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Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture's TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
I've realized I'm the type of person who watches TV shows to impress men. The most egregious example is One Tree Hill. He mentioned on our first date that it was his favorite show in high school, so I watched a bunch of them so I could talk about it on our second date … which never happened. This has come up again recently: I started seeing someone, and his favorite show is The Walking Dead. I know it gets terrible, so it's like, am I really going to commit to this? What's the right path here? —T.
Sister, I have one thing to tell you:
Shame! Shame! Shame! Stop doing stuff to "impress" dudes. Or chicks. Or anyone. Live your best life, and if someone else is along for the ride, great. If not, tough tacos for them.
Look, if someone told me in a dating context that their favorite show was The Walking Dead, my vagina would instantly become a cobweb. I do not care for that show, nor do I get the appeal. (Millions and millions of people disagree, however. I live in a nation of strangers.) Give the show a try, and if you like it, great, and if not, no need to suffer. You don't have to have the same taste as anyone else. Be honest: "I like you a lot, so I gave the show a try, but it wasn't for me. I did like this GIF set of Norman Reedus talking about his cat, though." Anyone who'd give you a hard time for not liking their favorite show is not a good person to spend time with.
I've just discovered (and binged) all the Chopped that Netflix has to offer. I'm a big fan, particularly of the competitive nature, the creative aspect of having to work with unexpected ingredients, and the general lightheartedness (the stakes are high but not dramatically so, the contestants compete but not in a catty or dramatized-for-TV way, etc.). However, in looking for more Chopped to stream, or something up the same alley (friends have recommended Top Chef), I've come up depressingly short. Is there an easily streamed but enjoyable cooking show out there for me? I'm hungry for more! —DJ
If you like Chopped, you will like Cutthroat Kitchen. It is not actually all that cutthroat. Cheftestants are each given a bunch of money, and then host Alton Brown (who hosts everything, basically) auctions off ways to screw each other over. One of them has to use miniature pots and pans, for example. Or cook only over a Bunsen burner. It's a bunch of dumb crap — and it's a very strange study in how people approach auction economics — but it gets the job done. Like Chopped, it feels a little more like a game show than a "reality" show.
Original subtitled Iron Chef is still the gold standard for me, but Iron Chef America is pretty good, too. In the more traditional vein of reality-contest shows — where people live together and someone gets eliminated every week, etc. — I secretly love Next Food Network Star. Sure, sure, this is the show that gave us Guy Fieiri, but: There's something very compelling about seeing how some of the sausage gets made. (Sometimes they literally make sausage, too.) Hate whichever TV hosts you want, but that stir-and-chat shtick is a lot harder than it looks.
Top Chef strikes me as a completely different beast. If you don't want cattiness, that is not a show for you. Top Chef — and I say this as a huge fan of the show — is incredibly catty. The people are overwhelmingly huge jerks to one another! That's the show's bread and butter, if you will. It's a good show, but it's not exactly gentle.
On the off chance you ever want a more serious food show, go with Netflix's Chef's Table. It's an enthralling documentary series that profiles six world-class chefs (one per episode). Just terrific.
Is there a show that you would unmake? Like, a show that you think, for whatever reason, you wish you could go back in time and see that it never aired because it was either the mother of a bunch of garbage tropes, or it launched the career of someone you think had a pernicious effect on television? —Eric
This is a really tough one. Part of me is tempted to say Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I am convinced Aaron Sorkin had one more really good show in him, but Studio 60 wasn't it, and it begat The Newsroom, which definitely wasn't it. If we could Sliding Doors that one away, I wonder what we would have gotten instead.
Another part of me is tempted to wipe out all the Real Housewives franchises and their descendants. Other than season one of Atlanta, those shows are a spiritual cancer. I fully believe the world would be better without those shows ever airing.
Ultimately, though, I'm gonna go with Trading Spaces. I actually love Trading Spaces, so this pains me, but Trading Spaces solidified the idea that TLC was a brand worth saving. The show was a huge hit in the early 2000s. But if it had never existed, perhaps TLC would have just collapsed, and maybe it could have morphed into a channel about farming or something. Instead, TLC has produced such cultural scourges as Jon and Kate Plus 8, Honey Boo Boo, 19 Kids and Counting, 90 Day Fiance, and 900 different wedding-dress shows designed to infantilize women. Long Island Medium. Sarah Palin's Alaska. Ted Haggard: Scandalous. Toddlers & Tiaras. My guess is had these TLC shows never existed, their copycat stuff wouldn't exist, either. Friday Night Tykes. Dance Moms.
I'm positive the world would find other garbage to fill whatever theoretical empty space would be left by the absence of these shows. It's not like we could have had 200 more Mad Mens had it not been for Glitzy the pig. But I'm willing to roll the dice because I don't think that parallel-universe trash could possibly be worse than what we wound up with.
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