Reality TV isn't all mind-boggling litters of children, drunken wardrobe malfunctions, and screaming matches. Sometimes it's closer to its disapproving cousin, documentary film. If you're looking for something to watch, and yet think that reality TV was a plague unleashed on the world by a crafty devil, these shows may change your mind (don't worry, selling your soul is completely optional).
There are plenty of shows about strange professions, but "Oddities" comes with "paintings" made from the hair of the deceased, tools of medical quackery, and more pickled conjoined animal twins than a person can keep straight. It follows Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson, the co-owners of New York's Obscura Antiques and Oddities, a store that specializes in ghoulish antiquities. One of the most interesting parts of the show is how often they have to obtain advice regarding the legality of buying and selling objects that come through their door; recently, they questioned their ability to sell a human heart in a jar. And the lawyer who gives that advice? None other than famed civil rights attorney, Ron Kuby.
Don't mistake "House Hunters International" for its anemic sister show, "House Hunters." No, this program is so deliciously addictive it even got a shout-out on the "Psych" episode "Shawn Rescues Darth Vader." The premise is simple: people leaving one country for another look at three properties and choose one. In addition to wonderful views of exotic places you may never visit and the chance to see how and where people really live all over the globe, the show prompts so many questions. How many English teachers does the world need? How do these people get the money for these moves and lifestyles? Do they know what they're getting themselves into? And how do these people get the money for these moves and lifestyles??
"The First 48" is much more documentary than "reality," and it's an intense show, though extremely well done. It follows homicide detectives trying to put a case together immediately after a body is discovered. A grim inside look into violence, it sometimes includes the heart-wrenching moment when family members discover their loved one died. It showcases some excellent police work, the tireless dedication of the officers whose lives often run in strings of 24-hour days, and an unglossed version of how crimes are really solved.
"Jockeys" only lasted two seasons, which was a shame, because it offered a glimpse inside a world I'd never really considered. Following the lives of some of the major jockeys in horse-racing - including a few of the women - it showed how different a view of something can be from inside rather than outside. Within the horse-racing universe, some of these people are treated like megastars, while others have their horses taken away on the eve of the big races; but all are true athletes training like any other professional athlete. It's a show well-worth the rental, and I promise, when you're finished with the series, you'll also perk up when you hear the names of the winning jockeys at the derbies.
Another reality show that is far more documentary, "30 Days" spanned only a few seasons before it was axed. From "Super Size Me's" Morgan Spurlock, the show followed Spurlock or other people spending a month in someone else's shoes: a homophobe in the home of a gay family; Spurlock and his now-wife spending a month living on minimum wage; Spurlock working in a coal mine. This show, like all of his work, was thought-provoking, insightful, and offered a fresh way to see persistent problems. I guarantee you'll miss Spurlock when you've finished "30 Days," but as a silver lining you can watch his new web series, "The Failure Club" online.