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TV Shows: What’s Your Guilty Pleasure?

TV Shows: What's Your Guilty Pleasure

I am not what you’d call a “TV person.” In my twenties, I had a screen so tiny that anyone who entered my apartment immediately made fun of it, followed by years of owning no TV at all. Even so, one of my very favorite things — and conversation topics — is “bad” TV…

You know the kind I mean. While some shows are educational or gripping or brilliantly written, others are simply entertaining. Dating shows. Morally depraved reality shows where you wonder what the producers were thinking. Game shows where you have no hope of learning anything. Holey Moley.

Sometimes, shows are good because they are bad. Which, in the end, just makes them good.

A not-so-guilty pleasure show can take many forms. Maybe it’s a show that seems out of character. Maybe it’s a little embarrassing. While it isn’t something you’d advertise on a dating profile or bring up at a dinner party, it is always fun to talk about. (I love to ask it of candidates during job interviews, because it has a way of instantly breaking the ice.) And if you discover that someone’s favorite bad show is the same as yours, well, you’re pretty much bonded for life.

I have waxed poetic about my love for RHONY (the affectionate abbreviation for Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City), a show that is rife with things that, on paper, I do not enjoy. There are toxic screaming matches, grotesque displays of wealth, and a cast that barely resembles itself due the amount of cosmetic interventions that have gone down since earlier seasons. Though it takes place in the city I call home, I hardly relate to any of it. And oh, how it brings me joy.

It was fate that gifted me American Ninja Warrior. My boyfriend and I were staying in a hotel for a friend’s out-of-town wedding, and the local cable channels left little to be desired. Somehow, we stumbled across American Ninja Warrior, and somehow, we continued watching it. Athletes ran across giant spinning tires, flung themselves across moats, scaled walls like superheroes. Every obstacle had names like “rolling thunder” and “the jumping spider.” I could not look away.

This brings me to my next point, which is that sometimes when enjoying your favorite unexpected show, your behavior becomes uncharacteristic, as well. Do I clench my fists as the ninjas attempt the trickiest feats? Do I sometimes scream at the TV? Do I shed a tear or two or five when they declare the next American Ninja Warrior? You know the answer, in all cases, is yes.

One night, my friend texted me about a show she had recently discovered. “I’m going to be up all night!” she said. “I have an early meeting, but I can’t. Stop. Watching.”

The show was Marrying Millions, a Lifetime reality program that is exactly what it sounds like. The docu-series chronicles six couples with dramatically different incomes. The characters are all a bit out there for various reasons (dramatic age differences, controversial meeting stories, families and friends that vehemently disapprove), which only adds to the entertainment. It’s a bit like Millionaire Matchmaker meets Tiger King, without tigers.

Though I trusted her endorsement, I didn’t check it out. After all, the new season of RHONY is upon us, and I had plenty of work to do. That it, until day 467358 into quarantine, when I found myself browsing the endless stream of content. There is was — a thumbnail photo of a bride carrying a bouquet made of money. It did not disappoint. (To that end, if anyone would like to discuss the validity of Gentille and Brian’s relationship, or what really went down with that bracelet, you know where to find me.) I cannot wait for season two.

While bad TV shows will always have a place in my heart, this is their time to shine. They are distracting. They are escapist. They are a window into a world that is so unlike our own. And right now, that feels more therapeutic — and necessary — than ever.

What’s your favorite unexpected TV show? I’d love to hear.

P.S. The best TV shows for couples to watch together and infidelity, Netflix style.

  1. Marnie says...

    great British baking show…weirdly relaxing

    • Kristen says...

      Yes!!!

  2. Ashley says...

    I envy all quarantine-ers who have not yet seen all 6 seasons of Love Island (on hulu, with a whopping 60+ episodes each). A British reality show of singles looking for “love” it is such binge worthy pleasure. Plus, I have a whole new lexicon of British slang, with my personal favorite being “fanny flirts.”

