Don't get me wrong. I love me a good train wreck reality show.
Take Flipping Out for example. I want to know everything that's going on at Jeff Lewis Design, from what clients the ambitious yet unstable Lewis is going after to how housekeeper Zoila is managing to keep up with her telenovelas. But the biggest draw of course is waiting for Mt. Lewis to erupt.
Flipping Out is what TV Geek Army senior reality show specialist Tara Bennett refers to as a "shame spiral" show, which I find a delightful term but at the same time I do feel some strange calling to be "loud and proud" about enjoying a good train wreck reality series every now and again.
Of course, there are shows that go too far. Way too far. I'm looking at you, Toddlers & Tiaras (well, the mothers of the toddlers, specifically) and Most Shocking. These shows make you cringe and force you to have just a wee smit less respect for yourself when you gaze at your reflection in the mirror the morning after a long and self-indulgent reality show binge.
And with that, let's have a look at the top 35 train wreck reality shows from 2011. They were selected for their variety, their train wreck particulars, and in some cases, their flat out gorgeous stupidity.
The amazing thing is that there were so many shows to choose from. 35 just seemed like a natural stopping point as this list could have easily run to 100.
As the band Trainwreck, featuring Tenacious D's Kyle Gass, sings in "TV Theme":
"It's a train wreck, oh yeah… wrong way down the one-way track."
Let's do it.
#1) My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
Ah, this train wrecked gem has so much going for it that it's difficult to know where to begin: bizarro customs in cultural backwaters, teenage weddings, wedding gowns on little girls that put those featured on Toddlers & Tiaras to shame (which, let's face it, ain't easy), and so much more.
Get but a glimpse into the condoned custom of "grabbing," where teenage dudes essentially physically muscle the young lady of their desires into getting with them. Of the girls, a gypsy mom simply says: "Their whole aim in life is to get married."
I do believe we have a winner.
#2) Most Shocking
By delivering exactly what it promises – drenching us with scene after scene of the very most shocking meth head freak outs, courtroom brawls, car crashes, student riots, and on and on – truTV's Most Shocking can have a somewhat numbing and even depressing effect upon viewing. In fact, after catching part of an episode while waiting for some work to be done on my car, I was compelled to share some thoughts about where this sort of thing may be taking us (read = Idiocracy).
#3) The Challenge: Rivals
One dude to another dude while getting up in his face most aggressively-like: "I'll f—king dog you. I'll f—king work you. Work you. Work. You. I'll f—king work you, dog."
If this list were a courtroom, this clip alone would send the jury back with a swift verdict: train wreck. But there's more. So much more. Enjoy:
And in closing, another gentleman states plainly: "I'll smash his head and eat it."
#4) Jersey Shore
Who knew that this little reality show about some orange-hued east coast kids sharing a house in a New Jersey beach house (or down the shawr, as the locals say) would become a fist pumping, hand grenade-eschewing, Jersey Turnpike-dancing (look it up), GTL-ing cultural force.
2011 saw the kids back at the shore followed by an international jaunt in Florence, Italy. But the common denominator as always was lots of drinking, lots of drama (Ronnie and Sammi's endless cage match eventually and thankfully gave way to wild drama involving Snooki's romantic turmoil and The Situation's borderline sociopathy), lots of Deena stumbling and tripping over things, with occasional quieter moments reserved for Sunday dinners and, of course, t-shirt time.
#5) Repo Games
So, your life ain't going so great and, what's more, the car that you can't afford just got repossessed. But guess what? You have the opportunity to get humiliated on television while being quizzed on grade school-level questions (example: "On what date do Americans celebrate Independence Day?") for the opportunity to get your ride back. And if you fail? Well, you'll always have those sweet sweet Repo Games memories to lean back on while you're riding the city bus.
#6) Toddlers & Tiaras
While it's a gas to batter up and pontificate and snark about reality shows such as Jersey Shore or Most Eligible Dallas, discussing Toddlers & Tiaras can easily put you in uncomfortable and difficult terrain. First, you have the visuals of these little kids (and, in some cases, flat out babies) being dolled up (and, in some cases, sexed up) into clearly preposterous states of overdress for the lure of winnings and competition (and "pride," I guess?) on the kiddie pageant circuit. It's the moms who are in charge here of course, and they seem to be trying to live out some bizarre childhood fantasy through their own kids. This is train wreck reality at its most unsettling.
#7) Storage Wars
You wants what is in that mysterious storage locker. Go after it, America. You deserve it. You're a storage warrior, after all. Go after your… precious.
#8) Celebrity Apprentice
This venerable franchise just kept on chugging back in the spring, even as aspirant birther-in-chief Donald Trump led his own special train wreck in the political arena. This iteration was both entertaining and train wreck-y due to superior casting, with the likes of Meatloaf, Gary Busey, Lil Jon, Nene Leakes (she of Real Housewives of Atlanta "fame"), and Star Jones providing plenty of laughs and squeamish moments throughout. An all time classic moment came in the form of the normally affable yet passionate Meatloaf absolutely freaking the f—k out on the crafty? deranged? both and more? Gary Busey while under Apprentice-paced deadline.
