Reality TV you should check out this month

With the Olympics out of the way, there’s some terrific reality TV coming in March among all the shows that will start airing or are debuting new seasons. These 10 are ones that I’m particularly looking forward to–some, because they’re fun and familiar, others because they’re new and raw.

Flipping Out, Bravo, March 5, Wednesdays at 10. One of the few shows left on Bravo worth watching, in part because it feels like it still captures reality instead of scripted nonsense acted out by a bunch of assholes. It’s definitely produced, focuses on drama, and is somewhat set-up (the team-building retreat in the clip below seems more like a producer’s idea than something they’d actually do). But Jeff is doing real work for real clients, Jenni is having a real baby, and Zoila is Zoila. In Jeff Lewis, Bravo found someone who is both authentic and dramatic on and off camera, and it usually works.

Chicagoland, CNN, March 6, Thursdays at 10. CNN is fast becoming a home for great reality television. Its newest series is executive produced by Robert Redford, but the names that matter even more are Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin, who produced Sundance’s great Brick City. Press materials and trailers say that it’ll follow Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, police superintendent Garry McCarthy, and high school principal Elizabeth Dozier, among others. But if Levin and Benjamin’s previous work is a guide, the show will come to life with less-well-known citizens of the city it profiles.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Fox, March 9, Sundays at 9; National Geographic Channel, March 10, Mondays at 10. Next Sunday, the sequel to the 1980 series will debut on 10 Fox-owned U.S. networks, and more than 200 Fox and NatGeo networks worldwide. Each episode will air on Fox and then repeat the next day on National Geographic. Carl Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan, and the new host of the show, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, were unable to sell a sequel to the show until Seth MacFarlane–yes, the creator of Ted and Family Guy–got involved. Based on the original and the trailer, it will be both highly visual and epic in its score and scope. Fox describes its ambition like this: it’s “the saga of how we discovered the laws of nature and found our coordinates in space and time,” with “”never-before-told stories of the heroic quest for knowledge, transporting viewers to new worlds and across the universe for a vision of the cosmos on the grandest — and the smallest — scale.”

Death Row Stories, CNN, March 9, Sundays at 9. Susan Sarandon narrates this series, and each of its one-off episodes “attempts to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case.” It’s produced by Alex Gibney, the documentary filmmaker who directed last year’s Emmy-winning Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.

Chopped Tournament of Stars, Food Network, March 9, Sundays at 9. The Ted Allen-hosted competition is one of the networks few watchable and good reality series, and its special events are always great. This five-week series brings together celebrities who compete against similar people (actors, athletes, comedians, Food Network contestants), with the winners competing in an episode together.

Lindsay, OWN, March 9, Sundays at 10. I really don’t understand OWN’s publicity strategy for this series, which looks extraordinary. But with less than a week to air, the network has only released this tiny teaser, which is really just a teaser for a longer teaser that’ll air tomorrow night. The network showed an extended trailer to TV critics in January, and the footage was incredibly strong, from its access to Lindsay to a fourth wall-breaking conversation between Oprah and OWN’s president about Lindsay’s behavior while filming the series. I can’t wait.

The Freshman Class: Santa Cruz, Cooking Channel, March 11, Tuesdays at 8. If you missed The Freshman Class last summer, it’s time to get on board. (Also, you should watch it online, free). This reality series follows people enrolled in culinary school. Besides following them at school, this time at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Program at Cabrillo College, there’s a strong focus on their personal lives. Bafflingly, there’s no trailer available for this season, here’s the first episode of last season:

The Real Housewives of New York City, Bravo, March 11, Tuesdays at 9. It’s ridiculous, dumb, and a whole lot of fun. (Why I love it so much. This is the one Housewives franchise I watch because, for me, it remains the best. Even as producers cast people and force them to interact, they’ve done a great job of finding a mix that is believable in their drama. The intro to this preview special is so absurd–Ramona saying “it’s turtle time”; Aviva saying, “I know they’re just pulling my leg”–that it seems to have already risen to even greater levels of ridiculousness. And I can’t wait.

Naked and Afraid, Discovery, March 16, Sundays at 9. One of last summer’s break-out series returns for a second season. It worked not because of the nudity gimmick, but because it was brutally real: survivalists being tested in new ways as they survived for three weeks in diverse environments. Here’s a clip from a season one episode:

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, Syfy, March 25, Tuesdays at 10. I am probably most excited about this competition, thanks to the first two words in its title. It looks very much like Face Off, and that’s not a bad thing (unless this series also features Mackenzie Westmore saying, “judges, why don’t you take a closer look?”). It’s hosted by Gigi Edgley and includes Brian Henson as one of the judges, and the work looks incredible.

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.