Lauren is a former Deputy Editor of The Root.
Most of our favorite TV shows are well worth the time investment — the acting's good, the story's worthwhile and the genre's respected. But we must admit that there are some shows we record religiously on our DVRs, not because we think they're amazing, but because they're so awful that they're fun to watch. In honor of the second season premiere of VH1's Single Ladies — a prime candidate for anyone's so-bad-it's-good list — we count down the 21 shows on our hate-watching lineup. Let us know what yours are by commenting below.
The Queen Latifah-backed VH1 scripted series is known for subpar acting, melodramatic storylines, a roster of D- and C-list celebs — LisaRaye McCoy is the marquee talent — and high ratings. The last is why the show was picked up for a second season, launching May 28. What can we say about our dedication to the prime-time soap opera? We're powerless to resist such high levels of campy theatricality.
The criticism of this new HBO comedy about privileged, 20-something New Yorkers has been brutal: Its cast isn't diverse, the characters are unlikable, it's completely unrealistic — the list goes on. And while we're hard-pressed to disagree with any of those sentiments, we're also hard-pressed to turn the channel when it comes on after Game of Thrones. Blame the fantastic lead-in — or the fact that the show's cleverness almost makes up for its many faults.
There's something about a reality television camera that brings out the worst in people. And in most popular unscripted shows, those people are women. The Real Housewives series, in addition to being generally unkind and unreasonable, manages to embody an array of class, cultural and racial stereotypes, making the multicity franchise an equal-opportunity offender. Although it seems like a series we should skip, we can't miss out on a single tantrum from Atlanta's NeNe Leakes, a table flip from New Jersey's Teresa Guidice or a wild, Pinot Grigio-infused rant from New York's Ramona Singer. We'd be pop-culture outcasts at the water cooler.
The Kardashians are vapid. They're generally untalented. And they're everywhere — especially if one reads a lot of In Touch Weekly or frequents E!, which has four different reality series about the family. But it was so easy to forget how scripted their shows are or how nauseating Kris, the family's matriarch and "momager," can be when, on Kourtney and Kim Take New York earlier this year, we watched Kim's brief marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries dissolve — in spectacular fashion — before our very eyes. Train-wreck TV at its finest.
This TLC show features dramatic re-enactments of the real-life stories of women who, for a variety of far-fetched reasons, didn't know they were pregnant until the baby popped out (often after they've rushed themselves to the hospital with what they thought was killer indigestion). The re-enactments are brilliantly campy, and were it not for the fact that it makes every female viewer of childbearing age paranoid about being pregnant, this might be a show we love to love, rather than one we love to hate.
The first season of this AMC murder mystery was thrilling, until we realized that every turn led to a dead end and every twist quickly unraveled. After sticking with it for a full season, most fans were angry and disappointed over the lack of any resolution, but we continue to watch the second season because we'd hate it if the case were solved while we weren't looking. And because of Detective Holder, of course.
After several cycles of the franchise, we know the chances that a relationship begun on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette will last are slim to none. We know that the show has been pilloried for a dismal diversity record. We know that some of the contestants on the show are there to be famous, not to find a spouse. But we also know that we watch a few episodes each season hoping things will be different. Call us suckers for love.
Child beauty pageantry isn't all frilly dresses and hairspray — the TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras puts a harsh spotlight on the moms (and sometimes dads) who force their small children to spray-tan; wear fake hair, teeth and eyelashes; and shake their hips in hotel ballrooms for judges with dubious qualifications. But while the kids are probably being groomed to be utter nightmares by the age of 13 (just deserts for their stage moms), they're pretty cute and precocious at 5.
Is it us, or is Mary Louise Parker's Nancy Botwin the worst mother alive? We can't figure out if we're supposed to think the suburban mom-turned-drug dealer has any redeeming qualities at this point or if we're to keep judging her for what she is — as we've been doing for several seasons now. But after all this emotional investment, we're still tuning in for a payoff.
There's only so much hamming and sickly sweet Southern affection we can stomach from Tennessee barbecue experts the Neelys on their Food Network show before the channel needs to be changed. But that mac and cheese? Worth the ridiculousness.
We should have given up on ABC's The View for good the moment that Sherri Shepherd opined that the world is flat. Or the first time that Elisabeth Hasselbeck spouted off one of her Fox News talking points. But just as much as The View ladies grate our nerves, they also have some worthwhile conversations about everything from politics to the latest news stories.