#9) Ancient Aliens
Each time we hear the telltale words from the narrator – "Ancient alien theorists believe…" – we know… well we know we're about to hear some crazy shit. And what is Ancient Aliens at its core but a show that you can enjoy and then tell your friends, "Dude, did you see that crazy shit on Ancient Aliens last night?" Now that's water cooler talk, 2011 style.
#10) Mob Wives
If you polled a bunch of connected guys from Staten Island in the '70s (and in my mind, they're all hanging out at a bar that's straight out of Goodfellas just after the Lufthansa heist) about what they thought would happen first 35 years in the future – hula hoop-obsessed space aliens landing their hula-mothership on the White House lawn, or a show airing on national television about the real lives of the spouses of guys involved with the mafia – what do you think they would say?
In any event, beyond the mob angle, this is a pretty standard and occasionally entertaining hair pulling and screaming-fest by some very loud and violence-prone ladies in the outer boroughs of New York City.
By the way: those guys would say nothin' followed by fugeddaboutit. That is the correct answer.
#11) Extreme Couponing
Clipping coupons for Armageddon.
Welcome to the train wreck, my friends. Clip, save, and enjoy.
#12) The T.O. Show
Former NFL star (and getting more former by the minute) Terrell Owens gets up to such "antics" as pretending to have a seizure while at the hospital. For kicks. Don't you miss the days when he kept his a-hole antics mostly on the gridiron?
#13) Bachelor Pad
Bachelor Pad, the more blatantly train wreck-y (and therefore, honest, on some oddball level) spin-off of The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise, encourages the very best/worst of greed, lust, and snipe-y gossip to go down amongst the cast. But Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi and Kasey "guard and protect her blah blah blah" Kahl really took this thing to a new level during Bachelor Pad 2 this summer.
#14) Teen Mom
I wrote this about Teen Mom around the time of Amber Portwood's arrest on felony assault charges (for punching then boyfriend and father of her child Gary Shirley while cameras rolled): "Does the show 'work' as exploitive reality show junk food, replete with working class families with twangy accents yelling and screaming and a-hollering? Yes, absolutely. But it’s also rather informative and educational in its way about the perils of bringing a child into the world at such a precarious age. I really do go back-and-forth while I’m watching, trying to decide which side the show plays to more, and therein lies some of its fascination for me."
People hoard piles of crap and the cameras roll. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a classic train wreck.
#16) The Millionaire Matchmaker
Aside from Patti Stanger's over-the-top modern day Yenta the Matchmaker persona and the inherent lack of drama in setting up rich and one-dimensional clients with the significant other of their dreams (ideally: super hot and willing to slavishly be all about them), The Millionaire Matchmaker does often deliver deliriously cringe-worthy/hilarious moments that hearken Larry David on a good day.
#17) Hell's Kitchen
Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen shtick became wild caricature so many seasons back that it's hard to remember a time when a vicious kick to the garbage can or an anguished plea of, "It's raw!" was anything close to "surprising." I suppose what is still surprising about the show is the audacity of the casting directors to pile the most motley crew of bumbling, dim witted, hot headed, and unskilled contestants of any theoretically "serious" competition-based reality show on television.
Why do we watch? Why do I watch? As Admiral Ackbar warns us: it's a trap.
We watch because we can't wait for the most irritating, conniving, and maddening (see: that foul woman in the pic above) of the lot to get booted. Here's something that I'll admit just for you: I'll sometimes make a flushing motion with my hand when a particularly hated "chef" gets streamlined. Swish and so long, m'dear.
Who actually wins hardly matters at all.
#18) Ghost Hunters
I love reading Dean "The Machine" Childers' reviews of Ghost Hunters because they always seem to indicate a pattern of:
a) the Ghost Hunters team checks out some allegedly haunted location
b) their findings include "voices" or "a scream" that indicate there could be paranormal activity
c) that's about it
Bonus: you get fun bits every now again about dogs getting "molested" by ghosts. Bad times for Spot, good times for the audience.
#19) Flipping Out
As noted up top, I love Flipping Out for all of the right and wrong reasons.
To quote myself while discussing Jeff's (eventual) sacking of Sarah: "We’ve all had nightmare bosses that we’ve tried to figure out, and Jeff Lewis stands in as a nice proxy to try to unlock the mysteries of all bosses that have ever perplexed and vexed us."
#20) Pawn Stars
"A certain baseline level of desperation is pretty much a prerequisite for a seller to even step foot into a pawn shop," Lucas High writes. And that's where the fun of Pawn Stars begins.
#21) Billy the Exterminator
Amidst the flood of reality shows about people doing all kinds of jobs, it makes a certain kind of grim sense that we'd get one about a dude going around hunting and annihilating the pests, rodents, and creepy crawlies that get up in the humans' domiciles.
