TLC and Authentic Entertainment’s “Toddlers & Tiaras,” its hit spinoff “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and now “Cheer Perfection” each harbor the same trick: While the programs ostensibly feature children, they’re really about presenting extreme stage-moms as ripe targets for viewers to judge. The problem is that the concepts transform the children into props, using their struggles as a prism through which to view the parents. On an entertainment/train-wreck scale, it’s easy to see why they work, especially by the channel’s ratings standards; the ethics, by contrast, merit a Bronx cheer.
Built around a highly competitive cheerleading school in Little Rock, Ark., the show certainly isn’t original in trying to rah-rah its way to a nifty Nielsen score. The only wrinkle is the mix of “Real Housewives”-like elements with the notion of moms obsessing about how well their quite-young kids perform, say, in mastering a back handspring.
The mothers are reasonably interchangeable in the early going, and most of them fit an instant type — many overweight, cultivating the image of someone who either saw better days or never enjoyed them, and who now lives vicariously through her daughter. (Just to make this point overt for the subtextually challenged, one says in a recap from the special that launched the series, “I don’t see anything wrong in living through your children.”)
The lead coach and proprietor of Cheer Time Revolution, meanwhile, Alisha, is part Vince Lombardi, part Gen. Patton in one perky little “I’ll cut your kid from the team” package.
Will the squad jell? Will a girl who’s a surprise to make the featured group survive? Will the moms get into near-fisticuffs over the politics surrounding such decisions? Put it this way: Would there be a show if they didn’t?
Even in Little Rock, parents ought to be sophisticated enough to have an idea what they’re signing up for in this sort of exercise, so let’s stipulate they’re fair game.
Still, the TLC-Authentic formula on these shows appears to entail seeking out parents whose behavior involving young children would make any sane person’s skin crawl, then cheerfully saying, “Hey, how can we exploit that?”
“I am fixin’ to vomit,” one of the disappointed moms says during a direct-to-camera interview.
Although she and fellow “Perfection”-ists are unlikely to win any Mother of the Year awards, she just might have a future as a TV critic.