Yes, apparently it’s a thing. And now along comes Dr. Pimple Popper. The TLC show, airing Wednesday nights at 10, features Los Angeles Dermatologist Sandra Lee who pops pimples and cysts for a living.
TLC, or “The Learning Channel,” started with the highbrow notion of actually educating people before it decided that Kate Plus 8 and The Lottery Changed My Life counted as academic studies. In which case I now have a PhD in Trashology.
But hear me out. Dr. Pimple Popper, which, like everything on television nowadays, started life as a YouTube experiment (with more than 2.5 billion views), might be the best thing on TLC yet.
But the show is not just surgical voyeurism. Lee is also changing lives with every episode. The back stories are compelling, with people who may have lived for decades with a debilitating condition, and then are literally transformed.
“These are big cases,” Lee tells the Associated Press. “We have people who have real things that are different, that stand out and are shocking and we’re making them look normal. It’s a feel good thing.”
Yes, Dr. Pimple Popper is, in many ways, a better dramatic show than Grey’s Anatomy — if you can keep your lunch down.
Tony Wong’s most ‘heretical’ guilty pleasures
This series is, of course, about defending the indefensible. Shows that people like to pan — like The Bachelor or Real Housewives — others may argue are grand social experiments that reflect the accelerated construct of North American mating rituals. Or it could be a load of baloney.
The problem is, some days you feel like a baloney sandwich.
Television is comfort food. There are days that you don’t want challenging or thought-provoking fare. You want soothing and familiar when you’re chewing on that warmed-over pizza.
So the more revealing question might be, what’s your guilty pleasure? Momofuku Chef David Chang was bold enough to confess that he thinks Domino’s Pizza is the bomb in the Netflix series Ugly Delicious. And that’s as dangerous a comment as you can find in the chef world.
A survey by Rotten Tomatoes of some favourite shows by television critics revealed a remarkable list that included Cops, TMZ, Judge Judy and the Nutribullet commercial.
When people ask me what’s good on TV, there are obvious standard bearers like the Toronto-shot The Handmaid’s Tale for its bleak dystopian look at a world that’s holding a mirror to our own. Or The Crown, a show that single-handedly humanized British royalty in a way that no documentary could. Or perhaps Better Call Saul for its exquisite and deeply empathetic look into the mind of a con man.
But what do you really watch?
In television, familiarity breeds contentment, which is why you see so many shows being remade today.
Below, in no particular order, and just in time for summer rerun season, are some of my heretical guilty pleasures. Critic-proof, baloney-friendly shows that might just be worth the day-after remorse.
- House Hunters International, HGTV, Tuesdays 9:30 p.m.
I’m a real estate junkie. And I still get goosebumps touring open houses in real estate-crazy Toronto.
This HGTV show is a ratings juggernaut, and for good reason. The formula of a couple looking at three properties in some exotic locale and then deciding on the wish-list home is the stuff of every travel junkie’s dream. This is my wallpaper when I’m not watching CNN, aka The Trump Channel. Who wouldn’t want a pied-à-terre in the south of France or a mountain lodge in Bhutan?
The formula, of course, has to be viewed with a dash of salt: Just about no one ever decides on a home after viewing three properties, and sometimes the homeowners are “recreating” their decision-making process. Controversially, some house hunters claimed that they had already purchased their home, and producers ended up making them act out the process, viewing the other two properties they already rejected. Yes, we know they’re sometimes faking it, but as long as the properties and prices are for real, we’ll dream along.
It’s astounding to think that a show about cars is the most watched reality-based series globally.
In yet another life, I indulged a love of automotive iron by reviewing sports cars for the Star’s Wheels section. But you don’t have to be a gearhead to enjoy the crazy stunts of the BBC show that marries cars with popular culture and crazy stunts.
The big-budgeted version co-created by acerbic and controversial former host Jeremy Clarkson was magic: An ostensibly pedestrian review of an economy car could take place in several different countries, end up on the cliffs of Dover with a flyover by the British Air Force, and see more than one celebrity appearance. After Clarkson was fired during a filming incident, he decamped to Amazon creating The Grand Tour with an even bigger budget. But he didn’t recreate the quirk and pomp of the BBC version, now helmed by Friends star Matt LeBlanc.
