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Guilty Pleasure TV: Shows Critics Watch When They Should Be Working — IndieWire Survey

From "House Hunters" and YouTube videos to reruns of "Parks and Rec" and "Smash," these shows qualify as guilty pleasure TV for critics.

"Big Brother," "Ballers" and "This Is Us"

“Big Brother,” “Ballers” and “This Is Us”



Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What is your go-to guilty pleasure viewing?

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

Love what you watch, watch what you love and don’t be guilty to love what you love. Life is too short to have guilty pleasures. Of course, are there things I watch that I know aren’t “quality”? Sure! Any time I watch an episode of “House Hunters” or “House Hunters International” and find myself rooting for an incompatible, self-absorbed couple with an outlandish and indefensible budget to either break up on the spot or to make a housing choice that will surely facilitate a “Money Pit-“style scenario in which their lives are inevitably going to spiral into insanity, should I feel guilty? Perhaps. Do I feel guilt? Nah. My pleasure is pure. But my answer to this question is still: “House Hunters” and “House Hunters International.”

Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine

OK, so I am sure some people will say “I don’t have guilt over watching TV, it’s my job!” Bless their hearts. I was raised Catholic so I can instantly attribute guilt to anything, but have recently stopped letting myself feel bad about watching content that my classier, think-piecey colleagues might consider less-than. “The Bachelorette.” Any “Real Housewives.” The old-school “Degrassi.” Instagram videos of Dr. Pimple Popper. Whatever. There is no shame in my game here and if you have never experienced Dorinda Medley having a meltdown, you are only half alive. What I do feel guilty about sometimes is how much time and energy I can give away to TV at the expense of my personal life. Have I canceled on people to Netflix 11 back-to-back episodes of the “Battlestar Galactica”? Yes and I felt like a heel for picking Cylons over real humans. I have willingly lost entire days to “30 Rock” and “Happy Endings” repeats that I have already seen countless times (and are downloaded on my laptop, tablet and phone just in case) when I should have been catching up on transcribing, screening current shows that I cover or, you know, seeing loved ones. TV is all about entertaining us, and since there is so much content available today, I refuse to emotionally defenestrate myself for sometimes liking what I like, whether it’s “American Pickers” or “American Gods.” So long story short, what is the go-to show I choose to give more time than I should? Lately, it’s early “Beverly Hills 90210,” the high-school years that will always be perfect to me. And YouTube clips of musical numbers from “Smash.” Even the Bollywood one.

Debra Messing, "Smash"

Debra Messing, “Smash”

Storyline Ente/REX/Shutterstock

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx

I’ve never really believed in the idea of guilty pleasures. TV is entertainment; if you’re enjoying it, you’re enjoying it, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about. In the age of Peak TV, the closest I come to feeling guilty is when I watch a show that I’m definitely not going to write about, which usually means watching a repeat of a show that’s been off the air for years. Sometimes, I’m just in the mood for “Quantum Leap” or “Flight of the Conchords” or “Parks and Rec,” you know? And when I’m done, I feel like I should have probably been spending that time trying to finally watch, say, “Peaky Blinders,” or catch up on “Vikings,” or… What’s that, honey? The “Friends” episode with the game show for the apartment is on? Be right there!

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

The easy answer is whatever I’m rewatching in an epic binge (usually in the rotation: “The X-Files,” “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Sex and the City,” a few more) because I feel guilty about watching things that I’ve already seen when there is plenty of stuff I haven’t seen.

However, there is also “This Is Us,” though, a show which blatantly manipulates my heartstrings to the point of discomfort. While the tears I sob while watching offer up a certain level of catharsis, I am often not sure if the moment feels truly earned. Guilt is a complicated thing.

Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore, "This Is Us"

Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore, “This Is Us”

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

I try not to think of things I enjoy as “guilty pleasures.” (Am I the fifth person to have said this? I’ll bet I’m the fifth person to have said this.) Even when I become obsessed with some weird reality show, I like to think it’s giving me pleasure because there’s something in it worth engaging with. But I think that we use the term “guilty pleasure” often to mean something that we can simply turn our brain off and veg out to. And if that’s the case, then I could spend hours on end watching people play video games on YouTube. I genuinely have no idea why I find consuming a presumably interactive medium via non-interactive means so appealing, but I do. It’s perfect slacking off material, and if you’ve got a good tour guide (which is to say someone who’s engaging and funny without being too much of a jackass), it’s a great way to wind down.

