Sometimes in life, you need to turn off your brain for awhile in order to properly deal with the myriad things stressing you out. And what better way to do that than by watching a little reality TV? It seems like a good idea until you realize that most reality shows are a frantic parade of “GO GO GO! DID KAREN KISS ADAM? SEAN’S NOT GETTING A ROSE. OOPS, LOOKS LIKE YOU DIDN’T MAKE THE OMELET WE WANTED OUT OF THE PEANUT BUTTER AND HAM POWDER WE GAVE YOU AS INGREDIENTS. YOU ARE ELIMINATED. TIME TO CRY.”
That omelet is suddenly a metaphor for your boss, or your term paper, or all of those banana costumes you shoplifted from the Halloween store. Reality TV feeds on constant turmoil, and watching them to deal with your anxiety is like eating a stranger’s shoes to deal with your lack of human contact. But there are a few shows that reject the all-drama-all-the-time paradigm, and are instead made to actively help you relax. Shows like…
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
You may think a competitive cooking show could never be relaxing. Far too many of them involve a man with a better haircut than you telling people to go home because they didn’t have the talent to create a filet mignon out of coconut shavings and an old wig. But The Great British Baking Show is not that at all.
First off, it doesn’t feel like a competition in the slightest. A TV competition sort of implies that there would be, ya know, some kind of angry competitive spirit among the contestants, but if you were to cut someone in The Great British Baking Show off in traffic, they would follow you home just to fix you a nice coffee cake. Everyone is so supportive of each other, and it’s not uncommon to see contestants helping each other finish, encouraging each other to keep going when things don’t go as planned, or genuinely congratulating one another on a big win. As someone who’s really used to competitors shouting at themselves and others, it almost seems sarcastic.
It’s so nice to watch a competition show where no one “isn’t there to make friends.” In fact, they’re pretty much all there to make lifelong friends and delicious cakes. And while they bake the cakes and are pleasant to one another, the hosts whisper about how tasty their cakes will be and show you a lovely picture of the best possible version of the cake they are making. At its essence, this show is just British people whispering to you about baked goods. Forget rain or forest noises; I want an app for that to put on when I got to sleep.
The stakes for winning are pretty low, since there is no cash prize. Yeah, everyone wants to win, but no one is there so they can afford cancer treatment for their brother or pay their mortgage or open up their dream Thai/German fusion restaurant. Everyone is there because they are super into baking. It’s basically summer camp for kitchen nerds.
While the formula for most reality shows is Terrible People + Alcohol = Train Wreck, The Great British Baking Show uses Wonderful People + Baked Goods = Peaceful Boat Ride. It’s a fantastic way to remind you that there are good people in this world, and they’re all in Britain, and they all know what a tea loaf is.
Property Brothers (HGTV)
Watch two gorgeous men do light construction work on homes that are already perfectly fine to begin with. It sounds like the most boring premise in the world, but Property Brothers is pretty universal beloved. The lamest brother is even going to be on Dancing With The Stars this season, and when Dancing With The Stars says you’re a star who should be danced with, you’ve truly made it.
When you tune into Property Brothers, you already know how every episode will end. No one ever says “Burn in hell, the Brothers Property, as this backsplash looks like turds.” You’ll never hear “I asked for cream tile and this is clearly eggshell, so I guess I have to abandon you to die of exposure on the spacious kitchen island you built for me, you heinous construction siblings.”
The show is routine and predictable in a way that real life isn’t. You never know what’s going to happen when you go to a job interview or out on a date, but you always know that the Property Brothers are going to build a kickass staircase that will make your panties fly off. Then, when you go to get new panties, you find that all of your panties are gone. You go to the store to buy more panties, and the clerk explains to you that all of the panties simply disappeared after last night’s episode of Property Brothers aired. You can’t ever wear underwear again. That’s how good that staircase was.
Sometimes you just want to watch something that you know will not surprise you in any way. Something that won’t challenge you or raise your heart rate by any tiny amount. Property Brothers is comfort food. It’s the mac and cheese of reality TV (Jonathan is clearly the cheese). You know what it’s going to be every time, and every time, it’s delicious mac and cheese.
Too Cute! (Animal Planet)
You would be surprised at how few Animal Planet shows can be described with “a show about cute animals.” I thought that was what Animal Planet was for. Having the name “animal” in the title at least implies that it will devote some of its programming to the adorable kinds of those, but apparently it’s now for shows about building tree houses and searching for Bigfoot, an animal I do not find cute at all. Not even a little bit.
I don’t want Animal Planet to find Bigfoot. However, if they have footage of him and a mini pony learning to swim together, I will buy the season box set. And that’s why Too Cute! is perfect for me. It’s about tiny baby animals being too cute. So cute it will burn your skin. The cuteness will rain down upon you, crushing you under its physical weight, but Animal Planet will not relent. The cuteness assails you, no matter how much you beg, and it’s pretty great!
