“Guilty” is such a relative word. When somebody opens a wonderful gift on Christmas morning and says “Who gave me this?” it’s a word you love to say; if you’re in a courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit, however, it’s not. And then there is the realm of television, where “Guilty Pleasure” has become a term of endearment for a show — but comes burdened by an implication that the show is sub-standard.
The fact is, you can’t set out to make a “Guilty Pleasure” TV show and have a guaranteed success … just ask the producers of “Smash.” So, let’s get past the stigma and discuss 13 shows we’ll call “Those We Make Time For” — recognizing that as cheesy, gratuitous and over-the-top as they may be, they excel at providing entertainment for people who want cheesy, gratuitous and over-the-top. And sometimes, after a long day at the office, that’s exactly what you need.
From “Botched” to “The Strain,” “Murder She Baked” to “My Crazy Ex,” here are the shows we make time for — and if you do too, don’t feel guilty.
Check out the list below.
’90 Day Fiance’
The thing about ’90 Day Fiance’ is its shocking it took so long for this to become a show. Currently in its third season, the TLC series follows Americans with potential spouses from around the world. They get 90 days in the United States to decide whether or not they should actually get married and make a go at it. It’s essentially “Green Card Marriage: The TV Series.” The strange thing though, is how easy it is to get entangled in the various stories. Season 3’s Aleksandra, for instance, left her life in Russia as a go-go dancer to become to be with Mormon missionary Josh in Idaho.
While some of the couples seem to be working out — which is a miracle, really — it’s not all happy endings as Season 2’s most entertaining couple, Danielle and Mohammed, have announced their split. It turns out perhaps true love can’t always be found on TV. Still, there’s nothing quite as entertaining as watching them give it a try — even if you can tell right away how incredibly awkward and uncomfortable these virtual strangers are around each other.
Chris E. Hayner
‘Bachelor in Paradise’
It’s so cheesy that it makes fun of itself in its own intro. Chris Harrison concludes the ’80s sequence by reading his own book (that he unfortunately wrote in real life). “The Bachelor” may be a juggernaut, but this iteration is just as addictive. Multiple date cards plus an open bar on the beach make this a perfect summer camp for single adults. ABC perfectly places the cameras above all of the key common areas: the jacuzzi and bar.
Additionally, it becomes a reunion of sorts for all of the bachelors and bachelorettes who have watched each other on television during their respective seasons. In a weird way, it’s like a reality 90210 where a group of friends date each other to see who would make a better fit.
The heroes and villains are also as clear-cut as any Disney movie. In two seasons, the show has produced the guy who just wants a free vacation breaking the heart of the girl who wants to be engaged. There are tears, but that’s the most entertaining part. This guilty pleasure is so popular, it warranted a live talk show to air immediately after. Hosted by Chris Harrison, “After Paradise” gives you more insight of why who made out then broke up with who.
‘Billy on the Street’
Billy Eichner might be the funniest and most unpredictable late-night show host on television, and his show takes place in broad daylight. While stalking the same ten-block radius around New York City’s Madison Square Park, Eichner and his parade of celebrity guests (true A-Listers like Chris Pratt, Julianne Moore, and Sarah Jessica Parker have made appearance in the ongoing third season) have seemingly unscripted interactions with people just trying to get to work, asking them pop culture questions “For a Dollar,” asking them trivia questions until they’re “Quizzed in the Face,” and sometimes just facilitating a chance encounter with their favorite celebrity.
The show’s move from Fuse to truTV must have come with a hearty budget raise, because the elaborate sets for his obstacle courses like “Escape from Scientology” and “Shondaland” are like a more pop culture-savvy version of Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” games. Eichner may be loud, but pay attention and you’ll hear a host who has a bottomless well of entertainment knowledge, is always prepared with a joke, and has the best sidekick in the business — Elena.
Sure, “Botched” is formulaic at best. Ogling plastic surgery gone wrong — so wrong, two of the best experts in L.A. have to fix it with skin expanders and new breast pockets and pieces of ribs — is like snidely scolding the vain from the snug comfort of the couch. It escapes all-out repulsiveness only because of the “real people” featured on each episode alongside the absolutely crazypants plastic surgery addicts, but only just barely. And while the real people stories may make you feel better about watching, we admit it. We’re watching “Botched” for the pug-nosed, too-tight, filled-to-the-brim, compulsive and somehow independently wealthy nut jobs.
