The seasons are changing — but not nearly quickly enough. It’s too early for Bravo’s summer experiments, The Bachelorette’s not even done filming yet, and the sheen has long since worn off the shows that once seemed so novel (Martha and Snoop, I’m looking at you). While the tried-and-true cornerstones of my regular reality diet transition back into place, I decided to breathe some new life into my viewing experience with a sprinkling of new-to-me offerings.
‘MasterChef Junior’: Episode 8 (Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner)
“One day, I wanna be like Justin Bieber. Crossed with Gordon Ramsey” – Contestant
Chosen because: It’s way outside of my comfort zone – I’m really not one for food shows (what’s the point of seeing the food if you can’t eat it?) and was skeptical about the entertainment value of young children (no relationship drama, no hidden addictions, no sly catty comments, no fun – right?)
Episode Standouts: Gordon Ramsay gently coaxing a tiny crying contestant through severing the leg off a chicken carcass…equal parts touching and terrifying.
HOLY HELL moment: A bunch of nine (give or take) year-olds yield butcher knives with the casual flare of safety scissors in a timed chicken challenge (dear lord little Charlie, stop talking to the camera and focus on the shiny deadly weapon in your hand!)
Viewing Experience: Despite my initial skepticism about the value of watching food I can’t consume, I had more than enough to focus on: A tiny girl contest giggling about a cute tiny boy contestant. Tiny children cheering on their peers, despite the fact that they’re all competitors. You get the picture. Yes, the piercing squeals of the tiny children nearly gave my dog a seizure…but she reacts much the same way to the unbridled sobbing of Bachelor contestants. Worth it every time.
Watch it when: You’ve just (visually) consumed something seriously heavy (dead moms on Grey’s Anatomy, pregnant hookers on American Crime…) and need a reminder that the world doesn’t suck.
New episodes of MasterChef Junior air 8pm ET Thursdays on FOX and are available the next day on-demand.
‘Hustle & Soul’: Episode 3 (The Mother of All Breakdowns)
“I think Lawrence needs to learn how to whisper scream” – Ana
Chosen because: I had no idea what this was. My loss, as it turns out.
Episode Standouts: Chef Lawrence, in his shiny purple suit, staring straight into the camera while speaking with grandiose gravity about Mother’s Day brunch.
HOLY HELL moment: Lawrence freaks out at the hot hot twin waiters when the brunch tickets get backed up…and the whole restaurant hears. Awwwwkkward.
Viewing Experience: As no stranger to restaurant-themed reality, I thought I’d know what to expect as I hurdled into the world of a chef and his staff in a well-known Fort Greene restaurant. Yes, the show does offer some typical reality fare (the clear rivalries in the restaurant drive everything from delightfully snippy back-and-forth to an all-out ice cube war), but Lawrence’s genuine zeal for his restaurant and his craft puts the business of the restaurant – developing new dishes, the pressure of kitchen back-ups, the focus on service – back in the spotlight.
And the hot hot twin waiters don’t hurt either.
Watch it when: Your standard reality shows have gone stale, leaving you in serious need of switching it up.
New episodes of Hustle & Soul air 10pm ET Thursdays on WeTV and are available the next day on-demand.
‘Sweet Home Oklahoma’: Episode 3 (Hanky Pranky)
“If we look at it from the spiritual side of things, hair is amazing.” – Random Oklahoman
Chosen because: They’re blonde women on Bravo (duh).
But while the typical blonde women on Bravo are caught in the never-ending cycle of friends, fight, alliances, fight, new alliances, fight fight fight, vacation, joke involving bodily function, reunion (which, obviously, I will 100% be watching every. single. time.), these women are at their best when they’re doing their everyday shtick, keeping each other entertained and not giving a hoot about what the rest of us think.
Episode Standouts: ‘Pumps’ takes an epic journey to the lake house, becomes increasingly exasperated with the guidance of her iPhone’s ‘Suri’ (as she calls it) feature (um, Pumps, maybe the source of your problems is the woman holding the phone, not Apple maps), and offers some insight into why the phone keeps calling her ‘butt-liquor’.
HOLY HELL moment: Jennifer’s ex-husband/current boyfriend/reformed lawyer husband casually dry humps her friend in the hallway. Other Bravo casts would have turned this incident into an all-out war, driving a full-season arc that keeps getting brought up long after anyone should still care about it (*cough* Ladies of London *cough*), but with these women, it’s just another day at the lake.
Viewing Experience: Sweet Home Oklahoma hits my television trifecta: the women on the cast are real friends (no need for manufactured drama), have no boundaries (Substance issues? Relationship drama? Nothing’s off limits) and have a maturity level bordering on nonexistent (bring on the dirty jokes). Served twisted with aptly-themed interviews with the locals (just in case we all wanted some good Oklahoma stereotypes for our arsenal), the show’s a strong, silly, half-hour breather worthy of any reality rotation.
Watch it when: You’re worried you’re starting to take yourself too seriously (whether it’s coming off another news binge or just a long day at work). Nothing like grown women pulling pranks with rubber snakes to put it all in perspective.
New episodes of Sweet Home Oklahoma air 10pm ET Mondays on Bravo and are available the next day on-demand.
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’: Episode 2 (She Done Already Brought it On)
“We are feeling the pressure. And the burn…
…although the burn may be something else” – Peppermint
Chosen because: It’s been around forever and I’ve never seen it. I’m usually wary about jumping into a long-running reality show late in the game (at least without binging the prior seasons first) – there’s too much backstory, and the contestants already have a tacit understanding of all the unspoken rules of the game. Yet, with no prior knowledge and no expertise, I felt so close to the action so quickly that I swear I could smell the mango-scented body glitter.
Episode Standouts: Somewhere along the way, we pivoted from an impassioned discussion about high school bully encounters to a laser light-amped cheer number. Emotional rollercoaster doesn’t even begin to cover it.
HOLY HELL moment: Lip Sync FOR. YOUR. LIFE. The bottom two contestants lip sync-off to stay in the competition (an episode standard that, as a novice viewer, I didn’t know to expect). I wasn’t prepared for the disco extravaganza that lit up the runway in the episode’s final moments….but as a firm believer that everything in life would be better as a musical, I was all in.
Viewing Experience: The beats range from LSD-sprinkled Project Runway (Heidi Klum should seriously consider shouting snarky comments at the models for each runway show, a la Ross Matthews) to actual Project Runway (the judges, taking themselves and their opinions far too seriously, spend way too much time spouting semi-sensical musings about each contestant’s art). But it brought everything that Project Runway offers and cranked up the volume about twenty notches: NOBODY leaves Eureka (or Farrah Moan, or Trinity Taylor) in the corner.
Watch it when: No need to wait until you’re in between shows. Just break this one out whenever it’s time to be distracted by something shiny.
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race air 8pm ET Fridays on VH1 and are available the next day on-demand.