Reality television is so much more than real housewives and keeping up with the sisters from Calabasas. The genre isn’t likely to outgrow manufactured pettiness, of course, but you don’t have to lose precious leisure hours watching it. There’s another way. Why not try HGTV’s never-ending catalogue of aspirational comforts?
Almost every HGTV show is built on the same foundation: Two people, usually a couple, want to spend a lot of money to buy a house. Enter the expert, usually a Realtor or a contractor, who leads the happy couple through their home’s renovation, gleefully tearing into drywall and taking crowbar to rotten wood, stripping the whole thing down to the studs and building it back into the Pinterest-perfect home of their dreams. Whether the place is a Texas ranch or a condo in Chicago, the goal never really changes: Each show packages home ownership — the ultimate American dream — into easily digestible chunks. In other words, it’s basically perfect for a lazy binge-watch. Just about every one of HGTV’s shows is a slam dunk, but only a few can be considered the best of the best. Ahead, we choose the finest available for streaming.
Arguably the best, since its formula is so very simple: Every episode, one couple seeks out a forever home with the help of a Realtor who generally looks like they don’t want to be there. Yes, the show’s entire premise is (almost definitely) fabricated, but this is reality television. Just about everything you’ll watch is fake, and it still makes for very entertaining television. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself taking mental notes about a backsplash the next time you’re in a friend’s house, and/or debating the merits of an open-concept kitchen.
House Hunters International
The House Hunters formula works even better abroad, if only for the schadenfreude of seeing how much $600 gets you in Prague. Watching wealthy couples wander through walled courtyards in the Italian countryside and listening to their mild complaints will never get old. Oh, you can’t find a house with “French charm” and a regular, American-sized fridge? You poor thing.
Tiny House Hunters
Say you want a house, but a split-level ranch just feels too big. Tiny House Hunters rides the wave of tiny-house mania, as couples looking to downsize choose from three itty-bitty options, all of which will make apartment dwellers feel better about their lives. These people usually have no idea how small 300 square feet really is — hint: very — and that cognitive dissonance is half the fun.
The Weird Spinoffs
Beachfront Bargain Hunt
Watch idealistic couples with a dream in their hearts and money to spend cruise around various islands and tropical locales looking for a second home. Try not to yell at your TV when they step into a very nice two-bedroom in Maui, wrinkle their nose, and say “This is too small.”
House Hunters International Renovation
If you think it’s tough to find a reliable contractor in the United States, try finding someone who will competently install an HVAC system in the 17th-century Tuscan farmhouse you just bought!
House Hunters Renovation
Combining the best of both real-estate and renovation porn, House Hunters Renovation functions as a lesser version of your standard fixer-upper show by tacking on an extra half-hour for renovations. If the Property Brothers’ shtick seems a little old, this show will scratch your home-reno itch.
Love It or List It, Too
For those HGTV completionists out there, Love It or List It, Too might not be a favorite — but it’s certainly the most realistic. Each episode begins with a couple who find themselves dissatisfied with their home. Facing the crossroads of whether to sell or renovate, a Realtor (Todd Talbot) and a designer (Jillian Harris) compete to give the couple what they want for a set budget. At the end, the couple has to decide whether to … well, love it or list it. Be warned: This not-quite-reboot pales in comparison to the original, hosted by Realtor David Visentin and Hilary Farr, but the concept is the same.
You Live in What?
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live in a converted grain silo or an old ice-cream factory, then this show is just what you need. If you haven’t, it’ll give you a glimpse into what it could be if you had a whole lot of money and the gumption to turn an abandoned school-bus depot into a well-appointed mansion for one.
The Ones With Personality
Chip and Joanna Gaines are God-fearing home-renovation juggernauts, based out of Waco, Texas, who help first-time buyers turn starter homes into dream houses. The couples’ chemistry is uncomfortable at times, but Joanna is truly a design wizard, despite her fierce and inexplicable attachment to both shiplap and French doors. Also, one time Chip found a dead cockroach during a house hunt and ate it.
Flip or Flop
A single episode of Flip or Flop inevitably turns into an accidental marathon. Tarek and Christina El Moussa are Realtors who jumped into the house-flipping game: They drive around Southern California, snap up gross foreclosure properties, and turn them into livable homes. Watch enough of this show, and you’ll find yourself convinced that you could flip a home.
Twin brothers Drew (short hair, shiny suits) and Jonathan (floppy hair, questionable stubble) Scott are a dynamic, slightly terrifying Realtor-contractor duo from Canada who help people find and renovate homes on a very strict budget. Despite a penchant for furnishing each new house with Wayfair’s finest and the fact that the brothers scare me just a little, this show operates like a procedural, with a neat beginning, middle, and end. Everyone gets everything they asked for, sometimes with a little extra! Ah, the American Dream.