Ok, it’s time for a confession. There are some shows I watch on TV that I don’t like to brag about. You know them — they are “guilty pleasure” shows. When asked, you can’t quite explain why you like them. There are no nuanced discussions to be had about the nature of power, because it’s not Game of Thrones. There are no stellar, Emmy-winning acting performances, because it’s not Breaking Bad or House of Cards. Yet you still watch. Or perhaps, that’s why you watch. Sometimes, we just want to watch a show that doesn’t make us think too hard, where the pleasure in watching comes from simplicity and predictability. In other cases, the pleasure comes from the lack of predictability, from plots that are so batty, from characters that are so soapy, that we can’t help but sit back and enjoy the ride.
So, here are my top three guilty pleasure shows. If you tell anyone, I’ll just deny it, and steer the discussion to True Detective. You’ve been warned.
1. Revenge: This show didn’t start out so soapy — in its first season two years ago, it was trying to be a legitimate Sunday night drama / murder mystery on NBC. The show centers around Emily Thorne (played by Emily Van Camp), a beautiful millionaire who moves to the Hamptons with a secret plot to destroy the rich and powerful people responsible for sending her father to prison years ago. The series opened with a flash-forward murder, and then spent much of that first season on the events that lead up to it. Revenge has always had some soap opera elements to it — how could it not, with a show set in the Hamptons and co-starring the deliciously devious Madeline Stowe as Emily’s nemesis, Victoria Grayson? But the past two seasons have spiraled in to full-on silliness, and yet I still watch. There have been faked pregnancies, sunken ships, mysteries murders at sea, women being tossed from balconies and/or windows, and more faked deaths than I can count at this point. It’s the cast that really sells this melodrama, with Van Camp as the anchor. Here’s an example of the kind of backstabbing confrontations in beautiful clothes at beautiful parties that happens on Revenge:
2. Nashville: I realize this may not count as a guilty pleasure show for some people. But it is for me, mostly because I can’t really explain why I like it. (Other than Connie Britton’s hair, because it is magical). Country music? Not a fan. Another show about backstabbing and cheating hearts and break-ups and make-ups? Already got one of those (see above.) In fact, the plot of the show is actually pretty forgettable — who has record deals with which labels, who is going on tour with which superstars, who is forming a new band. Bo-ring. But Nashville is really a show about relationships, and the music industry gives the show a flashy backdrop to explore messy, complicated relationships, the most compelling of which is between country diva Rayna James (Britton) and her longtime guitar player Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten). Watch this clip of the duo singing together, and then try to tell me you wouldn’t watch these two smolder-read the phone book to each other:
3. Mistresses: Ok, this is the one of which I am most ashamed. I picked it up last summer when all of my favorite shows were on hiatus, and it is by far the soapiest of all soapy dramas. I mean, the title says it all, right? It’s about four friends who each find themselves as either the cheater, or the cheated-upon, and how they deal with the fallout in their relationships with their significant others. The performances aren’t that great (though I have a soft spot for Alyssa Milano), the dialogue is cheesy and at least one character makes decisions that are so bone-headedly stupid that it undermines the credibility of the whole show. Yet, I still watch, and I was pretty stoked to hear the show got picked up for a second season. So, um, yeah.