The only thing worse than a really bad show is a really bad show that used to be good. After the CW canceled the series, its fans fought back, signing a petition that received almost 1 million signatures. BET was smart enough to listen and picked it up. Power to the people; the fans win, right? Wrong. What was the perfect mix of funny, lighthearted melodramatic material about the lives of pro football players became a poorly executed, poorly written, overdramatic horror. We watch, hoping to catch a glimmer of the characters we used to love, but we're always disappointed.
It's not OK to slap your so-called friend in the face. Or run across a restaurant table in bare feet to leap into the melee that results. But is it OK to take some sick enjoyment out of watching such shameful and terrible antics? If we're wrong for sometimes — on occasion — taking a quick peek at Basketball Wives, which should really be called Athlete Acquaintances Behaving Badly, then we don't want to be right. Actually, we might need help. Is there a rehab program for trash-TV addicts?
The women on this We TV show — which is non-scripted in the loosest sense of the term – are truly awful! It's as if they think getting married is such an important endeavor that it gives them license to treat everyone like slaves. They're abusive to their moms, their grooms, their bridesmaids and sometimes even their guests. And yet, we've been known to watch a marathon or two on a lazy Sunday. Hey, watching mean, self-important women plan their weddings makes us feel good about how kind and loving we are.
We do believe that at one point, a goal of 16 and Pregnant was to warn kids that there is nothing fun or glamorous about being a teenage mother. But when the show became a hit, the young parents morphed into TV celebrities, got a spinoff show called Teen Mom and turned into supermarket tabloid fodder. While many aren't living fun or glamorous lives, it likely seems that way to impressionable fans. Oops. But every now and then, the 16 and Pregnant franchise shows a glimpse of what it started out as — a sad tale of dreams deferred.
This Bravo reality series highlights the business and personal lives of real estate agents who specialize in high-priced listings in New York City and Los Angeles. Perhaps when the economy improves, shows like this won't seem like such a slap in the face to people outside of Mitt Romney's tax bracket. But right now? We're hating. Nevertheless, it does feel good to see that millionaires these days are having as much trouble selling their homes for the asking price as are average Joes.
TV One says its new real-life documentary series "attempts to save women and men from their destructive relationships through an intervention by the people who truly love them the most." The show's expert advice pretty much mirrors what anyone with common sense could tell these misguided souls about dropping their cheating, abusive or alcohol and drug-addicted partners — and it's peppered with questionable generalizations and statistics about relationship problems in the black community. Still, we can only be so mad at the subjects for refusing to cut things off, when we're having such a hard time just changing the channel.
A&E's Hoarders is the best — or maybe the worst — kind of show for our voyeuristic culture. The people who appear on the non-scripted series, folks who voluntarily live among stacks and stacks and stacks of newspapers or hundreds of mewling cats, are sad, scared and ill. You don't want to watch their humiliation and confusion as the cameras enter their homes and record their secrets. But it's gratifying in the end to know that they might get some help.
Scared Straight! was a 1978 documentary in which a group of juvenile delinquents was forced to spend time with prisoners. Although Scared Straight programs exist across the country, A&E resurrected the idea of filming such personal moments for the enjoyment of viewers who have no need of such counseling. We're meant to enjoy watching wayward kids have their lives turned around after one prison visit, but most of them seem totally unfazed by the experience. Updates show that many of them go back to what they were doing before. So is the show more for them, or for us?
Sometimes we feel as if Tyra Banks' competition show — which produces successful models with about as high a frequency as The Bachelor produces successful couples — has been on the air forever. Remembering that it's now in its 18th cycle, we realize it has been forever — in TV years. But why? Perhaps it's because of people like us, who scoff at the show's silly, advertiser-driven challenges or Banks' modeling advice ("smizeing" is the answer to everything), and yet sit in front of the TV for several hours to catch a marathon. We're just hoping that Banks will flip out in front of a contestant again.
This show is like The Real World for sociopaths — the general idea is to put together a bunch of overly aggressive narcissists with zero social skills and watch them go at it. The hit for the Oxygen network (which bills itself, without irony, as "television for women") is about to start its ninth season, which proves that watching women mistreat one another continues to be entertaining for a wide swath of people — even the folks who (ahem) know better.
Additional captions by Joshua R. Weaver, Akoto Ofori-Atta and Jenée Desmond-Harris