Reality TV shows you need to check out this month

One of my goals for reality blurred in 2014 is to spend more time highlighting reality shows deserving of attention, especially those that may not be the biggest or boldest. Yes, we all know that January comes with American Idol: The Return of the JLo; The Bachelor: Juan You Please Stop Using Juan in Promos; and The Real World: Ex-Plosion Of a Once-Great Series.

These are the series debuting in January that already have my attention, shows that I’d suggest looking out for. Hopefully, they live up to their promise and potential.

Lone Target, Discovery, Wednesdays at 10. The first great new show of 2014. Watching a former Navy SEAL try to avoid capture is thrilling–and Joel Lambert won’t always be in the wilderness, so the terrain and type of escape changes, from the Philippines to the desert to a South Korean city. Discovery’s “Declassified” special, a behind-the-scenes look at how the show was produced, makes me appreciate the show even more because of how brutally real this artificial chase was, especially for the crew. (They faced everything from injuries requiring hospitalization to a swarm of killer bees.)

Friday Night Tykes, Esquire, Jan. 14, Tuesdays at 9. The preview alone is so highly disturbing that I’m not exactly sure I’ll be able to watch the whole series, but I think it’s important, and not just because I want to support documentary-style series that just capture real life.

Opposite Worlds, Syfy, Jan. 21, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10. Based on a Chilean series, this will be, at best, an improvement on Big Brother and at worst–ah, let’s face it, it probably can’t be worse than Big Brother.

Chasing Shackleton, PBS, Jan. 8. This three-part series follows six people, including explorer Tim Jarvis, as they try to re-create the 1914 Trans-Antarctic journey undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton, which resulted from his attempt to reach the South Pole but instead became a survival story as they trekked over land and ice.

Escaping the Prophet, TLC, Jan. 7, Tuesdays at 10. Although this is on TLC, and although the show features a reenactment in this extended clip, the subject matter is brutally real: it follows a woman working to extract people from a polygamist cult. The footage in the only available clip is genuinely scary, particularly the children, who, in this clip, act like zombies, and especially the male teenager who’s trying to be controlling.

The Curse of Oak Island, History, Jan. 5, Sundays at 10. Framed as a kind of horror adventure series, the show follows two brothers searching for possible buried treasure on an island in Canada. On the island is a hole, known as the Money Pit, which may be a sinkhole or may be human-made; people have been attempting to dig in it for hundreds of years, and many have died in the process.

The Fashion Fund, Ovation, Jan. 22, Wednesdays at 10. This is basically a real-life Project Runway, a 10-year-old competition as the Council of Fashion Designers of America oversee a competition between aspiring designers, featuring Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg.

The Profit, CNBC, Jan. 21, Tuesdays at 10. Marcus Lemonis is back to invest his own money in the businesses he makes over. A refreshing take on the makeover genre.

King of the Nerds, TBS, Jan. 23, Thursdays at 10. The competition is over-the-top ridiculous, but also cast with people unlike those we usually see on reality TV shows. Season one was terrific, and I hope season two is even better.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.