Oh dear. TLC, home of the most ridiculous and probably exploitative lineup of "entertainment" since traveling carnivals were a viable business, has greenlit another masterpiece. My Monkey Baby will premiere on October 4. Best Week Ever quotes the press release: "With her pink bedroom, a designer wardrobe, the latest toys, games and makeup, Jessica Marie is like any spoiled little girl… Except that she’s a monkey. Just what makes a couple take on a 40-year commitment to an eternal toddler? How strong is the parent/monkey bond? And can a monkey really become a child substitute? It's an extraordinary look into the real lives of people parenting monkeys in America." Here are the answers to those questions, in order: Mental illness, shut up, absolutely not.
TLC used stand for The Learning Channel. But then they realized that more people would watch shows about parents with astronomical numbers of children, (18 Kids and Counting, Jon and Kate Plus 8), beauty pageants (Toddlers and Tiaras, King of the Crown), and the universal mainstay of traveling circuses -- little people (The Little Couple, Little People, Big World). In theory, changing the branding of a network is fine. AMC did it, and now they have the fantastic Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But TLC removed its educational programming because it got in the way of the network's terminal-velocity dive to the bottom. They now feature the absolutely most exploitative and outrageous programming on television.
We understand that a lot of people in this country want to be on TV. Thousands audition for American Idol every year, despite a complete lack of singing ability. Survivor has people lining up to starve in the jungle for a month, and let's not even try to examine the kind of person who wants to appear on a Vh1 dating show. But most reality shows seem to exhibit some level of restraint. It seems like most of TLC's shows revolve around people who are not fit to decide whether they actually want to be on television, like the Duggar or Gosselin children, the pageant kids on Toddlers and Tiaras, or the couple who is so lonely that they treat a f--king monkey like a daughter.
Part of this is the our own fault, we the television audience. None of these shows would exist if people didn't watch them. But there are other ways to get ratings than constantly trying to find an even lower common denominator. My Monkey Baby is not "an extraordinary look into the real lives of people parenting monkeys in America," it's a freak show. The producers went out and found some freaks, filmed them, and sold the result to TLC. People will probably watch it, but people watch Faces of Death, too. That doesn't mean it should be on TV.
And that's why our outrage is justified. If there is a line that TLC will not cross, we honestly don't know where it is. From their programming lineup, we have to assume that their standards and practices department is run by the network execs from Videodrome, or maybe Caligula. Has anyone stopped to ask how the Gosselin children feel about their TV show causing their parents' divorce? It can be argued that Jon and Kate's marriage was in trouble before the show, and perhaps the kids are better off with their parents divorcing, but we wouldn't be too thrilled if our Dad started wearing Ed Hardy shirts and bro-ing down with Michael Lohan. Jon Gosselin is certainly an asshole, but TLC gave him an outlet. And their reaction to his transformation was simply to leak his antics to the press and order more Jon and Kate.
So My Monkey Baby will premiere on October 4. People will probably watch it, and laugh at its sad participants. We know there's nothing we can do but try to ignore it. But we also hope that none of the people who participate in its airing, from producers to viewers, feel good about themselves.