As the tidal wave of reality shows on TV gets ready to turn 15 years old next year (yes, 2000 seemed to be the turning point), it might seem the genre continues to reach the lowest pits of the earth in concepts. But with countless smaller reality shows popping up on cable every week, a few sometimes don’t get noticed for their more interesting insights into human behavior. While you’ll find people who might cite CBS’s long-running “Big Brother” as the best sociological study on television, it doesn’t mean you still won’t be seeing the worst side of human behavior.
What about those that strive a little more to show the diversity of people and give them a little bit of respect? Perhaps you wouldn’t expect it on AMC where all of their fictional dramas brilliantly analyze characters from the very wrong side of the tracks. Regardless, when AMC entered the reality show zone a couple years ago, nobody would have thought they’d create ones that would bring a celebration of certain ideas and people rather than debase them.
Other than one exception (based on a sociological satirical rule of thumb), AMC may arguably have some of the most insightful reality shows on TV today.
While this show usually airs on Tuesdays on AMC, many people might have caught it in the reruns on late Sunday nights after “Mad Men.” That’s when I caught it this season after missing the first season last year. As disturbing as the title might be, it may be one of the greatest shows on TV looking into human behavior and giving credence to a freak show possibly existing in the times we’re living in.
Run by former music producer Todd Ray, the Venice Beach, California freak show he operates is one that seems to be the most humane business in the United States. Despite hiring people with various physical oddities (some from birth and others by their own volition), his sense of compassion for these people and seemingly brilliant and caring business tactics gives a good name to family-run businesses. Even if perhaps we don’t see every piece of reality on camera, the front it puts up gives a cleaner shine to reality shows.
As disturbing as some of it might be, it oddly made for an interesting late-night coda to “Mad Men” this season, particularly when the latter show becomes its own freak show.
“Comic Book Men”
Here’s another show that airs on a different night, but also reruns after some of the big-name shows on Sunday nights. When “The Walking Dead” airs, “Comic Book Men” sometimes follows in the early late-night hours. Put together by director Kevin Smith and set in his own comic book shop, it’s an innocuous show of friends sitting around a table talking about their experiences dealing with comic books. Everyone is their true self here, including Smith and his buddies shooting the geek breeze like a group of teenagers. When one of them tells about the excitement of meeting an iconic comic book artist or finding a rare comic book for sale somewhere, it flashes to prior filmed segments that are much more interesting than they sound.
With a number of reality shows in recent years that celebrate history and the iconic parts of our American heritage, “Comic Book Men” adds to the list. No matter what you think of Smith’s movies, he and his cohorts are a very likeable cast that gives you a feeling you’re personally there chatting with them. If you’re of their generation in absorbing comic book pop culture, you’ll relate even more.
“Small Town Security”
This might be one of the most misunderstood reality shows on TV. While a number of critics bashed this AMC show based on the cynical view of a small town security firm, it’s actually quite insightful about southern small town life and the real-life crazy characters the security firm deals with regularly. You could call it a real-life “Andy Griffith Show”, because the characters are almost as eccentric and hilarious. No doubt some of it is fabricated for entertainment value. However, not all are, and the story of Lieutenant Croft being revealed as transgender was very much real.
The above story reminds me of Silverton, Oregon, a small town located near my own hometown. In Silverton, the mayor is also transgender, and they almost made a reality show out of his daily life. Now we see it play out in part in Ringgold, Georgia where you’re seeing a real slice of humanity, even if it isn’t always pretty.
Other Insightful AMC Reality Shows
AMC reality shows like “The Pitch” and “Immortalized” may cater to the trend of showing the so-called reality of oddball careers, yet these are also worth catching when they return for a new season. “The Pitch” takes us into a real advertising agency where you see the same politics play out today as in “Mad Men.” With women in leadership roles, though, it made for an excellent “Mad Men” complement in past seasons.
You also have “Immortalized”, which may be disturbing to those who love animals. Despite being about taxidermy, it has some interesting insights into the business and in the competitive nature of it. Much like “Pawn Stars”, looking into the insides of very old business concepts can sometimes tell you considerably more than usual about how we’ve evolved sociologically. That’s more than you can say of other reality shows that aren’t afraid to show us how we’ve de-evolved just as quickly.