We’re also watching for the vaudeville-like, snappy back-and-forth between Dr. Terry Dubrow and Dr. Paul Nassif. These reality show vets respect each other, professionally and personally, but it’s their sometimes not-so-gentle ribbing that steals the show. And while sometimes the transformations are dramatic and life-changing, sometimes they’re so minor only the ones who spend way-too-many hours getting the perfect duckface on Snapchat could notice. Either way, it leaves us wondering what Dubrow and Nassif could do for us. Who’s the nutjob now?
“Breaking Bad” veteran Moira Walley-Beckett clearly had a lot that she wanted to explore in her Starz series, “Flesh and Bone.” Unfortunately, the results wind up with cloudy themes that awkwardly try to combine old cliches about ballet with hot-button issues of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. The story of Claire, a young ballet dancer living in New York City as she tries to save her struggling American Ballet Company, which nearly goes under after Claire fails to “impress” the chief investor by hooking up with him, often borders on boring.
But it’s not all bad, because “Flesh and Bone” may be a failure of a drama, but it’s an amazing source of true camp (not the pseudo version offered by Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk’s work). Unaware of how it crosses over into hilarity, “Flesh and Bone” keeps adding more and more elements as the short season continues. By the time the season finale manages to combine a homeless man’s fairytale, incest, MS, the Russian mob, and some seriously fantastic dancing, it has achieved the highest score on a scale from 1 to “Showgirls.”
‘Married at First Sight’
There are a lot of reality dating shows out there, but “Married at First Sight” has upped the ante. Four matchmaking experts pair up three couples — and they don’t meet one another until they are at the end of a wedding aisle and saying their “I dos.” It’s fascinating to watch, but not just for the trainwrecks, like with some reality TV.
In actuality, the trainwreck couples are usually the least interesting because all they do is fight. What’s really interesting is watching the pairs who genuinely seem to connect and are trying to figure out if they can make a marriage work. So far two couples from Season 1 are still together (which you can follow on “Married at First Sight: The First Year”) and more than one Season 3 couple looks promising.
The theme song for ‘Miles From Tomorrowland’
Not the show, mind you … the show is just north of mediocre, and after a few episodes the animation is too antiseptic to hold your interest. But let’s instead talk about the theme song — an earwig of just over sixty seconds that may soon be proven scientifically as the most difficult song to get out of your head since “Kokomo.”
When your kids start watching the Disney sci-fi cartoon, you’ll pass through the room and think nothing of it; then, hours later, you’ll find yourself at the gym singing “Woah-oh, I’m a hero to the core/And I’m going to explore/Way out!” as the guy at the next treadmill over looks you up and down. Have you lost your mind? What do those lyrics even mean?
Suddenly, like an alcoholic sneaking tiny bottles of booze, you wait until no one’s looking and binge on the YouTube clip above, over and over — because it’s a hook so catchy that it puts Katy Perry to shame. Kudos to the most infectious TV theme song of 2015 — and damn you Disney, you are bad, bad people.
Sometimes when you’ve had enough of walkers pulling people’s guts out on “The Walking Dead” or the raping and pillaging of “Game of Thrones,” it’s nice to sit down with a cup of hot cocoa and bask in the warm fuzzies of a Hallmark movie — and the “Murder, She Baked” Hannah Swensen series fits the bill.
Starring Alison Sweeney (who also executive producers) as Hannah, a bakery owner who solves mysteries in a small Minnesota town while also dealing with her family, the town’s quirky characters and two men who loves her, the “Murder, She Baked” films are a feel-good delight. “Plum Pudding Mystery” is being rebroadcast on Dec. 28 and the third Hannah Swensen film, “Peach Cobbler Mystery,” debuts in January 2016 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
Plus, the movies are based on a book series by Joanne Fluke that is full of rich mysteries and wonderful recipes — all of Hannah’s cookies, cakes and other creations are included in the books. I’ve made a couple of them and they are delicious.
Not to be confused with The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Lifetime Movie Network’s “My Crazy Ex” is reenactment TV at its finest. In each episode, three relationships that went horribly awry are presented: a woman takes her ex prisoner in her basement, a construction worker purposefully injures himself repeatedly to spend more time with his nurse girlfriend, a personal trainer has a unique way of incentivizing her clients … .
First, you have actors playing out scenes from the relationship. Then, you have actors playing the “real” people doing confessional interviews. On top of it all, while the show purports to be based on true stories, one suspects that liberal creative license is taken. All of this adds up to some mighty fine entertainment.
