Since its 2013 release of “House of Cards,” Netflix has been a premium source for prestige television. The streaming service’s main selling point is its original content, which became must-see TV by the mid-2010s. Today, Netflix releases dozens of “Originals” each month, and rarely a week goes by without at least one of them becoming a major point of conversation.
Most of Netflix’s early original content was based in prestige. Three of its earliest shows were “House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove” and “Orange is the New Black.” Even when it began its foray into comedy, it only dealt in shows with high critics’ scores, such as its renewal of “Arrested Development,” or their animated dark comedy “Bojack Horseman.” Even when Netflix began to create reality television, the focus was on creating shows that were unique compared to the “trashy” content being peddled out by Bravo or E! The streaming service’s earliest reality shows to gain immense popularity were the feel-good “Queer Eye,” the pleasantry-filled “Nailed It,” or the genre-bending “Terrace House.” However, in recent months, Netflix has shown the world that it cannot only create “trashy” television, it can create the best trash on the market.
The key to making “trashy” reality television is not pretending that the show is not trash — the most successful reality shows to date were created on bonkers concepts that only get crazier each episode. For example, the most popular early reality shows, such as “The Real World” and “Survivor,” never shied away from what their shows were created to capture: chaos. Many modern network reality shows, however, like to pretend they are about something much more serious than they actually are, and the chaos is just a byproduct.
“The Bachelor” franchise pretends it is truly about finding love. “The Real Housewives” franchise pretends it is about female friendship. “Married at First Sight” pretends it is about the keys to a successful marriage. However, Netflix has been creating reality shows that start with the chaos, and only get more chaotic as time passes. For example, one of the service’s newer reality shows, “Too Hot to Handle,” is about a group of insufferable hot people who only get more insufferable when they realize they can’t have any sexual contact or they will lose a lot of money. That is not the craziest part of the show, though. The craziest part is that these people STILL HAVE SEX. A majority of the show just features the contestants having long conversations about how pent up they are, and it is remarkably entertaining. Netflix did not market the show as if it is about anything more than it is, because they knew that it was already perfect.
More and more of Netflix’s reality shows are following this “chaos-first” model. Their reality competition show, “The Circle,” comes out of the gate with contestants already lying about their entire identities, and they are encouraged to do it. Netflix’s reality dating show, “Love is Blind,” features a public screaming match between a couple that includes lyrics from Beyonce’s “Sorry,” all before the couples even moved in together. Even Netflix’s less “trashy” shows, such as the Australian reality competition show, “Instant Hotel,” quickly turns to chaos after letting the competitors rate each other in front of each other. Some of their shows even have trash in the titles, such as “Back with the Ex”; however, Netflix’s “chaos-first” model is not exclusive to them.
TLC, or as people like to sarcastically call it, The Learning Channel, created the blueprint for “chaos-first” reality television. There is not a group they have not exploited. Everyone from little people, to polygamists, to rednecks, to immigrants and beyond, TLC has created reality show created about them, and for some groups, there are multiple. The only way that TLC is able to do this, however, is never cowering to the criticism. They never try to claim that “90 Day Fiancé” was created to shine a light on the fickleness of American the immigration system, or that “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” was supposed to expose the living conditions of America’s rural poor. TLC creates pure, uncompromised trash, and Netflix followed their directions.
Netflix’s trashy reality TV run is nowhere near over, as most of their shows have been renewed for multiple seasons, and they have more original reality content coming during the summer. As their reality roster gets longer and longer, one can only hope that the trash will remain as pure as their predecessors.