While everyone is busy complaining about how True Detective isn’t that good anymore or how Mr. Robot is so criminally underrated, I’ve been busy with other, more humble pursuits: namely, plunging into the dark, sublime world of reality television.
In case you’re looking to join me, here’s a rundown of five of the most essential reality TV shows on right now.
Bachelor in Paradise
Whether or not you’ve ever seen the Bachelor/ette before; whether or not you care about such shows; whether or not you believe in love; you should be watching Bachelor in Paradise. The brilliant spinoff has just started its second season, and my lord is it good.
The ingenious mechanism is thus: a bunch of the wackiest former cast members of the last couple seasons are put on an island to gallivant and fornicate. They’re apparently in some part of Mexico, but at this point “Paradise” is really more of a state of mind/being than a physical location.
The object of the game is to form a hetero-normative bond as soon (or as often) as possible. The men and women alternate rose ceremonies each week to vote off whatever sad loser isn’t wifed-up at the moment. Since the producers release new cast members into Paradise every week, never has the line between romantic connection and strategic alliance been so compromised. As a result, all the relationships formed on the show are precarious, volatile, always threatening to crumble.
As the beautifully hysterical Ashley I. says in the first episode, “Paradise feels like hell.” In this sense, Bachelor in Paradise represents the latest and clearest confirmation that hell is, indeed, other people.
Real Housewives of New York City
“I’m not a housewife, but I am real,” says franchise titan Bethenny Frankel. After three seasons away, Bethenny is back and the results have been fantastic. Drunken excursions to Atlantic City, the Berkshires, and Turks and Caicos have highlighted, in vivid glory, Sonja’s delusion, Ramona’s sad lack of direction, and Heather’s relentless nosiness. Something about Bethenny seems to make all of the other women completely lose their minds in her presence; the real joy of this season has been watching her epic narcissism negotiate with the attention.
This season also features newcomer Dorinda, who is a very sweet woman with a very crappy boyfriend. If you’ve taken time off from this show and are looking for the perfect opportunity to get back into it, this season is a great, great place.
Real Housewives of Orange County
The longest-running of the Real Housewives franchise recently started its tenth season. By this time, Vicki Gunvalson is the only original cast member of the series, and most of the drama now revolves around newcomers Shannon Beador (introduced last season) and Meghan King Edmonds (introduced this season and wife of a famous baseball bro). This is interesting insofar as it gives us more Shannon being an irrational nutjob, but disappointing in its formulaic “new girl versus newer girl” dynamic.
The individual storylines are kinda tedious: Meghan tries to parent a stepdaughter closer in age to her than her husband; Vicki’s mother dies and her boyfriend has cancer; Shannon’s marriage remains a shambles; Tamra’s husband Eddie wants her to butt out of their fitness business; and Heather is still better than everyone.
The developing Meghan versus Vicki definitely shows promise, but I’m still waiting for this season to get good.
I Am Cait
It may be safe to say that after Vanity Fair, Diane Sawyer and the ESPYs, the general public is losing interest in Caitlyn Jenner. But since I’m not a member of the general public, but rather a categorical disciple of the Kardashian-Jenner Empire, I’m totally interested in this show. I Am Cait is the most important thing to come of the KUWTK universe since Selfish.
The new docu-series is repetitiously message-driven and, like all the family’s shows, a bit boring. But ultimately I think it’s at least as interesting a watch as Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami. That is, quite simply, good enough for me.
There has been more then enough digital ink spilled over Ms. Jenner for me to bother pondering the vicissitudes with you, but I will say this: the most shocking thing about Caitlyn Jenner is how bad she is at tennis.
I love this show because it’s like watching professional wrestling minus the actual wrestling. But the shift in focus isn’t just from in-ring action to backstage drama. Total Divas also manages to subvert the phallocentrism of professional wrestling itself. Here, it’s the ambition and conflict of the female wrestlers that commands our concern, while male wrestlers are framed as secondary or practically irrelevant. This radical reallocation of male and female subjectivity is inherent in all Housewives-style reality TV, but here E! has put it to fresh and effective use.
The newest season has been great. Eva Marie has decided she wants to be a real wrestler and all the girls hate her for it. I’ve long found Eva Marie annoying and dull, but watching her suffer the Bella Twins’ wrath is almost enough to make me feel sorry for her. Meanwhile, Brie struggles with the prospect of pregnancy, Nattie misfires with a fetish-themed gimmick, and Paige is dating a guy from a crappy metalcore band. It’s really worth a look guys, especially if you have some guilty curiosity or fading interest in the absurd world of professional wrestling.
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