TLC's Mama Medium Is So Disgustingly Exploitative, It's Actually Unbelievable


Reality TV isn’t a cesspool; it’s more a bottomless pit. Believe that you’ve seen the worst of it at your own peril—soon enough you’ll plunge to a new low. There will always be one. In my years of watching trash that incentivizes people to act like garbage, I’ve seen someone resort to shitting on the floor when producers wouldn’t allow her to use the bathroom. I’ve seen a mom dress her toddler up as (Hollywood’s version of) a sex worker. I’ve seen a man out his fellow contestant as trans for a leg up in the competition. I’ve seen every sort of bigotry used to propel narratives that are populated by people who are clearly in over their heads and staying afloat on sheer opportunism.

And yet, somehow, nothing quite prepared me for TLC’s new show Mama Medium, which premiered Monday night.

It concerns one Jennie Marie, who lives with her husband and four sons in Rochester, New York. She claims to be a “clairvoyant empathic psychic medium” who discovered her “gift” at age 7. It is the how the empathic portion of Marie’s supposed array of paranormal skills supposedly manifests that sets her apart from other TV mediums that I’ve watched. I think they’re all frauds, and I think that thinking this is the safest bet, given the lack of scientific evidence for psychic phenomena and the outrageous ask of these strangers that you take them at their word on their magical powers as they take your money. Believe what you will, but definitely believe that I’m judging you hard if you believe their vaguely phrased bullshit, which frequently consists of Googleable facts.

Marie says empathy is her greatest gift and she tells people repeatedly that as a result of it, “I literally feel things or get chills when I’m right.” Uh, same? I have so many chills right now I’m at risk of whiplash. But for the purposes of the show, this empathy allows Marie to go beyond going beyond the grave and into the hospital rooms of people who have become nonverbal as the result of devastating ailments and accidents.

Yes, she speaks for people who are sitting right there and unable to say, “Hey this woman is just making things up!” and to grieving families who are desperate to receive any sort of message from a loved one with whom they used to communicate freely. This is something that she actually does.

As I watched her do this with Jason, who had been nonverbal for eight years (as a result of an AVM rupture) when Marie met with him, on last night’s series premiere, my disbelief hit new levels. I can’t believe what I was being asked to swallow, and if my suspicion is correct (and I really think it is) regarding Marie’s fraudulence, I can’t believe the amount of cruelty that she invests in the name of making grieving people feel better (and taking their money, or at least using them to get TLC’s money).

This is simply despicable.

She answered unbelievably easy answers from the family. Does Jason know he’s loved? Does Jason know he didn’t cause his injury? Yes and yes. I could literally do this. We all could. In case you don’t already feel bad enough after watching these clips, Jason died between the show’s filming and airing.

Mama Medium also spends some time at Marie’s house, between readings. During one of those segments, something Marie said didn’t quite jibe with her claims of psychic powers. At one point on the premiere, she told the story of meeting her husband, Mike, at a wedding. The talked, they danced, and they ended up telling “every person at the wedding we were getting married.” Can you imagine thinking it was appropriate to get engaged to someone who you met literal minutes ago at someone else’s wedding and then tell everybody? This is a woman who claims repeatedly that she is not just empathic but magically empathic, and she risked stealing someone else’s thunder on her wedding day. That is exactly the opposite of empathy. But then, a lot of what Marie does on her show is.

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