Ten episodes in, WE tv travesty Mama June: From Not to Hot: Family Crisis has proved to be everything it seemed at the beginning of this season and more: Unadulterated exploitation of people in pain who are so habituated to performing their lives on television that sharing their destitution probably seems like a smart move. Certainly, it is a profitable one (that’s where the network exploitation comes in). Throughout this season’s 10 episodes, the show has veered from being a rather sloppy display of flailing for content, replete with forced interactions and non-sequitur subplots, to a straightforward portrait of despair. If more people were watching, it would go down as one of the very worst television shows of all time.
June “Mama June” Shannon, the show’s ostensible center per its title, has been MIA this season, which was filmed in the aftermath of Shannon’s arrest on drug charges alongside her boyfriend Geno Doak. During this time, Doak crashed into June’s garage, Shannon sold many of her and her children’s possessions, and the couple hotel-hopped. From the looks of TMZ’s coverage, Mama June is in a spiral.
TMZ reported in February that Shannon would not be receiving a paycheck for this season of her show because “she’s not an active participant.” The cameras this season previously captured her entering and leaving a courthouse in Macon, Georgia, for a hearing. Well, she was an active participant in Friday’s episode, agreeing to sit down with her daughter Lauryn Michelle “Pumpkin” Efird, the 20-year-old caretaker of Shannon’s youngest daughter, Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson. The show presented footage of the ride from the hotel at which Shannon was staying to the studio where the interview was to take place. On the way to the shoot, Shannon ate Doritos and Handi-Snacks and talked about her job with an airline delivering lost luggage to travelers. She also claimed sobriety.
I have no hard proof of what was and wasn’t in Mama June’s system the day of shooting, but this does not look like sober behavior to me. She’s never been one for enunciating in any classic sense of the word, but Shannon here is slurring and talking at a rapid, agitated clip. I point this out not to mock her substance issues, but to cast doubt on a claim later made by board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Ish Major, who was on hand to mediate the conversation between Mama June and Pumpkin. Pumpkin was emphatic about not wanting to speak to her mother while she was high. Dr. Ish pledged to screen her.
After Shannon pulled up to the studio, she revealed she’s been taking Xanax “from time to time” and that she’d taken the barbiturate Fioricet the night before for a migraine.
“June clearly might have drugs in her system still, but she doesn’t appear to be on anything today,” said Dr. Ish in an interview. That’s bull, Ish. She appears to be high as hell. It’s one thing to present viewers with someone struggling with addiction and say it’s for the good of awareness, and it’s another to tell them that they aren’t seeing what they are seeing. This show isn’t merely unethical; it’s slimy about being so.
In a postmortem, Facebook chat with fans that Dr. Ish hosted, one of the first questions he fielded touched on this very topic.
“Now look, if y’all know me, y’all know I’m gonna drug test her,” he said in response. “You know full-on next week I’m gonna march her right into that bathroom and we gonna get some results, so hold tight. We gonna figure out what’s going on with all that.” While more reasoned than essentially taking Shannon at her word, this nonetheless sets up Shannon’s intoxication/sobriety as a cliffhanger. Yet another way this person’s disease is being exploited. It also refutes what Ish said on air, which was almost certainly shot after he had examined and tested Shannon, for the sake of dramatic tension. This show is like a textbook on how not to handle substance issues. None of this is surprising, exactly, but it’s never not astounding.