I have an ambivalent relationship with reality television. Occasionally it's magnificent, sometimes it's a train wreck and (all too often), it is one of the seven signs of the coming apocalypse. No other network on TV is able to capture all of these cultural red flags better than TLC, once known as The Learning Channel. If you like your education to be more big top circus tent than university classroom, this network is for you. Most recently, TLC has gotten a big infusion of publicity over the off-line escapades of Jon and Kate Plus 8. Once a cute show about an enormous family of twins, sextuplets and their attractive parents, J&K+8 has taken a dark turn recently due to possible parental infidelities. The tabloids are in heaven and the ratings have reached for the sky. Apparently, a new episode has featured the grounded and wonderful celebrity chef, Emeril. I'm hoping he cooked them something tasty with a lot of fat grams. There's nothing like Cajun comfort food to make everyone settle down.
American Chopper is another regular TLC series that happens to be a personal favorite. Not because it's about motorcycles...not because the imposing but unusually cuddly Teutul family snipes at each other hilariously...no. I'm fascinated because it mostly takes place in a little rural upstate town in Orange County NY about 20 minutes away from where I grew up. I love seeing the background foliage of my humble rural beginnings, when they zoom by on their $100,000 bikes.
TLC specials are among the most terrifying and mesmerizing you will ever witness. Watch at your peril, I'm not kidding. This is where modern day carnival sideshows still have a place in American society. Step right up ladies and gents....two headed babies, mystery diseases, and all forms of medical maladies are in great abundance. Recently, I got pulled into a special called, "The Half Ton Teen". I wanted...I really truly wanted to turn away. Alas I could not. It turned out to be an amazing Pas De Deux between a teenager and his enabling mother, and the redemptive power of stomach staple surgery. I was quite moved, and not a little bit haunted by their story. It's a cautionary tale too, which might help those who are struggling to shed a few (hundred) pounds.
Miami Ink (tattoo people), Little People, Big World (dwarf family) and the absolutely delicious Cake Boss (don't watch this one after "Half Ton Teen, or you will be terribly conflicted) are some other series worth visiting on TLC. It's not for everybody. But if you like the roar of the grease paint and the smell of the crowd; grab some popcorn and cotton candy...summer viewing is here.