Interesting to note: While the women seem to discover that their significant others are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs out of the blue, the men generally see it coming from a mile away. But said crazy is so “sexy,” “cool” and/or “hot” that they decide to let it slide until suddenly they’re in over their head. Make of that what you will.
‘Real Housewives of New York City’
In its 7th cycle, “The Real Housewives of New York City” cut the fat, and bounced back to reclaim the throne of the best Bravo “Real Housewives” franchise. Sticking with everyone’s favorite floozies, Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan, the single and loving it Countess LuAnn, the beautiful Kristen Taekman, the coolest woman to ever be on Bravo, Carole Radziwill, along with the highly-anticipated return of Skinnygirl millionaire Bethenny Frankel, newbie Dorinda Medly, and oh yes, Heather Thomson, who makes you cringe every time she yells, “Holla!” in the opening tagline.
But it wasn’t all expensive handbags, dinners, and vacations. There were true moments of love, loss, and sisterhood that made for captivating reality TV. When Carole had to travel to pick up her deceased husband’s ashes, and fellow widower Dorinda accompanied her, audiences saw such a unique and authentic conversation between two young widowers that was so touching, it was impossible not to get misty-eyed.
Sonja Morgan finally debuted her fashion line, Ramona is endearingly clueless (yet, still completely bat****) about how to be single after her husband of 20 years cheated on her, and Bethenny — who one would think would be the most sane of them all — is so emotionally unstable that her therapy sessions were included in nearly every episode.
Everyone knows reality TV is never “real,” but there’s something about these women that makes it hard to look away. The magic is in the tiny nuances — when a cast member gives a one-eyebrow raised stare or whispers an off-handed comment that they think the cameras haven’t caught — and that makes for some wonderful must-see TV.
When you press “play” on Netflix’s “Richie Rich,” the first thing you notice is the loud, ugly, invasive laugh track. Then you see a precocious kid with catchphrases galore, and lots of off-camera action to mask the high-concept, low-budget scenes where Richie jokes about his jet pack or menagerie of animals that he keeps in his mansion. And then you realize: This show has been transported, in its entirety, from 1985. And you love it!
“Richie Rich” released Season 1 in February and Season 2 in May — so in a way, it just might be the most 2015 show of 2015. Nevertheless, if you screened it for someone alongside episodes of “Small Wonder,” or “Out of This World,” it would be almost impossible to tell which one came from the 21st Century. And just like those shows, if you let your inner child free — or better yet, watch it with the child you now have — you’ll find a familiar smile curling up in the corners of your mouth.
Ho boy, if there ever was a program on TV that would incite any feelings of guilt, this would be it. It’s hard to say whether any pleasure is drawn from a viewing of the FX series based on Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro’s books. But, as a horror fan, a bloody genre show such as this one begs to be viewed.
Starring Corey Stoll as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, “The Strain” follows the fight he has become a part of — along with his rag-tag gang — to rid the world of the parasitic vampire species known as the Strigoi. In Season 1, the vampire Master was revealed, looking like something that crawled out of Jim Henson’s basement, and since that trainwreck, the show has existed on uneven ground.
Some episodes feel like a better hour of TV than “The Walking Dead,” while others may incite frustration from viewers as they beg Stoll to get rid of that awful wig — Spoiler: it’s finally gone — and let’s not even get started on the two actors, thus-far, who have played his annoying son Zach. One constant through-line does exist throughout the series, however: it is a really gross show.
But like any good (and bad) genre entertainment out there, there’s a certain sort of pleasure derived from watching a dumb character get bit. Also, David Bradley doing his David Bradley thing as Abraham Setrakian is almost worth the price of admission.
There’s something about cooking competition shows that seems to draw viewers in. And while the playing field may have become over saturated — seriously, how many versions of “Masterchef” exist across the globe? — ABC brought a trashy, fun program to the game with “The Taste.” The competition show — which will not return for a fourth season — boasted some serious culinary talent as a judge’s panel in Season 3 with Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Marcus Samuelsson.
Those names bring quite a bit of clout, and the fact that they are there to lead a team of cooking hopefuls to victory added a new flavor to the food competition show game. Plus, it’s always entertaining to watch Nigella, Ludo, and Bourdain — three good friends — butt heads as the battle in the kitchen heats up (pun intended).
With the caliber of these judges alone bringing a loyal fanbase to ABC’s primetime show, the format of the series provided a different angle on the reality show format. Instead of being introduced to the budding chefs, each judge casts their vote based specifically on a small portion of that person’s signature dish. It’s weird saying this, but watching famous people eat one spoonful of food has never been so dramatic and entertaining.