family that were spreading across network schedules like a plague one catches after too much Botox or Jaeger shots.

This was a series that traded the glorification of moral bankruptcy for family values. The Thompsons, while goofy and simple and often unintelligible, really and truly loved each other. The comedy of the show and the entertainment value of the show came from watching them spend time together, and truly enjoy each other’s company.

Like Duck Dynasty, it also reflected a so-called “real America,” at least one that felt truer than the artificial fairy lands of binge drinking, leg throwing, and implant accentuating wardrobes that pervades the rest of “reality” TV. For better or worse, we were the Thompsons. People like us were on TV. And they were kind. And we were watching them. In droves. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, taken as a part of the TV landscape, actually meant something.

But more than that, its cancellation means something. It means that maybe, just maybe, there are repercussions attached to the actions of our reality TV stars. That there is, actually, a line that can be crossed.

For a while, it really did seem like there was no line.

Snooki can be arrested on a beach and it doesn’t get her fired, it gets her labeled as must-see TV. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson can proliferate bigoted, hateful, and even harmful speech to his millions of fans, and his megaphone is not taken away, nor his public platform revoked.

There’s been a history of controversy that’s followed Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Opponents of child beauty pageants have long protested its promotion of putting a child to work rather than just letting her grow up normally. Others have found its portrayal of Southern life offensive, exploitative, or inaccurate. There have been petitions to have removed from air because its stars, with their shameless gorging on junk and fried food, depict an unhealthy lifestyle.

It should go without saying that the current reports surrounding Mama June are far more serious than any of those things. And possibly more alarming than Robertson’s (arguable) hate speech. But with reality TV’s history of allowing, and maybe even encouraging, history of allow its stars to behave controversially—after all, if these shows are episodic car crashes, these controversy are veritably the collision money shots—it’s as surprising as it is comforting that sense (cancelation) wins in this case over ratings.

And just like that, on her “Frito feet,” there Honey Boo Boo goes.