Proposed New Year’s resolution: Enough already with young children on reality television shows. Oops; too late. “Friday Night Tykes” has already sent out its Season 2 premiere for review.
Urchins have been turning up on reality TV practically since it was invented, but it feels as if there are more with each passing year. Sometimes they’re cute, but often, it seems, they’re just being exploited to make a point that doesn’t need making. Football-playing kids, dancing kids, cheerleading kids, kids who just happen to be part of a particularly garish family.
You might think that golfing kids, who turned up Monday on the Esquire Network’s on-demand outlet, would be different, golf being a relatively high-toned game. But no. It’s just more make-’em-cry, only a little quieter.
The year started off badly for children on reality shows. Before January was over “Friday Night Tykes,” a series on Esquire that follows pint-size football teams in Texas, had managed to get two coaches suspended. One was shown urging his players to injure opponents, and the other was shown using profanity in front of his lads, ages 8 and 9. (Season 2, which begins Jan. 20, moves up to the 10- and 11-year-old division.)
The bad parental and coaching skills displayed on “Friday Night Tykes” are particularly egregious, but the dynamics are so familiar at this point that the show is one long cliché. We’ve seen overpressured kids and unpalatable adults countless times, on “Cheer Perfection” (TLC), “Dance Moms” (Lifetime), “Toddlers & Tiaras” (TLC) and more. Bravo gave the genre a twist this year with “Extreme Guide to Parenting,” showcasing families in which the grown-ups had some decidedly different ideas about how to raise children. Whether the parental gimmick was aromatherapy or an obsessive quest for perfection, each episode left you glad you weren’t raised that way.
The wheels really came off the cart in October with reports that June Shannon, the mother on the much-parodied (and much-watched) TLC show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” was dating a convicted child molester. The network canceled the show instantly. If you want to know where this ugly saga has gone since, see the supermarket tabloids.
Anyway, back to the golf course. The new Esquire series, wittily titled “The Short Game,” follows 10 golfers, ages 7 and 8, as they compete in a tournament circuit, their “daddy caddies” by their side. These are serious players, or at least their fathers (and sometimes their mothers) want them to be. Their putting can have the random quality of a casual game of miniature golf, but they can hit drives straight and long, and they can debate club selection with their caddies – that is, their fathers – like professionals.
“The weakest part of my game is my attitude,” one earnest 7-year-old girl says, “and it’s just really hard to control.”
But, as in all of these types of shows, the game is secondary. The hectoring parents are the real attraction – their overinvestment, their apparent cluelessness about how they sound or the effect they’re having on their children.
“Why do you hit it so hard?” one father says to his daughter after a bad shot. “Baby, relax.” This after he has been badgering her relentlessly. Relax? Sure; as soon as you shut up.
“His biggest problem is focus,” another father says of his son. “He just wants to have fun constantly.” A young child who wants to have fun? What’s wrong with kids today?
Another father, of a boy named Bryce who seems a reluctant recruit to the role of golf prodigy, is downright petulant when the kid has a mediocre round.
“When I’m giving 100 percent and Bryce isn’t giving me 100 percent, it affects me,” he whines. “It affects us as a team. It hurts.” Because, of course, in the world of intense child sports, it’s really all about the parent.
Another player is on the verge of tears after her father has spoken sharply to her.
“How come nobody gets to yell at him?” she says.
The parents of a girl named Chloe are among the few who seem to have the balance right.
“Chloe has a tremendous amount of talent on the golf course,” says her father, who (unlike the other dads) actually seems to enjoy his role, shagging her practice drives with a baseball mitt. “We know what it is mentally and physically. But if she’s not having fun, game over; we don’t want her to do it.”
The youngsters on “The Short Game,” unlike the ones on “Friday Night Tykes,” aren’t writhing in pain after a collision, but they seem to end up crying just about as often. Is anything served by sticking cameras in their faces?
The version of bad child-rearing that features intense parents competing through their kids is so overworked at this point that it’s not even train-wreck entertaining anymore.
It’s also not particularly believable. The parents and coaches in these shows just seem to be playing to assigned stereotypes.
Sure, there are still plenty of parents like this in real life, but the ones filling the role on reality TV seem too made-to-order to be genuine.