TV reality

TLC’s ‘Labor Games’ is a crude exploitation of the birthing process. And that’s not even the worst part.

Lights, camera, umbilical cord …

When it comes to exploitative reality shows, TLC is king of the lowbrow. Over the years, the network has given us a robust selection of shameless TV series that include but are not limited to: Toddlers and Tiaras (basically a chronicle of terrible parenting), Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (basically a chronicle of a family’s bodily functions), and My Husbands Not Gay (basically a chronicle of homophobia). Now, the good folks at The (liberally defined) Learning Channel have put out yet another reality show with an outrageous premise: Labor Games, “the only game show that takes place in a delivery room” – a distinction of dubious honor, to be sure.

The premise of Labor Games, which aired a “sneak peak” episode on Wednesday night, is simple: while waiting for their new child to be born, a couple answers seven multiple choice questions, each of which comes with a baby-related prize. The final prize is a $10,000 college fund for the little one, which hardly seems like adequate compensation for having to endure parental humiliation before you even get a chance to make it out of the birth canal. If the parents answer two questions incorrectly, the game is over.

On the Richter scale of reality TV despicability, Labor Games ranks somewhere between the tepid Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and the glorious hot mess that is The Real Housewives of wherever. Parents are ambushed (supposedly without prior knowledge, although I find that very hard to believe) in a hospital delivery room, which has been rigged with flashing lights and a hidden “LABOR GAMES” sign. At convenient intervals, the expectant mother has contractions, which are measured for pain by a “contraction meter” that pops up on screen. It is all so terribly gauche.

Labor Games is not, of course, the first reality show to transform birth into a blaring sideshow. TLC’s own Birth Story, MTV’s Sixteen and Pregnant, and Lifetime’s utterly manic Born in the Wild (in which a woman delivers her baby outside, sans medical help) are just some of the reality TV offerings that give viewers far more access than they should ever have to a stranger’s birthing process. But at least those programs make some effort to convey the emotional and physical turbulence that comes with bringing a child into this world. Labor Games does no such thing. The show breezes into the hospital with its grating host and tacky strobe lights, makes the parents look like supreme doofuses, and then conveniently cuts out before all the labor-induced screaming starts.

All of this might be forgivable were it not for the puns. The puns are atrocious. Lifelines in Labor Games are called “umbilical cords.” As the couple on Wednesday night’s episode debated a question, host Lisa Arch asked gleefully, “What is the answer you are willing to deliver here?”

Really, though, the main problem with Labor Games is that it’s boring. The questions are relentlessly banal: “Which of the following is not a teething remedy recommended by” Arch asks with the requisite amount of talk-show-host peppiness, though not quite enough to make you care about the answer. In Labor Games’ first episode, a surprise “challenge” saw the parents taste baby food and guess the ingredients—about as thrilling a viewing experience as watching someone change a soiled diaper.

Even the “contraction” scenes are pretty vanilla. The first contestant/mom scrunches up her face for three seconds and then the contractions are over, leading me to suspect that if this woman was actually in labor, she was barely on the cusp of it. Depicting her in the throes of agony would have been thoroughly distasteful, of course. But let’s not put on airs here: Labor Games is exploitative and crude, so it may as well make things interesting.

The sneak peak episode of Labor Games ended on a suitably low note (spoiler alert, if you care). The parents strike out on the last question, losing the $10,000 prize for their unborn son’s college fund. Arch responds with the following kind words of comfort: “There’s always community college!”

Welcome to the world, little guy. Welcome to the world.

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