By the way, I'm not sure what Billy's decision process was in terms of what looks like a cross between a skull-and-crossbones belt and a goth codpiece, but I'm just going to leave it there and try really hard not to think about it again.
#22) Sister Wives
The wild thing about Sister Wives, above and beyond a show like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (which depicts a very unusual subset of an already foreign culture), is how normal the polygamist Brown family looks and acts to a U.S.-based audience for the most part. Except for the whole multiple wives, multiple families thing, of course. And then things get even more trippy when you realize that the Henrickson's of Big Love weren't wild fictional creations.
#23) Basketball Wives
Don't you want to know what the spouses/ex-spouses/significant others of Shaq, Chad Ochocinco, Eric Williams, Dwight Howard, Michael Olowokandi, Kenny Anderson, and Speedy Claxton are up to? No? As TVGA correspondent on catty broads Lucas High puts it: "It's just a bunch of catty broads masquerading as classy, trying to parlay their husband's wealth into success of their own."
#24) Monster In-Laws
In-laws from hell. Let's just leave it at that and chalk this one up as a train wreck.
#25) The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Obviously, we could have included any/all of the Housewives iterations in a list such as this, but the Bev Hills gals get the prize based on their fabulously exuberant penchant for train wreck reality glory (even while the 2011 edition held the tragic foreshadow of Russell Armstrong's suicide, which took place after the season was filmed).
#26) The Bachelorette
Even if this season, featuring Bachelorette Ashley Hebert, was more snoozy than most, at least we got an overblown and over-edited storyline involving "bad guy" Bentley Williams, who violated the Prime Directive of "not really being there for" [fill in name of Bachelorette]. And there was the dude who got drunk and passed out (and subsequently escorted out) during the first week, so at least we had that.
#27) Roseanne's Nuts
Remember when reality shows featuring the lives of celebrities were fresh and interesting? Example: watching Ozzy Osbourne take out the trash never gets old. Seems like a long time ago, right?
#28) Keeping Up With the Kardashians
The Kardashians. Is there a better example of celebrities of the Reality Age who are famous for the sake of being little more than "vapid socialites," as Andy Dehnart at reality blurred puts it?
In any event, the borg grows even now. Resistance, as they say, is futile.
#29) Big Sexy
Yet another TLC reality show manifesto (notice a trend?), this one about "unapologetic" big and tall gals in and around the New York City fashion industry. Quoting myself: "Shouldn't a show called Big Sexy really be about a large and stylish gentleman of color? This show in my mind demands a catch phrase along the lines of, 'Now I'm gonna get my swag on.'"
#30) High Stakes Sweepers
A reality show that functions "as quasi 'how-to' videos that provide skills on amped up couponing or sweepstaking," while offering the dream of saying things such as, “Wait, I could totally have a tower of free pork and beans in my basement!”
As the fellas in my freshman dorm used to say: 'nuff said.
Vicki, whose house is "a disastrous mass of health code violations," tells us that, “'I don’t wanna be in this circus no more,' as she chases the camera crew away from her apartment." Sorry Vicki, that's not how it works.
#31) Ice Loves Coco
Amongst the now teeming sea of reality shows featuring celebrities, former celebrities, wannabe celebrities, and theoretical celebrities spawned in some godforsaken bio lab experiment, Ice Loves Coco, featuring rapper/actor Ice T and his gal Coco, "a large rear-ended former bikini model," stands out (and don't forget the dog, Spartacus).
"If you were a dog, wouldn't you want to sit on my face?" Coco asks, welcoming us to the train wreck.
#32) Most Eligible Dallas
Remember how Spinal Tap's review of their album, Shark Sandwich, read two words ("Shit sandwich.")? Let's go for three on Most Eligible Dallas: Most Vapid Dallas. Very ouch, baby, you just thought. I know.
#33) Big Easy Brides
Take a concept that "was packaged by someone in development who thought his great local NoLa haunt run by 'wacky' personalities that attracts equally goofball clientele would be reality show gold" and you get a reality show "so orchestrated and over produced that you feel like you’re being had like a chump every second you watch." Sprinkle in bland personalities at a New Orleans wedding chapel, and you're all set for a train wreck of dullness!
#34) Kate Plus 8
After seven seasons, Kate Plus 8 (formerly John and Kate Plus 8) chugged off into the sunset where reality train wrecks eventually go on to their final post-wreck resting place. Once upon a time a reality show about parents and their brood of eight kids was a perfectly viable concept, but no more. A new generation of reality shlock has come to claim its rightful place on the television landscape.
And they will claim what is theirs, make no mistake.
#35) Parking Wars
I know what you're thinking: how can there be an entire show about meter maids (and meter men? knights?) handing out parking tickets to people? But what you're completely forgetting is that it's also about parking boots as well.
And on a side note, is it just me or does the guy in that picture look like Pauly D in about four years?