Some people like watching cute animals because it makes them think of the innocence and purity that still exists in the world. And I understand that. Most news stories might as well have the headline “Something Bad, You Just Know It Will Be Something Bad.” Breaks from that to look at wide-eyed baby critters are such a relief. However, I, as a terrible person, have a different motive. I like to look at cute animals and know that I am for sure superior to them without feeling bad for judging someone else. When a stupid hedgehog has its head stuck in a toilet paper tube, I take comfort in the fact that I haven’t gotten my head stuck in anything for like three weeks. Suck it, hedgehog. If you’re failing at even life’s most basic tasks, try relaxing to an episode of Too Cute! and wallowing in your newfound sense of superiority to baby animals.
Ozzy And Jack’s World Detour (History Channel)
Want to watch a guy and his cool dad who only speaks in mumbles go on a sweet vacation? Check out Ozzy And Jack’s World Detour. When I found out that Ozzy Osbourne was on a History Channel show, it felt like my life had come full circle. I remember watching him sit around and watch the History Channel all day on The Osbournes. I assume that the channel felt that they owed him for all the free advertising in 2005, and as thanks, offered to pay for him and his son to go on a super chill vacation together while they filmed it. Take that as a lesson: If you like something for long enough, that something will notice that you like it and ask you to be a part of it. Also, this lesson only applies if you’re famous.
Not only does this show radiate with The Osbournes nostalgia, but it also highlights the extremely loving relationship between Ozzy and Jack. No show has ever made me want to call my dad more. It’s getting slightly less rare to see loving families on TV, but there was a recent phase during which every show about a family had to be full of terrible people who hated each other. They might have made up by the end of each episode, but they were never not ten minutes away from smothering each other in their sleep in some kind of weird pillow asphyxiation conga line.
Jack and Ozzy give each other shit constantly, but they never fight, and there’s never any tension between them. They just hang out, sit in gigantic comfy-looking white chairs, hug, and talk about history. Here’s a typical excerpt that highlights their dynamic.
Ozzy: “I hate leaf blowers.”
Jack: “I’m getting you a leaf blower for Christmas.”
Ozzy: “Fuck off.”
And that’s what true love looks like, people. If you aren’t interested in Ozzy And Jack’s World Detour, you aren’t interested in relaxing family vacations and fatherly love, and I don’t want to know you.
Slow TV (Netflix)
“Slow TV” is a big trend in Norwegian television wherein a live event is watched in it’s entirety without editing, and it’s pretty much the best. The most popular Slow TV show, which 20 percent of Norway’s population tuned into at some point, involved four hours of discussion and chopping firewood, then an additional eight hours of wood burning while Norwegian folk music played in the background. That’s it. The closest it got to desperate competition was when they let Norwegians call in and vote on additional log placement while the fire was burning. Basically, this is Norway’s version of American Idol, and the log slightly to the left of center is their Kelly Clarkson.
You can watch the Slow TV magic on Netflix, and they don’t just do firewood. You can also watch a straight sevens hours of salmon fishing, an 11-hour boat ride, or my personal favorite, a 12-hour knitting competition. The knitting show has a segment which shows the process of sweater creation, from shearing the sheep, to spinning the wool into yarn, to finally knitting the sweater, and I watched pretty much the entire four-hour segment. Do you know how low the stakes are in a Norwegian knitting competition? It’s basically telling you “Go ahead. Nap. We definitely don’t mind.”
Why would I do that to myself, you ask? Because there’s comfort in the mundane, and there’s nothing more mundane than four hours of a sweater getting made real good. I don’t do stuff with my hands, so I’m always thinking about how great it would be to have an actual skill wherein I could wake up with some string and two sticks and magically have a sweater, or at least a sleeve, by the end of the day. However, finding the time and patience to make that happen is just not happening for me. I have to put too much time and resources into thinking up good dick jokes. I can watch someone else make that sweater all day, though, and feel pretty damn good about it.
Also, as a writer, I’m very good at entertaining myself, and I found myself creating my own little dramas. The story arc of the friendship between Rolf the Champion Sheep Shearer and Guri the Sheep was Oscar-worthy. Step aside, La La Land. So much trust and love was portrayed over the hours between their meeting and the actual shearing taking place. I didn’t need reality TV producers to get Rolf and Guri drunk and have them fist-fight. I could select the amount of drama I wanted to inject into the scenario (which was pretty much none), and sit back and enjoy the knitting.
And the Academy Award for Best Everything goes to sheep in general. You are my sunshine, fellas.