'Teen Mom': Inside the phenomenon | EW.com

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'Teen Mom': Inside the phenomenon

MTV's series has become the most addictive and important reality show on TV

Questions fly at Teen Mom star Maci Bookout from all directions, all the time, about her life, her choices, what she’s going to do next. At the moment, they’re coming from her mother as the sprightly 19-year-old redhead tries to enjoy a fleeting summer afternoon with her almost-2-year-old son, Bentley, in her parents’ Tennessee backyard. Will she move back home to Chattanooga to be closer to the father of her child, Ryan, or will she stay in the apartment she rented for the summer outside of Nashville, near new boyfriend Kyle?

”Kyle mentioned us moving in together,” Maci blurts out.

”I just feel like you guys need to be more sure of your relationship before you move in together,” her mother, Sharon, warns in her Southern drawl. ”We were gonna talk about how you’re gonna go to school, where you’re gonna get a job…. What is your plan?”

As Maci and Sharon scowl at each other, yet another question comes, this time from the clump of cameras, microphones, and producers recording the entire interaction. Prods one producer, ”Can you ask where they’re moving in together — is it here or Nashville? It’s not clear to the viewers.”

Sharon rolls her eyes. ”It’s not clear to me, either.”

They barely get Maci’s answer — Nashville…maybe — before Bentley makes a break across the yard, then screams as Maci scoops him up in her arms. Her cherubic little bundle of energy has won her a brief respite from interrogation for now, but soon her parents, her boyfriend, her ex, and, most of all, TV viewers will be demanding answers once more. Such is the very unglamorous truth behind MTV’s unbelievably compelling reality sensation Teen Mom. Documenting the lives of four heartland girls, the show is so real that — unlike, say, The Hills — its veracity is never up for debate. But everything else is fair game for endless dissection by audiences, who have become so attached to Teen Mom’s stars that they feel free to comment on the girls’ every parenting decision and relationship debacle, whether in person or on their Facebook fan pages. ”This is a show that’s just heartbreakingly honest,” MTV general manager Stephen Friedman says. ”And there is such a hunger for the discussion that’s going on around it.”

Since premiering last December as a spin-off to the surprise-hit docuseries 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, now in its second season, has become the most gripping teen drama around — both on screen and off. This scrappy series about real kids grappling with custody battles, waitressing jobs, midnight diaper runs, and extreme family dysfunction is a best-of-both-worlds phenomenon for MTV: Not only is it a buzzy ratings hit, with an average of 3.4 million viewers and a barrage of recent celebrity-magazine covers focused on the teen stars, but it also serves to showcase the network’s socially conscious side by leading a national discussion about birth control, abstinence, and adoption. At the heart of it all is a quartet of young women with grown-up problems: Maci, a journalism major who’s trying to maintain a decent relationship with her son’s dad; 19-year-old Farrah Abraham of Iowa, who saw her troubled home life make headlines in January when her mother was arrested on charges of domestic abuse (she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge); 20-year-old Amber Portwood of Indiana, who’s struggling to get her GED and constantly bickering with on-again, off-again fiancé Gary; and 18-year-old Catelynn Lowell of Michigan, who, with boyfriend Tyler, is still dealing with the aftermath of making an open-adoption plan for their daughter, Carly.

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