Fall cable reality shows to watch: Sundance’s Brick City, NatGeo’s Rescue Ink Unleashed, MTV’s Buried Life

I’m halfway through two weeks at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, at which networks present their new shows and talent to TV critics, sometimes to be chewed up. (Follow me on Twitter for insanely near-instant updates about reality TV-related news. And if you’re really interested, venerable TV critic Alan Sepinwall dissected press tour back in January if you’d like more background other than critics repeatedly mentioning it in their columns and tweets these two weeks, which is either masturbatory or a way to remind networks of press tour’s importance to our work.)

Anyway, last week, cable and PBS presented their new upcoming shows, and there are a few series that really stood out to me. Last summer, I was psyched about Animal Planet’s Whale Wars, and it did not disappoint. So, here are the cable series that stood out most to me; all upcoming fall series are listed as part of the most recent schedule.

Brick City, Sundance, Sept. 21: Quite simply, you have never seen a docudrama that looks like this five-night, five-hour series. It follows Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Crip and a Blood, and the city’s police chief over most of a year, interweaving their stories in a way that brings the city and its issues to life. Besides its incredible visual style, its content is illuminating, to say the very least. If you don’t get Sundance Channel, this might be a great excuse to get it.

Rescue Ink Unleashed, National Geographic Channel, Sept. 25: Big guys with lots of tattoos use their, um, physical presence to rescue animals and, uh, educate the assholes who hurt puppies, kittens, and even chickens. Awesome.

The Buried Life, MTV, December: Along with Gone Too Far, MTV’s DJ AM version of Intervention, this show is one of a number that are taking it away from Hills bullshit toward more actual reality. Four 20-something Canadian guys basically try to complete their bucket list, and for each task they perform–some more substantial or meaningful than others–they help a stranger fulfill a dream. That’s great, but even better is that they’ve been doing this pre-MTV, so it’s not some contrived TV concept. Also, did I mention they’re Canadians?

30 for 30, ESPN, Oct. 6 and Inventing LA: The Chandlers and their Times, PBS, Oct. 5: The latter is a documentary about the L.A Times family that, as the title suggests, helped build L.A. into what it now is (the preview shows why this is so dramatic and interesting), while the former is not one but 30 sports-themed documentaries produced by filmmakers from Peter Berg to Ice Cube.

2 Months, $2 Million, G4, Aug. 16, Sundays at 9: This series follows four friends who spend the summer in Las Vegas gambling their own money to try to make $2 million in two months playing online poker. The set-up of sending them to live in a fancy house in Vegas to play online poker seems a little contrived, and if the editing over-emphasizes their partying, it might just be another Real World, but clips of the show are promising, especially since the five 20-something guys seem like good characters.

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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.