TV Surveillance’s Best of 2011: Favorite Non-Competition Reality Programs

It is that time again folks! The end of the year is upon us and that means it is time to look back on the highs, lows and WTFs in television from the past 12 months. There is a lot to reflect on in regard to television 2011. Charlie Sheen went crazy. Well, crazier. Comedy supposedly made a big comeback. We found out what The Event was, I think. Steve Carell and Michael Scott said goodbye and we were sad. The guys from Entourage also said goodbye, and we were less sad. AMC tried to break a Guinness Book World Record for number of stupid PR disasters by a cable network.

This year brought us a number of great new series such as HomelandHappy Endings and Game of Thrones and a slew of horribly awful ones such as The Paul Reiser ShowHow to Be a Gentleman and Charlie’s Angels. True Blood and Glee kept getting worse while Community and Justified kept getting better. 2011 was the year of Louis C.K., the year of sexposition and the year of The Killing. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting all sorts of lists, podcasts and pieces reflecting back on the year that was. So join me in saying farewell to what was a very compelling year in television. There will be so many lists.

Much like yesterday’s short list on reality competition programs, today’s piece on non-competition reality programming is less a “top” list and more a “favorite” one. There is an ungodly amount of reality television on these days and almost all of it is terrible. Even most of the ones on my list are pretty awful. And even though I (and really, all of us) like to pretend that I have some refined taste and pallet, I cannot resist the series you see below.

Jersey Shore (MTV): Obviously. Jersey Shore grows ever-closer to becoming unwatchable with each passing season, but I still find myself getting sucked in no matter what. Sure, the drama felt even more manufactured and unreal in 2011. And sure, the stars became even more self-aware (while the series awkwardly tried to ignore their stardom). However, the goofy charm of Pauly D, Vinny and Snooki and the ridiculous and manipulative actions of The Situation help keep the series mostly entertaining. I am always shocked to see how big the ratings for Jersey Shore still are, then I remember that I am still watching it too.

House Hunters (HGTV): Sure, the programs on HGTV don’t necessarily fall into the “reality” genre like something such as Jersey Shore would, but who cares, it is my list. I do not know how one could not love House Hunters. The premise and execution of the HGTV series is simple, but entirely effective. Home-buying is a concept that everyone can relate to and House Hunters does a great job of distilling the process down to fit the constraints of the half-hour block while still holding true to the ups, downs and random issues that pop up along the way. And while the series can stand on its own accord, it is quite fun to turn House Hunters viewing into a little game: Will someone complain about the property being too close to a road? Will the buyers fervently hate things they can absolutely change (like paint colors)? And which property will they actually choose?

Pawn Stars (History): There is something inherently uncomfortable about History’s decision to fill its schedule with programming that isn’t directly related to, you know, history, but it is also really easy to understand why Pawn Stars is their biggest hit and the biggest series on basic cable. Like House Hunters, the simple premise and solid execution of that premise makes Pawn Stars an enjoyable experience every week and I do appreciate the series’ attempts to throw in an occasional brief history lesson. All of the knock-offs throughout basic cable ratchet up the drama and stupidity, but Pawn Stars thankfully knows better than that.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (ABC): See, not everything I love is awful. It is so disappointing that Jamie Oliver’s fairly noble crusade to change the food consumption habits of America’s youth didn’t attract more viewers, but it is actually kind of crazy that the series made it on the air in the first place. The series’ second season wasn’t as engaging as the first – I wish that Jamie would have stayed in the same location and kept trying to work instead of moving to Los Angeles – but it was still very entertaining and simultaneously sad. Jamie Oliver is a really lively character who you could build all sorts of different television series around, and despite his occasional naivety, Food Revolution at least made an effort to start the conversation about all the awful, horrid things we put in our bodies.

Toddlers and Tiaras (TLC)/Dance Moms (Lifetime): I know. I know. I am so sorry. Listen, Toddlers and Tiaras and Dance Moms are likely two of the worst programs to ever air on television. There is absolutely no hyperbole in that statement. The children in these two series are put through some of the most egregious, miserable and embarrassing trials and situations and every single one of their parents is a terrible human being. Nevertheless, because of this, both series are endlessly compelling and terrifying. The promise of schadenfreude powers so much of reality television viewing and there are few series that provide it in spades more than these two. Unfortunately, both Toddlers and Tiaras and Dance Moms are wondrous snap-shots of contemporary society.

Other non-competition reality series I liked this year: Cake Boss, The Antonio Treatment, American Pickers


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