  3. GM says...

    Normal People! I’m obsessed with the storyline, book, characters, actors. The book adaptation series on Hulu is beautifully done. I haven’t felt this way about a show in a long time! And I cannot tell enough people about it. I even got my bf to watch the series and read the book, so we can talk about it together. And he enjoyed it as much as I did.

    • Cassis says...

      Normal People was so wonderful! I read the book last year and thought it was great — and I usually dislike watching the TV or movie adaptation of books I enjoyed; it’s always disappointing and “not like the book.” But this one was remarkable. (I actually didn’t ask my husband to watch it with me … I was just so savoring watching it alone.)

  4. Thivia Mogan says...

    Married at First Sight!!!

  5. Angela says...

    Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist! on regular ole NBC is so, so good! I smile during the whole show! And then I think about it later. Thank goodness for streaming so I can go back and see my favorite numbers! I’ve watched the season finale 3 times, at least!

    I hope they bring it back for a second season but if they don’t , the first one was absolutely perfect. Take a look just to hear Max and Simon sing!

    • AzureSong says...

      I love that show too! Except it is legit great TV, not guilty TV.

  6. Meredith says...

    I took the CoJ recommendation and have started Marrying Millions. OH MY GOSH, Caroline, it’s so addictive! I’m halfway through and I look forward to my nightly episode so much.

  7. taylor n says...

    Songland!!

    It’s hard to tell how much pickup the show has gotten, because no one within my friend / professional circles have watched it and few have even heard of it. I loved watching The Voice earlier on (it started to feel a little tired when the most creative/unique artists kept getting passed over for talented yet somewhat predictable vocal genres) and this is from some of the same people.

    It spotlights the people who write and produce the songs – there is some powerhouse talent behind the voices on the radio, and I LOVE seeing the BTS that goes into workshopping lyrics, changing chords, etc. Male songwriters write songs for the guest female artists, and vice versa. Esther Dean, Shane McAnally, and Ryan Tedder have admiration for one another’s respective strengths, and every competitor is treated with so much respect. And the end – the final versions of the song – is PAYOFF. I can’t get enough!

    • Hayley B says...

      YESSSS that show is fire! ? My favourite episode has to be the one where the winning song would also be chosen as not just a song for the band Old Republic but also an ad jingle for a very famous car brand. Honestly I thought the original version (post post-production magic) of “Young”, sung by the girl songwriter (I wish I could remember her name!) was even better than the final version sung by Old Republic! I’ve been hunting high and low for it on the streaming services but can’t find her version, just the one put out by the all-male group. And the Will.i.am episode when he basically chose all 3 songs the producers had worked on for him for his album instead of just the one was like whuuuutt? Can he do that? I guess he can coz he’s the guest star of the show, ha! ?

      I love watching the original songs being debuted by the hitherto unknown songwriters and seeing them get the instant tweaks/suggestions by the heavyweight production maestros in the room. When Esther Dean and co start riffing on the melody, throwing out ideas for choruses and lyrics and amping up the song’s vibes, it’s like watching magic unfold in real time. Some of it has to have been rehearsed to some extent, like the live musicians have to have been given the notes to play in advance and all that, but I want to believe that the panel of judges/producers are hearing the songs for the first time in the room with the audience at home. What I do want to know is how they find/choose these songwriters. Some of them are really talented! And the peek behind the curtain at what goes into making a song a radio-friendly smash has been fascinating, even for someone like me who is literally unable to read even a single music note or carry a tune in a bucket.

  8. Siobhan says...

    The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I’m in the UK, we’re on Hannah’s season (no spoilers!). I LOVE it – every season I think this won’t be as good as previous ones, but I always get far too into it. Its not a big thing t all here but luckily I have two friends who watch too so have someone to WhatsApp throughout!