Julie Chen, "Big Brother"

Julie Chen, “Big Brother


Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

I suppose the only show I watch that qualifies as a guilty pleasure is “Big Brother.” (I’m not trying to sound like a snob — I just have way more guilty pleasure movies than shows.) But “guilty pleasure” also implies shame and I am not ashamed to admit I love “Big Brother.” I only started watching six years ago and my obsession level fluctuates every season (I could not care less about “Big Brother: Over the Top,” which I legit forgot about until three weeks ago), depending on the cast, dynamics and live feeds. Yes, I watch the live feeds. And when I don’t watch — I’m not that crazy to be glued 24/7 — I read the updates, because that’s where all the action is. The real show is what doesn’t make it into the severely edited three hours of TV a week. It’s fascinating to watch how strategies are deployed and how quickly and slowly alliances shift on top of the usual ridiculousness. Plus, there’s something mundanely addictive about watching people cook frozen pizza. All that said, if it were still on, my answer would be “Splash.”

Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com

You know, this answer felt a lot more harmless a few days ago, but I am going to stick with it and say “Bachelor in Paradise” with the caveat of “maybe not anymore.” For the past few summers, “BiP” has swept up the dregs of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” and delivered “Saw”-like psychological torture to insatiable attention whores for our amusement. The evil masterminds behind the show basically had desperate people fill out Match.com personality tests and then exploited their answers to create volatile situations where a contestant hooking up with their second choice was suddenly given the opportunity to hook up with their first choice, and the drama beautifully created itself.

Given the news of a production stoppage over the weekend because of allegations of misconduct, it’s impossible to say if the show went too far this season with so little details out in the public. But when “Bachelor in Paradise” was meatheads and bimbos being themselves and contestants talking to raccoons, it was simultaneously the low point and pinnacle of reality television. That may change now. It used to be a pleasure, now I may just feel guilty.

"American Pickers"

“American Pickers”


April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

If guilty equals I don’t have to think too hard, I am totally down with History’s “American Pickers.” I live for the “find” myself and these guys are more fun than “Antiques Roadshow” (also a great watch but a drier watch).

They really give you an education on the things out there worth going after in Americana collectibles. I adore old bikes and cars too and this show really goes after those arcane and valuable finds.

The alchemy of the cast works too. Mike, Frank and Danny D are a great team, and you can really just relax and take a wonderful road trip across America with them. “Pickers” is pure escapism, no politics, no preaching, no bad behavior, no snark, no drama. That’s a real TV oasis these days! By the way, Mike and Frank are a harder interview get than most A-lister stars.

Gail Pennington (@gailpennington), St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Why would I feel guilty about the hours I spend every week watching my go-to, downtime show, “House Hunters International”? It’s educational, teaching me about geography (so THAT’S where Roatan is!) and international culture and helping me decide where to go if I have to flee the United States. But I also appreciate “House Hunters International,” like its U.S.-based sibling, as a sociological experiment. Nothing tests a relationship like a big move, and if you factor in charm vs. a working kitchen, marriages are tested. The only thing more I could wish from “House Hunters International” is a follow-up series revealing which of these couples survived their international moves.

"House Hunters"

“House Hunters”


Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider

For me, anything that’s not somehow related to work coverage is on guilt mode. There’s plenty of scripted TV I watch for my own pleasure (the recent “Durrells in Corfu” is one example), but the mindless din of reality television is sometimes exactly what I need to shut my analytical brain off and just enjoy something for the junk factor. Since we primarily cover scripted, any time I sit down and flip on “The Bachelor” or “Southern Charm” or shows of that ilk I have to block out thoughts of all the Peak TV gems I’ve haven’t gotten to yet and should be watching instead. The same is true when I settle in for the long road to the Stanley Cup or when the NFL picks back up; there are a pile of screeners that get guiltily ignored because I don’t want to have think about the thematic significance of a character’s narrative journey, and can instead enjoy the real-world drama of a contentious sports battle — or a drunken, ocean-front shouting match (“Bachelor in Paradise” I shall miss thee).

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

After being raised Catholic, I feel guilty about everything, and TV is no exception. A lot of it is tied to professional obligation, in which I know what I should be watching and yet am tempted toward other programs based on mood. But setting aside the desire to be a good critic and focusing on the guilt I feel as a human being, “Ballers” immediately springs to mind. “Ballers” is not the subtle persecution of the NFL that it hinted at becoming from the onset (or that I believed it hinted at, more than it really did), and yet I’m pulled in season after season to the lavish lives of these sex-crazed, party-hard, former and current faux football players. It might be Dwayne Johnson’s charm. It might be a need to live vicariously in the world of the wealthy (which I will obviously never experience in real-life). It might be the desire to shut down mentally for a half-hour at a time. Because I don’t have to think deeply on this show, I choose not to here — but the guilt persists (and yes, I feel guilty about ascribing guilt to my Irish Catholicism).

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “The Handmaid’s Tale” (seven votes)

Other contenders: “Better Call Saul,” “Fargo,” and “Master of None” (one vote each)

*In the case of streaming, the show must have premiered in the past month.

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Dwayne Johnson, "Ballers"

Dwayne Johnson, “Ballers”


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