Why bring this up? Because this kind of head-to-head faceoff between shows with similar subject matter is rare, particularly on cable. Or, to put it another way, you’re not seeing A&E’s “Storage Wars” (Wednesdays at 10/9c) going up against TruTV’s “Storage Hunters” (Tuesdays at 10/9c), or Tru’s “Hardcore Pawn” (Tuesdays at 9/8c) competing directly with “Pawn Stars” on History Channel (Mondays at 8/7c).
What do “Dance Moms” and “Toddlers & Tiaras” have in common? They’re both about little girls being forced into seemingly risqué competitions by their pushy mothers. Often, the mothers on both shows are former child dancers (as in “Dance Moms”) or kiddie pageant participants (as in “T&T”). Their zeal for pressing their daughters into the same activity is portrayed as fulfilling some sort of psychological need on the part of the moms to relive their childhoods (and perhaps succeed with their daughters in areas where they themselves were not successful).
Whatever the psychological issues in play here, the real question for the viewing multitudes is this: Which one should you watch?
Well, maybe we can be of some help here with “The case for” and “The case against” each show.
The case for . . .
“Toddlers & Tiaras”: This is one of those shows – so prevalent on TV these days – whose chief virtue is shock. Many of us who watch this show would be the first to declare our utter distaste for these icky beauty pageants in which little girls (and, increasingly, boys – egads!) are dolled up like, well, dolls and then made to prance around like they’re performing in some kind of kiddie burlesque show. But the strangeness of this show is the very reason why it’s so fascinating to watch. In its very weird way, it does what great TV shows are supposed to do – giving you access to a culture you might never visit or experience for yourself. So, purely as an exercise in learning how some mothers in some parts of the country raise their daughters, “Toddlers & Tiaras” is worth watching.
“Dance Moms”: Here again, the opportunity to become exposed to a way of life much different from your own is the best reason to experience this new reality series about a dancing school for little girls outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. Plus, we all love over-the-top housewives, don’t we? (Um, if we don’t, somebody oughta tell the folks at Bravo.) Well, this show has crazy stage moms by the boatload. And it has something else too – local dance czarina Abby Lee Miller, this show’s nominal star. In her dance school, she’s a tough cookie (some might call her an out-and-out tyrant) and one of those reality-show characters who, love her or hate her, people talk about long after the show is over.
The case against . . .
“Toddlers & Tiaras”: Seen one kiddie beauty pageant and you’ve seen them all. After a couple of episodes of “T&T,” you’ve pretty much seen all there is to see in the world of kiddie pageants – kids crying over the rigors of spray-tanning and makeup application, the mothers in the audience maniacally reminding them to smile, the packing of cars with tons of pageant gear and then the long drive to a hotel in the middle of nowhere in which these crazy pageants are held. In the end, the moms’ obsessions with parading their exhausted children in front of strangers, who then pass judgment on the relative “beauty” of their children, just seems cruel.
“Dance Moms”: Here again, there’s more than a whiff of exploitation in the air as these suburban dance moms seemingly force their daughters against their wills into dance school and, later, dance competitions – one of which, in a recent episode, featured choreography and costumes that were so risqué they topped anything yet seen on “Toddlers & Tiaras.” Plus, the moms themselves are so villainous that they can be difficult to watch.
So, which show should you watch? Well, to paraphrase a famous cable news channel: We just reported – now you decide!
“Toddlers & Tiaras” and “Dance Moms” both air at 10 p.m./9c Wednesdays on TLC and Lifetime, respectively.