  9. HH says...

    I’m rewatching Moonlighting on DVD! I loved it twenty years ago (at which point it was ~twenty years old) and the witty banter is still a treat. As a single professional lady, I relate to Cybil Shepherd. And Bruce Willis keeps me giggling… “Do bears bear? Do bees bee?” Highly recommended!

    • Martini says...

      Not to mention the theme song….I swoon.

  10. Lauren says...

    It’s been more than ten years, but there was one show to rule them all. . . Flava Flaaaaav and Flavor of LOVE! Come getcho CL0CK!

    • Natane says...

      THIS SHOW!!! It was the best, truly!

  11. Amy says...

    I’ve been watching a lot of “low stakes” TV – lots of reality TV, sitcoms, and anything with food in it (cooking shows, food/travel documentary series):
    – Reality TV: Love is Blind (FASCINATING), Too Hot to Handle (jaw-dropping)
    – Sitcoms: Kim’s Convenience, Never Have I Ever, Dead to Me
    – Food: Nadiya’s Time to Eat (so comforting and wonderful), Ugly Delicious, and of course, all the Bon Appetit videos

  12. Christina says...

    Dirty John- and yes, I do feel a little guilty…

  13. Anna says...

    Really loving Restaurants on the Edge (Seasons 1 and 2) on Netflix!

  14. Cait says...

    I had never seen any reality TV until I watched Instant Hotel on Netflix! I was so shocked at the drama that could come from something like an airbnb competition. Then I got sucked into Love is Blind, and have so many thoughts. It was crazy, but the concept WAS so intriguing, and I loved some of the couples. I also would smile SO big every time the couples saw each other for the first time! So freaking sweet! If only it would stay that way ;) And my daughter and I love The Great British Baking Show, of course. Zumbo’s Just Desserts was a little more colorful and fun for my younger boys.

  15. Mereduck says...

    Though I am not super up on reality television I’m still thinking about this tweet I saw earlier this week from @chelseadevantez :
    “Women love reality tv because each show has 5-10 layered & complicated women who have friendships and fights and they’re mean and nice AND wildly nuanced even when they’re all the same “type”. Yes it’s trash, but if reality TV can do it, narrative could too? Yes I’m high.”

    Food for thought! Like, it’s interesting to consider how off-putting most narrative television can be for women seeking to engage with stories that feel true to life.

  16. Hilary says...

    well 90 Day Fiance, but of course! And then listen to “90 Day Gays” podcast!

    • Heidi says...

      Same! 90 day gays is the best part of watching 90 day fiancé :)

  17. tina crisas says...

    What I can watch for hours and hours is:
    “Say Yes to the Dress”
    “Living Big In A Tiny House” with Bryce Langston- so so soothing

  18. Lena says...

    I have suddenly gotten really into Forged in Fire (It’s like Great British Bake Off, but for weapons!) and Deadliest Catch (a reality show about crab fishing). I had exhausted all my faves so now I am getting into all kinds of new weird things.

  19. Melissa says...

    I’ve been binging epidoses of “Gourmet Makes” on YouTube every night before I go to sleep.

    And my boyfriend and I recently discovered “Kent Survival” on YouTube. We watch while eating dinner.

  20. Amrita says...

    Two shows:

    1) Never Have I Ever – a show produced by Mindy Kaling that tells the story of a teenage Indian girl and her high school life. Funny, touching and so amazing to see someone like me on the screen

    2) Nashville – I was not into country music but fell hard for this soapy drama about a country music star starring the amazing Connie Britton

    • Beth Parsons says...

      I’m with you on Nashville! For some reason that show got stuck in my heart. I loved the chemistry between Connie and Chip Esten! I loved the music and have downloaded many of the songs. Despite the mess it became, it has stayed with me. So much so that (embarrassingly) I’ve read the fan fiction stories and count that as my escape from these crazy days.

    • Jessica says...

      Never have I ever was WONDERFUL. Amazing mother/daughter, best girl friend, teenage love dynamics. So heartwarming and lovely and fun. And I cried at the end.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I loved that show!!