- Bachelor In Paradise, CITY (new season TBA)
This spinoff of The Bachelor television series gives no pretence to finding true love. It’s all about back-stabbing and hooking up. And that’s the way we like it.
This is a much more cynical, ruthless version of the franchise. Men and women are unevenly matched and eliminated in weekly rose ceremonies in a kind of Hunger Games for the clueless.
The show, which had a controversial fourth season over allegations of sexual assault that were dismissed after an investigation, is perhaps the most honest in the Bachelor franchise. It’s not about “being there for the right reasons.” It’s showing off your abs, drinking free booze, and getting lucky. No shame in that.
- UnREAL, Lifetime, Mondays at 10 p.m.
UnREAL is fearlessly dark, witty and surprising. A send-up of dating shows like The Bachelor, it examines issues such as racism and misogyny while dealing in a subject that is often seen as trite. Sharp writing and biting interplay between the two female characters (Shiri Appleby as Rachel and Constance Zimmer as Quinn) illuminate what it takes to make a reality show. While the third season did not live up to the premise of the first two, it is still a cut above and more dramatic than the reality series it is based on. Also, they had a Black bachelor before The Bachelor did.
- Married at First Sight, Lifetime, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
What idiot would get married to someone without at least seeing a picture of them first?
Plenty, it turns out. In this case, contestants are analyzed by a panel of “experts” including a priest, a sexologist and a psychologist and then find themselves in a banquet hall getting hitched, with predictably disastrous results.
You can see the appeal though. In the have-it-now social media age, this is like having your own live dating app. Because courtship and foreplay are overrated anyway.
- 90 Day Fiancé, TLC Canada
In the United States, a special K-1 visa allows couples to marry within a 90-day window before the fiancé must return to their home country. That is the basis for high (and low) drama on 90 Day Fiancé.
There are, of course, the tropes of the gold digger vs. the rich old man/woman, the exploiter and the exploited, of racial and economic imperialism and culture clashes on an accelerated scale. After all, these folks have 90 days to get married and they can barely communicate.
Some of the couples in combustible relationships, such as Tunisian native Mohamed and American Danielle, or Russian native Anfisa and American husband Jorge, show the extents that we can go to assuage the debilitating crush of loneliness.
- Southern Charm, Slice, Mondays at 10 p.m.
This should be called The Real Socialites of Charleston. Like any good Faulkner novel, it follows the lives of southerners and is filled with class conflict, copious drinking and plenty of boorish behaviour.
Already in its fifth season, the show gives insight into a unique culture and has already produced spinoffs such as Southern Charm Savannah and Southern Charm New Orleans.
- The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Slice, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
I typically stay away from the Real Housewives franchise because there’s only so much manufactured mean-girl pettiness that Bravo can dream up before it gets silly.
But The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills takes it to another level. Where the Toronto version was unbearably tame, Beverly Hills is in another league when it comes to faking it — and this franchise excels at that existential, superficial craziness framed by a sense of place: From the size of the mansions, to the number of Birkins in the closet, these all become weapons of mass destruction when combined with the insecurity and extreme narcissism of minor celebrities who think they should all have been bigger.
- Into The Badlands and Preacher, AMC
I’m clumping these two shows together because AMC has excelled at making dude-oriented action shows lately, taking the mantle away from the now defunct Spike TV.
But the shows are a major step up in quality from the schlocky action fare normally associated with the genre.
AMC programming president David Madden calls his lineup “Prestige Popcorn,” whatever that means.
Into The Badlands is a dreamy kung-fu western that features the best wushu martial arts on television. And it also features a rare male Asian lead in Daniel Wu. The comic-book-based Preacher is about a preacher with a questionable past with supernatural powers brought to you by executive producer and comedian Seth Rogen.
Both shows are ridiculously violent with comic undertones, but are also vastly entertaining time-wasters. Exactly what you want in a guilty pleasure.
Tony Wong is the Star’s television critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong