What I’m watching: Bravo’s docudramas Flipping Out and My Life on the D-List

I give Bravo a lot of (well-deserved) shit, but the network remains the most consistent producer of engaging reality TV shows on television today. I probably watch more Bravo reality shows on a regular basis than any other network, although as other networks have caught on and found their own niches, the NBC-owned cable network is facing more competition.

While its competitive series get the most press thanks to their structure and groundbreaking nature, their docudramas are extremely strong, primarily because they deliver both drama and comedy via exceptionally engaging personalities. In its infancy, reality television drew me in because it was fun to virtually hang out with a show’s cast, at least until the casts turned into drunken slut assholes. But I digress.

Two of Bravo’s docudramas recapture that original joy of watching reality TV, and are currently can’t-miss TV for me.

Flipping Out follows obsessive-compulsive house flipper Jeff Lewis and airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET. Jeff’s attention to detail and neuroses are often simultaneously comical and irritating, yet they clearly help him produce the stunningly transformed houses that he’s bought and renovated. Unlike other docudramas, it’s really obvious that Jeff and his crew have actual talent and actually work; they’re not just pretending to do a job for the cameras.

While Jeff can get outrageously bitchy, controlling, and demanding, he’s often joking and mocking himself, but as he transitions from seriousness to outrageous kidding (typically in his interviews), he maintains the same dry, unflinching delivery, which makes what he’s saying all the more compelling, since you aren’t exactly sure he’s kidding.

Those in his life are also strong characters, primarily his buoyant assistant, Jenni; his more level-headed business partner and former boyfriend Ryan Brown; and the show’s breakout star, Jeff’s housekeeper Zoila, who seems to be the only person who is thoroughly dismissive of Jeff’s nonsense. The second season has both become lighter and added more consequence, especially as it chronicled the firing of Jeff’s long-time employee, Chris, and Chris’ resultant split with his wife, Jenni.

My Life on the D-List, which airs Thursdays at 10, is also particularly watchable because of the supporting cast. Like the people who surround Jeff Lewis, Kathy’s staff and family members have grown into strong characters themselves. (Her dad was the show’s breakout star in earlier seasons before he died, and although her wine-drinking mother is still amusing, Maggie seems deflated without her husband.)

Now in its fourth season, the show increasingly comes off as staged, in the sense that most scenes feel like cameras showed up to film the cast in that pre-planned moment, and weren’t just following Kathy around. Yet what happens within those contexts is pretty consistently hysterical. It’s like watching extended versions of Kathy’s stand-up except about more mundane topics.

When real life intervenes, the show really hits its mark. The episodes covering Kathy’s trip to Iraq and the death of her father were exceptionally strong, well-produced hours that justified the show’s Emmy win. When it comes to episodes like that and shows like these, other networks really just suck it.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.