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TV Review: TLC’s ‘Best Funeral Ever’

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I hope that a few thousand years from now, archeologists don’t have to use our TV broadcasts to learn about our society. They’ll find that Music Television doesn’t have any music, the History Channel shows nothing historic and The Learning Channel doesn’t teach you very much.

Society is blasting TLC for bottom of the barrel fare such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, but the ratings don’t lie. There’s a demand for this content, and TLC is happy to fill it. Along comes Best Funeral Ever, which at times made me long for the understated humor of the Honey Boo Boo clan.

This reality show features the employees of Dallas’ Golden Gate Funeral Home, who have never met an outlandish request they didn’t like. Instead of stoic funerals, they believe in “homegoing” celebrations. If you’ve ever seen a New Orleans style funeral that resembles a party, you’re somewhat familiar with the concept. But a simple celebration doesn’t earn you a TLC reality show.

“We do not produce generic funerals; everybody’s experience has to be different.” Golden Gate CEO John Beckwith Jr. explains in press materials. Mission accomplished in the backdoor pilot episode. If feedback on social media is any indication, this show will get a full season order quickly.

The funeral that left everybody watching speechless in this episode was for singer Wolf Johnson. He performed with The Platters, The Coasters and The Drifters in his career. But most of the world got exposed to his voice through the insanely catchy jingle for Chili’s Baby Back Ribs. We’ll never know if that’s how Wolf chose to remember himself, but in the eyes of his family and Golden Gate it’s his most significant career achievement. Barbecued ribs become the theme of the whole funeral, complete with a smoker-shaped casket, pallbearers singing the “Baby Back Ribs” jingle and live pigs. I’m not kidding about any of this, folks.

The pastor delivering the eulogy wore a chef’s hat, and noted that he didn’t know the man. But he thought of him every time of he went to Chili’s.

One of the primary complaints about Best Funeral Ever is that it perpetuates negative stereotypes about African-Americans. It’s hard to argue you could come away from the “baby back rib” funeral with a positive view of the culture. Of course, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a horrible representation of Southern white culture. We can’t say TLC is playing favorites. That’s where “reality” TV has taken us. If you made a sitcom starring the “characters” in Best Funeral Ever, it would be so over the top even Tyler Perry would urge restraint.

But living in Dallas, I’ve read the testimonies of people who attended the Wolf Johnson funeral. It really happened, and apparently that’s just another day at the office for Golden Gate.

Another funeral featured is for a man who suffered from spina bifada. He loved going to the State Fair, but his disability prevented him from enjoying the rides. Golden Gate cremated him and then took his remains on every ride in a fair. Of course, they had to find a fair willing to do so, which was no easy task. Unlike Wolf’s funeral, which seemed like it was more for his family than him, this effort was oddly touching. Taken at face value, it was still incredibly morbid.

TLC didn’t have to play these scenes for laughs, but they did. They showed the confused faces of other fairgoers, and noted CEO Beckwith’s concerns about spilling the poor man’s remains on the bumper cars. Still, this funeral was a much better reflection of how Golden Gate tries to help families.

While watching this show, I knew I had to write about it but wasn’t sure what I’d say. I’m still not 100 percent sure what I witnessed. But I couldn’t look away. That’s why I suspect Best Funeral Ever will earn a full season pickup, and become one of TLC’s highest rated shows.

 

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