Television Without Pity

‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ vs. ‘Dance Moms’: Which Is the Guiltier Pleasure?

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Are pageant moms or dance moms more awful? (Hillary Kurtz/TLC, Scott Gries/Lifetime Television)

Are pageant moms or dance moms more awful? (Hillary Kurtz/TLC, Scott Gries/Lifetime Television)

Say what you will about the parents who parade their children around in intense competitions that may or may not be age-appropriate, but in terms of entertainment, it's hard to argue that the TV shows about them aren't at least a little intriguing, if not shamefully enjoyable. TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras" has had a chokehold on this market since early 2009, but after a strong premiere season of Lifetime's "Dance Moms," we think it's necessary to pit these two shows against each other. Just know that when we say "winner," we mean which show we would rather watch, given the battle.

Format
For starters, it's really easy to jump into an episode of "T&T." Each episode, we meet a few new pageant hopefuls and join them in their journey to the competition. But if you try to watch a standalone episode of "Dance Moms," you'll find yourself asking questions like, "Why does that woman have a pyramid of children's faces?" and "Who is this 'Cathy' person everyone is talking about?"

Winner: As TV junkies, we say "Dance Moms." Way more rewarding!

Insufferable Adults
Ironically, for a show with the word "Moms" right in the title, "Dance Moms" is actually light on the controlling parents. At least compared with the stage mothers on "T&T," who make their children wear fake teeth, take them to the tanning salon, smother them in makeup and dress them up as prostitutes. However, "Dance Moms" has Abby Lee Miller of the Abby Lee Dance Company, a terrible, controlling woman, and Cathy, who is a crazy dance teacher herself and the mother of a ridiculously overworked child.

Winner: Abby does have her redeeming moments, like creating interesting pool games involving watermelons, but the parents on "T&T" have taken society to brave new lows.

See the infamous "Toddlers & Tiaras" girl dressed as "Pretty Woman":

Disregard for Other Cultures
If you meet enough delusional parents, you are bound to hear a whole lot of shockingly inappropriate and tasteless racial remarks. Our favorite example from "Dance Moms" was when Abby insisted that Nia, and only Nia, must learn all the "ethnic" dances if she wants to get ahead in this world. The result: an Afro wig, animal prints, and a basically danceless routine called "LaQueefa."

Winner: "Dance Moms," because Nia's mother, Holly, at least addresses Abby's behavior. The "T&T" moms just plain get away with faking horrifying Asian accents.

Week-to-Week Conflicts
On both shows, it's pretty much the same every week: "T&T" has the battle for Ultimate Grand Supreme, while the "Dance Moms" girls always have a new competition ahead of them. The devil, of course, is in the details of each: Will today's toddler see a wolf mask seconds before her set and cry onstage? Which way will Abby set up Chloe to fail?

Winner: Both can be trite and repetitive at worst, explosive and frustrating to the parent at best. Draw.

Abby takes the girls toy shopping in this "Dance Moms" bonus clip:

Moments of Truth
When it comes to actual competitions, you get lots of little snippets from "T&T" hopefuls, many of which are pretty cute (assuming you don't think about the process behind them). Abby's dance routines range from really skillful to downright tacky -- at best, it's fun in a downgraded "Black Swan" kind of way.

Winner: "T&T," because the under-1-year-old category gets us every time.

Amount of Shame Felt After Watching
"T&T" can be extremely cruel at times, and we have seen enough children's tears to last a lifetime. And we hate that by watching "Dance Moms," we are, in a way, supporting the Abby Lee Dance Studio. Shudder.

Winner: "Dance Moms," because if we tell someone we watch it, we most often hear a "Never heard of it" response. There's no escaping the exposure of "T&T."

"Toddlers & Tiaras" airs Wednesdays at 10pm on TLC; "Dance Moms" airs Wednesdays at 10pm on Lifetime.

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