The Problem With TLC's Behind Closed Doors: The American Family

Photo: Courtesy of TLC.

TLC is a network with a reputation for putting people under an exploitative magnifying glass for ratings. Large families, large people, people with addictions, and even small people are often at the center of its programming, using people’s differences as a selling point. Now, TLC is doing a complete about face with its new show, Behind Closed Doors: The American Family. The series is relying on normalcy as its cornerstone, but it still feels just as weird.

For Behind Closed Doors, three families have agreed to have remote controlled cameras installed in their homes so viewers get to watch them navigate their daily lives. This includes the pressures of raising kids and checking themselves out in the mirror naked, literally. But the meat of the show is in the relationship drama between the mostly white and very traditionally heterosexual couples on the show.

Mandy and Jeff live in a big house in the suburbs and host a podcast about their married life. They lack intimacy now that Mandy is overwhelmed with the demands of being a stay-at-home mom. Jeff isn’t much help outside of his financial contribution. Deena is finding it hard to move past her husband Andy cheating on her and wants him to get rid of his passion project Maserati since he used it to woo his mistress. Tam and Paul have lots of sex and hope to get married but Paul won’t stop texting his ex. All of them are white — Andy could possibly be a person of color but is definitely white-passing — and all of them are cisgender. Tam is intersex and was born with a penis, but she has assured everyone that the doctors fixed it and she’s a “normal girl now.” Essentially, the fact that these financially stable couples ever have anything to argue about is worth an exposé.

What TLC has done with the new show is invite people who exist within the realm of normalcy — their viewers, who tend to enjoy the spectacle of family and people that are considered “weird” like sister wives and people who need weight loss surgery — to finally feel “different.” The infidelity in your relationship, the cheating spouse, and the dissatisfaction with home life are presented on a tray for viewers to both ogle and identify with.

I’m astounding at the lengths that TLC will go to explore the biological differences between Americans without including the people who are are actually targeted and disenfranchised as a result of their differences. That’s not my “American family,” nor does it represent the millions of families who are poor, helmed by single and/or queer parents, Black, immigrant, etc. Behind Closed Doors is supposed to feel risqué and raw to TLC viewers — they talk openly about sex… gasp! — who are staying up late to catch it in the 11 p.m. timeslot. There is nothing out of the ordinary about a heterosexual couple having sex and talking about it, though.

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