Starr Raving’s Top Ten Reality TV Shows of 2011

Given how crowded and wide-ranging the field of reality television is, picking a top ten that makes any sense at all is no easy task. In a category that technically includes everything from educational programming to “The Amazing Race” to “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” it’s not just comparing apples to oranges — it’s comparing apples to mangos to, say, potato chips.

It seemed to me we all know about the big guns in this category — “TAR” is reliably entertaining, “Survivor” has a surprising amount of juice for an aging series and, if you like talent competitions, “American Idol” managed to reboot fairly well post-Simon Cowell. But these shows make up a narrow, high profile segment of the market.

Equally high profile, but more problematic, are the so-bad-they’re-good entries in the field. Like a great, greasy hamburger or a particularly gooey dessert, shows like “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” or “Jersey Shore” can be highly addictive, entertaining and guilt inducing. I’ve included one on my list, but only one (they aren’t Pringles, after all). These shows may be great fun, but I couldn’t bring myself to include too many on my list. That doesn’t mean I’m not watching them, but even I have limits.

What has always interested me more are the hidden gems lurking in the depths of basic cable. There’s nothing I love more than stumbling across a great, weird, little-known show and adding it to my DVR (at least until it’s canceled). So consider this my Top Ten Shows You Haven’t Been Watching or Top Ten Shows You Haven’t Heard of. Maybe a favorite of yours will be on here, but I’m hoping not.

10) Dance Moms
9) Bad Sex
8) Taboo
7) RuPaul’s Drag U
6) Coming Home
5) Giuliana & Bill
4) Dirty Jobs
3) Mysteries at the Museum
2) Our America with Lisa Ling
1) The Layover