Reality TV is nothing new. But I must admit that I was as absorbed as the next person with shows like “The Real World,” “Survivor,” and “Big Brother” when they first premiered. What started out as a new genre for network TV has exploded to include cable programs ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, from amusing to serious. And while my interest in mainstream reality programing waned long ago, I’ve become a fan of a number of niche reality and documentary-type shows. These are some of my favorites:
- Collection Intervention (SyFy). This is a lot like “Hoarders,” but more fun. Instead of collecting trash and cat carcasses, the people featured collect things like comic books and, most often, vintage toys. The premise of the show is that people have allowed their collections to get out-of-control. The host, Elyse Luray, is an experienced appraiser and pop culture historian. She helps collectors manage their collections and-most importantly-learn to let go of some of their items. This is one reality show that my husband and I can watch together. He likes to see all the old toys. I like to laugh at the “man-children” spending every last penny on old pieces of plastic. Can you tell I’m not into collecting?
- 19 Kids and Counting/United Bates of America (TLC). OK, so technically these are two different shows about two different families, the Duggars and the Bateses. But both shows are about conservative Christian families with 19 children who homeschool, live in the south, and drive really, really big vehicles. The kids are all squeaky clean and well-mannered, the dads are goofy and jovial, and the moms have frizzy hair and enviably-youthful skin considering their ages and procreative history. The shows follow the families as they do everything from the everyday (doing laundry) to the special (making an overseas trip). Admittedly the shows can be boring at times, but overall I find it fascinating to look into the lives of people who seem so normal, yet so different from mainstream American society. Part of me longs for their (seemingly) idyllic and wholesome large-family lifestyle. And the naughty part of me wants to see the moms snap at their kids…just once. (It’ll never happen.)
- The Layover (Travel Channel). Chef, traveler, author and all-around rebel Anthony Bourdain has been a mainstay on the Travel Channel for years with his entertaining food-oriented travel show, “No Reservations.” While I’ve always enjoyed it, his new show, “The Layover,” is a little more fast-paced and concise, focusing on what to see, eat and do in one city when you have only one or two days to spare. You can see him get a custom suit made in Singapore, eat pig’s head in London, and get completely smashed in San Francisco. It’s all a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and Bourdainisms, which frequently feature sarcasm, innuendo, and bleeped profanity. You’ve been warned. I’m looking forward to the second season.
- Four Weddings (TLC). The premise of this show is simple and brilliant at the same time. Four brides, who do not know each other, attend each other’s nuptials and then literally rate the affairs, with the winner receiving an awesome honeymoon vacation. Brides-to-be, or simply people who love weddings, will find it fun to see the ideas perfect strangers come up with to celebrate their big days. For those with even one slightly catty bone in their bodies, it’s fun to see the brides rip each other apart. While most try to be diplomatic and point out the positive and endearing points about their competing brides’ weddings, there are plenty of disparaging comments, too. (“My chicken was awful!” or “It was so hot at the ceremony!”) I guess it’s the one time when people are encouraged to critique others’ weddings, at least in a public forum. And is always the case with competition-based reality shows, it’s fun to see if you can guess the winner at home.
- My Strange Addiction (TLC). This is probably one of the weirdest, yet strangely enthralling, reality shows out there. On a serious note, it appears that most of those featured on the show have some form of obsessive compulsive disorder. They are all addicted to something, and that something is always very bizarre. Sometimes the addictions featured are abnormal yet somewhat comical, such as a man obsessed with his car…in a romantic way. Some are just creepy and downright gross (drinking nail polish or sniffing baby powder). Others are cringe-worthy and sadly disturbing. The most unsettling episode I’ve seen was about a woman who compulsively ate her late husband’s cremated ashes. And the one about the woman who drank and bathed in her urine? I couldn’t even watch it. While it may not always be the most feel-good TV out there, it’s usually pretty riveting. If you want feel-good, switch to watching the Duggars!
If you’re interested in viewing any of these shows this fall, check out the network web sites listed below for dates and times. Happy viewing!