Friday Night Tykes: the reality show that’s too real for some people, including me

Friday Night Tykes ends its first season tonight on Esquire, and next week, the new network will follow up on the controversial reality TV show with “Tackling Tykes,” which it describes as “a 90-minute special episode that delves into important topics and controversies raised in the docu-series,” adding that “the special will go beyond a mere season recap with the cast and will explore issues surrounding competitive youth sports in America.” The Insider co-host Kevin Frazier hosts.

In other words, this is no Real Housewives reunion, and there will be a lot to discuss.

For one, the show has led to suspension of some coaches, and the league plans changes. But it has also gotten more popular, with other teams wanting to be included. In other words, some people don’t see behavior that should be condemned.

Some that are condemning what they see, but focus their blame on the show instead of what’s actually happening. In February, Senator Dick Durbin called for the show’s cancellation, calling it a “shameful, dangerous display” that “sends the opposite message and exploits these children for purely entertainment purposes.” He cited
the “growing problem” of concussions–which really are a problem–he blamed TV instead of, you know, the actual problem.

That the show has made more people aware that there is a problem gives it more purpose than mere entertainment. Its reality is very disturbing, and it’s so real that some people would rather the show go away than be reminded that what it highlights is behavior that actually takes place with real people.

A few years ago, I wrote this about Dance Moms and Toddlers & Tiaras:

“Dance Moms and Toddlers & Tiaras take us inside existing subcultures and show us something that would be happening whether cameras are there or not. That makes the shows both socially redeeming and much, much worse, because these are the kids’ real lives. They cannot escape the cameras because their parents have made the decision to broadcast their activities. And of course, broadcasting these pageants or dance competitions may encourage more people to drag their children in front of cameras to make the–and themselves–stars.”

I think that applies here, but what’s primarily different is the way the show is edited; Esquire’s president told me they purposefully focused on adults, not kids, who aren’t as well-defined as characters. It also presenting things in a much more bleak, straightforward way. Toddlers & Tiaras invites viewers to laugh at and mock parents and kids alike; Friday Night Tykes is a series that generates intense empathy for its child stars.

But they’re still on TV, suffering, being yelled at, crying, vomiting. And I do think there are moments that glorify kids playing full-contact football, with the show’s strong cinematography making it look appealing, not potentially damaging.

Overall, I’ve found the series consistently strong and yet challenging to watch, and have still not made it through every episode. The reality is sometimes to brutal for me, the critic who always wants more reality in reality television. Although there are inspiring moments, the disturbing attitudes among parents and coaches and their treatment of kids–regardless of their intentions–are what stands out.

But at least that horror has purpose, and hopefully the follow-up next week will address the effects of what’s happening on the field and on our televisions.

Friday Night Tykes: A-

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.