  21. Susan Magnolia says...

    Playing House with Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair is my favorite show that I love and could totally recommend. The Detectorists is the UK show I love totally and usually don’t think others may understand how sublime it is. ?

    • Beth says...

      OMG, a thousand times YES to The Detectorists. So quirky and weird and wonderful.

  22. sophie says...

    Brooklyn 99 has gotten me through quarantine.

    I owe all my sanity to Jake, Amy, Gina, Terry, and all the rest.

    Seriously. It has SUSTAINED me. All 7 Seasons.

  23. Sarah says...

    Barry. It was a slow start, but the buildup is totally worth it. Even, dare I say it, better than Flea Bag.

    Bill Hader is a comedic genius. It was so funny that I choked down my laughter for fear I would miss the next hilarious moment or brilliant plot twist. It didn’t last. Eventually I was rolled over on my couch with tears running down my face feeling half guilty that a serial killer was bringing me so much joy.

  24. Margaret Forsey says...

    I had never watched a reality competition show ever before.
    Recently, I noticed my husband watching a very strange reality show, called “Skin Wars”. It is a body painting competition show that is quite cheesy with lots of manufactured drama-not the type of thing he is normally into. I watched a few minutes and then made fun of it! But later I decided to watch a bit of the first episode, where they introduce the contestants, because they all seemed so strange……..I ended up watching every episode of every season over the next few weeks! And loving it and becoming obsessed and talking about it non-stop to my husband! Haha! Yes, there is dumb tv nonsense. But the contestants are the sweetest, weirdest, most interesting folks ever. And it is always interesting to see how differently they interpret each painting challenge. I definitely recommend it for silly escapist viewing. Ps: My favourite contestant ever is Avi. He is darling. ?

  25. Natalie says...

    I was super judgmental about The Big Bang Theory before having ever watched it, but thanks to my husband convincing me to give it a try, it’s now one of my go-to comfort shows like Friends or Parks and Rec. (He also introduced me to The Curse of Oak Island, which is so ridiculous, but we have fun watching it together – though sometimes it’s just TOO over the top for me.) We’re rewatching lots of Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. ESPN has been showing old football games on Monday night that are weirdly captivating – they’re all famous games for some play or call. And we don’t usually watch any of the late night shows, but we’ve been recording Stephen Colbert and watching the monologue the next evening (sometimes with a cocktail, depending on the day) as our transition out of work mode, and that’s been such a delight.

    • Lauren says...

      Omg my husband LOVES Curse of Oak Island and I just cannot get into it! The guys will find an old piece of wood, and the narrator will be like, “Could it be part of Columbus’s ship? Or could it be a historical artifact from the Knights Templar? Or maybe it’s part of a treasure chest from pirates?” I’m always like, yeah, or maybe it’s just a piece of wood. Haha such drama out of (literally) nothing!

  26. Tara says...

    I’ve recently discovered “Escaping Polygamy”. A Lifetime reality gem, the show follows women (who have escaped cult-like, polygamist sects) helping people escape from their homes, often bolting in the night. Lifetime’s YouTube channel has full episodes!

  27. Sabrina Iorio says...

    Has anyone else geeked out on the Back to the Future trilogy?? I have been working from home and had a deadline this week, which meant late nights, so I decided to put this on as background noise – I was literally giddy watching the whole time, they’re sooo good!!! But like, how could writers talented enough to write three amazing films be so wrong about the future? I was watching like what??? but also loved it! All three are available on Netflix!

  28. LB says...

    I have watched more tv (i.e. hulu, netflix, prime) in the last 12 weeks than the last two years. I am not a tv person unless it is funny and can take my mind off the world (fleabag, mrs maisel). Usual guilty pleasure is the bachelor. With that just ended, we kicked off quarantine with Love is Blind, and I’m not gonna lie, I got into it.