I’ve never really identified as a fan of reality TV. With the exception of the Bachelor franchise, I don’t watch what I think reality TV has become nowadays – irritable housewives’ Bravo shows, the ever-persistent singing competitions, and delectably sweet baking shows.
Instead, I associate more with the earlier concepts of the genre. Strangers thrown into a house together, competitors in a remote location proving survival of the fittest, and relatively unproduced docu-series. Starting from when I was nine years old and lasting throughout my teens, the age of reality TV’s rise and fall left a decent influence on my cultural identity. I hope you’re ready for a trip down memory lane, because I wanted to share thoughts about some of the reality TV seasons that most contributed to this shaping.
America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6
The first eight cycles of America’s Next Top Model summarize exactly what was so great about reality TV in the early 2000s. Contestants still didn’t realize how production could portray them wrongly, social media fame didn’t quite exist yet, and personal fashion was simultaneously simple and horrendous. I also love Cycle 3 and its whackily entertaining cast, but I was first introduced to ANTM through an MTV weekend marathon of Cycle 6. Can you even call yourself an ANTM fan if you don’t live for Jade’s one-liners in this season? On top of that, the rest of the cast was also funny and complex, and Tyra Banks was at her peak of zaniness. I always resort to Cycles 3 and 6 when I need something brainless to play in the background as I do something else. After all, nothing truly beats a reality competition series with all of the old-school ANTM elements.
In high school, before streaming was what it is today and I had my own laptop, summer TV was just that — limited to the physical TV and airing exclusively in the summer season. The fact that these shows popped up when I had the most time to keep up with weekly episodes just made them more addictive, and while only one of them is still in my life today, I still equate all three of these shows with summertime.
Technically, the new season of Married at First Sight is also one of my summer watches this year, but the show has pretty small gaps in between seasons and runs what feels like year-round. Is anyone else totally invested in the Dallas season even though they have a feeling it’s going to be a trainwreck? Ah, well, that’s the beauty of summer shows — they don’t need much to keep us hooked.
1) The Next Food Network Star
I don’t keep up with this right now, but for two or three consecutive summers, I was obsessed. This Food Network competition series is basically what it sounds — finalists compete in cooking challenges with twists tied to being TV chefs in order to win their own Food Network series. Honestly, I think it’s the loss of Alton Brown as a judge that made my interest in Food Network Star fade. Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis still judge, but the visual imbalance of two main judges and not having Alton’s witty wackiness just bores me. The show has low-stakes drama with gratuitous food porn, and you never have to pay much attention to it if you’re just not in the mood to think too much. I’d inevitably form a weird crush on one of the long-haired, slightly greasy-looking chefs that I definitely wouldn’t be attracted in real life. That’s what seeing a man cooking can do to you!
It’s my job to write about TV, and I can’t complain because this kind of path is what I’ve dreamt of and worked towards since I was 18 years old. That being said, being a writer, let alone an entertainment writer, can be a little draining and affect your desire to watch any new shows outside of your job. When you’ve spent all day working on your computer, sometimes the last thing you want to do is spend more time in front of a screen watching TV for your own enjoyment.
So, while I’m still trying to cut down on unnecessary screen time, I’ve only recently gotten out of a rut where I really wasn’t watching anything other than shows I cover for work. That being said, I definitely recommend the following three shows if you’re like me and enjoy historical shows or unconventional reality TV.
Also, I’m so excited for Timeless and Call the Midwife to come back in March!
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Otherwise known as the show that finally got Amy Sherman-Palladino some award show love, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows a Jewish housewife in 1950s Manhattan who finds a calling in stand-up comedy when her marriage abruptly ends.
One half of the duo behind my favorite podcast, Gilmore Guys, now runs a podcast deconstructing Maisel episodes, and in this, someone commented that Maisel includes the time period and type of characters where Sherman-Palladino’s writing style and reference points just thrive. Gilmore Girls included old-school, mid-20th century references that were a little less believable for young characters in the early 2000s to use, but given that Maisel takes place in the ’50s, Sherman-Palladino’s knack for vintage pop culture can truly shine.
The physical quality of the Amazon Prime show is also great. There are sweeping, detailed shots that make the setting so believable, and things like that just make the entire story more immersive as a whole.