The demand for reality television (and television, in general) is higher than ever before. And by virtue of capitalism, only so many shows can rise to the top and permeate the culture.
The nation’s leader in televised wine glass-throwing and meme-able catchphrases, Bravo, experienced yet another year of dominating headlines—especially with the return of BravoCon. The 90-Day Fiancé Cinematic Universe continues to compel audiences for reasons I’ll never understand. Netflix’s The Ultimatum and ITV’s Love Island were practically sporting events. And Big Brother had a blockbuster season, naming its first-ever Black woman winner, Taylor Hale.
But as we all know, popularity doesn’t always coincide with quality. And this year’s reality cycle left behind a graveyard of highly amusing, well-produced shows that deserve as much or even more attention than whatever the hell happened on this drab season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
In 2022, we found a new heir to the Kardashians‘ ever-deteriorating throne in a trio of Rhode Island sisters. (JK! …But not really.) Lindsay Lohan proved that, in addition to nailing the Christmas rom-com, she could be the new Mark Probst. And it turns out there’s still plenty of entertainment value in revisiting the reality show that started it all. Here are The Daily Beast’s picks for the most underrated reality TV in 2022.
Lovestruck High (Prime Video)
I’m not a fan of most dating shows. I’d personally rather watch a middle-aged couple who’s been together for 20 years slowly unravel, Scenes From A Marriage-style, than a bunch of vapid twentysomethings scramble to find a spouse. Yet Prime Video’s Lovestruck High was able to grip me from beginning to end. The series, set in a British Harry Potter-looking academy, follows a group of young adults essentially cosplaying as teenagers, with the goal of finding a date for prom. Despite how manufactured their surroundings were, all of their messy, childlike interactions felt authentic. It turns out grown adults will do anything to avoid the “shame” of being single in an environment designed for mating. And watching this desperation play out in the silliest, most humiliating setting is an absolute pleasure. Of course, the cherry on top was Lindsay Lohan’s pitch-perfect narration of the series, which included a handful of insults and Mean Girls references.
The Culpo Sisters (TLC)
Make fun of our newest set of influencer sisters all you want, but TLC’s The Culpo Sisters was a delightful introduction to a group of women we just have to know about now. If we’re going to have to live with nonstop People updates about these Rhode Island natives and their footballer boyfriends for the foreseeable future, why not spend six hours watching them bicker over stolen bikinis and repeatedly explain spon con to their parents? I’m making this show sound more tedious than it actually is. It’s not! The Culpo Sisters is a genuinely fascinating look at a group of semi-successful influencers, who live comfortable lives but aren’t drowning in money they have no idea what to do with. Unlike the more stereotypical (and boring) portraits of social-media stars, these women still have to hustle. And that phase in an influencer’s career is more interesting than watching YouTubers that stumbled into a million dollars on Hype House.
Selling The OC (Netflix)
By the time Selling The OC entered the Selling… multiverse, folks on social media seemed less eager to obsess over the Oppenheim Group’s newest set of realtors. However, this spin-off provided everything the last two seasons of Selling Sunset were missing—like compelling romantic drama, scandal, and women being assholes. While reality producers like to present audiences with a clear-cut hero and villain, no one on OC was afraid to look like the bad guy. This made for a more engaging viewing experience than watching Chrishell Stausse and her cronies call Christine Quinn a mean girl for the umpteenth time.
The Real Housewives of Miami (Peacock)
Remember my sick affinity for watching long-standing marriages deteriorate? Well, Peacock’s reboot of Real Housewives of Miami is going above and beyond to scratch that itch. So far, Season 5 has a lot of going for it, in terms of feuds and frivolous fun. However, the biggest storyline by far is Lisa Hochtein’s divorce from her husband Lenny, who’s never come off as a particularly sweet or loving husband. This season, we get a front-row seat to his unbridled awfulness, when he abruptly tells Lisa that he has a girlfriend, wants a divorce, AND wants her and the kids to leave his house immediately. It’s a car wreck you can’t look away from. And the editing choices—so many eerie silences!—are perfect. I don’t know why Bravo doesn’t think this is worth broadcasting on the actual network, while the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City continue wasting our Wednesday nights with their nonsensical bickering. But I guess Peacock needs something to keep it alive and running.
Byron Baes (Netflix)
I’ve never been more heartbroken about a reality show flopping than Byron Baes, the Australian docusoap about a group of creatives residing in the bougie (A.K.A gentrified) coastal town Byron Bay. Initially, the series received a lot of pushback from Byron locals, who were apprehensive about its depiction of the town’s residents as solely upper-class white people. And yet, it turned out the city would remain mostly unheard of by international audiences, as Byron Baes was anything but a hit. The series had all the trappings of an Adam DiVello project: clout-chasers; fuckboys; the girl-next-door with a dream; breath-taking views of the beach. Add crystal-loving, cacao-guzzling hippies to the mix, and you’ve got one of the weirdest, fun-to-loathe communities of white people I’ve ever observed on television. If the overlords at Netflix know what’s best for them, they’ll bring this gem back!
Forever Summer Hamptons (Prime Video)
As was the case with Lovestruck High, Prime Video had a rough time luring eyeballs to its new slate of “romance-themed” reality shows in 2022. Forever Summer Hamptons was another forgotten gem. The show centers on a group of Long Islanders in their early 20s—and one “cidiot” from Manhattan—as they outgrow childhood friendships and find romantic partners, all while working and vacationing in the Hamptons. The show is a fun observation of Gen-Z, whose approaches to love, careers, and friendships are not all that different from the generations before them. You’d think that this group of young people, raised on reality shows and social media, would come off as extremely try-hard. But it turns out that posting on Instagram and TikTok all day just makes them appear more natural in front of a camera.
Kandi & The Gang (Bravo)
I was devastated when Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss announced during an Amazon Live (out of all places) that her new show, Kandi & The Gang, would not be returning for the second season. The spin-off, set in Burruss and her husband Todd Tucker’s soul-food restaurant Old Lady Gang, was the perfect successor to Vanderpump Rules, which is currently on life support. Burruss’ transparency about the horrendous state of her business was pretty admirable. (How does a restaurant not have a generator??) And OLG’s animated employees were maybe the most ideal group of young people you could set a camera in front of. The best part, of course, was watching Mama Joyce, Aunt Nora, and Aunt Bertha complain about the restaurant and offer their characteristically shady notes. Bravo may be forcing Southern Hospitality down my throat at the moment, but it will never replace my beloved OLG waiters.
The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
The most terrifying villain to re-emerge in 2022 was not Michael Myers for the 600th time, but Julie Stoffer from Real World: New Orleans during the cast’s reunion on Real World Homecoming. Much of the hype around the series centered on Stoffer’s bizarre and frightening antics, including Kelley Wolf ‘s allegation that she ran her off the show after threatening her. However, the more positive aspects of the season were genuinely tear-jerking. Several cast members, like Melissa Beck and Tokyo Broom, got an opportunity to rewrite the unbalanced narratives and one-dimensional portrayals they were given on their original Real World season. And some cast members got to settle previous tensions. While the future of Real World Homecoming is unclear, the first three seasons have proven that there’s still some gold to mine from these long-lost periods of television.