I don’t know if it was because I’d been watching Great British Bake Off or if it was something else that did it, but at some point Netflix became convinced that I must love foreign reality shows. So far, they haven’t been wrong.
First, there was My Tattoo Addiction, a British show whose first character is introduced as an “unemployed father of six,” followed by profiles of a woman with a tattoo she describes as “a Victorian lady reading a porno magazine about anal sex.” In another episode there was an entire segment dedicated to the shocking number of young Brits engaged in the strange new tradition of getting complete strangers’ names tattooed on your body whilst blind drunk on holiday in Ibiza or Gran Canaria (I especially enjoyed the matter-of-fact tattoo artist shrugging as if to say “Hey, it’s a living.”).
After My Tattoo Addiction came Instant Hotel, an Australian show that follows five Australian couples as they stay the night in each other’s houses and ruthlessly judge their cleanliness/decor/life choices. Apparently all as part of their quest to… I guess be declared that country’s best AirBnB? Honestly one of my favorite aspects of other country’s reality shows is that the concepts don’t seem that well thought out.
Binging these mindless displays of humanity’s worst impulses from other countries has brought me peace of mind. There’s something comforting about knowing that the British have their own Juggalo-esque class of hard luck, good-humored body art fanatics, or that Australia has personal trainers and aspiring real estate moguls every bit as vapid as your average aspiring LA television personality, or as full of shit as any would-be Silicon Valley success-win bro.
Where we once watched reality shows (especially the terrible ones on TLC) to be reassured that there were people out there trashier than us, now I binge these foreign reality shows to be reassured that we’re not the only ones in the world who seem to have gone collectively mentally sick. When you basically have a gremlin made from all your most negative national stereotypes as head of state, it’s nice to be reminded that Americans don’t have a monopoly on terribleness. They aren’t exactly the same kinds of terrible, but that’s part of the appeal too. As Jules would say in Pulp Fiction, it’s the little differences.
On that note, I recently began binging The Hotter Half, an absolute doozy of a British dating/makeover show. If you’ve never seen it, the premise is that every couple has one person who’s punching above their weight class and one who’s snorkeling through raw sewage, so to speak. It’s basically the poor man’s cliff’s notes version of that quote about how every couple has someone who’s kissing and someone who’s being kissed. It’s Who Wants To Date Beneath Their Station! with a makeover twist.
To identify each party in the relationship, the hot and the not, they bring the couples into the studio for a quickie introduction and interview with the host — an affable if not slightly forgettable guy with a nice shiny head. He has agreeable short guy energy, kind of like a less needy Kevin Hart meets morning show DJ. The couple then goes to take selfies in the show’s high tech, much-ballyhooed “selfie mirror.” British shows always feel a little like cable access compared to their wildly overdone American counterparts. Where we have holograms for news shows and trash-talking animated robots for sports, they have, well, a mirror that takes selfies.