Reality TV you should watch this September

September will bring the return of most of the big broadcast series: The Voice with two new coaches and The Biggest Loser with a demoted Bob and all athletes. Later in the month, strong series Survivor and Shark Tank return, and The Amazing Race makes its move to Fridays.

But between the big shows and the typical cable are several series, new and returning, that are worth checking out. These are the shows that caught my attention from the full list of fall reality TV debuts in September.

The Chair, Starz, Sept. 6, Saturdays at 11. Project Greenlight will return to HBO, but first we have this series from Project Greenlight‘s non-Affleck/Damon star: Chris Moore. I’ve seen the first two episodes and it’s incredible, both in premise and in execution (watch for a review and interview with Chris Moore soon). While, yes, it is derivative of the HBO and Bravo series, the twist of having two directors use the same script turns this into something all its own.

 

The Mind of a Chef, PBS, Sept. 6, Saturdays. Food competitions have mostly reduced the televised version of chefs’ work to what they can churn out under time and other constraints. This PBS series, now in its third season, takes the opposite approach, spending 16 episodes on two chefs and their approach to their cooking. Season three follows Magnus Nilsson and Ed Lee over eight half-hour episodes each; as PBS says, the show “combine[s] cooking, travel, history, humor, art, and science into a cinematic-style journey, each episode going deep into inspirations and the creative drive behind the culinary industries greatest minds.”

 

Utopia, Fox, Sept. 7, then Tuesdays and Fridays at 8. Based on the drama on the free live feeds this weekend alone, Fox is on to something here. Though it was created by Big Brother‘s creator, it’s that show without the games, the house, or the interference: just people trying to create a new society and live in it for a year.

 

Iyanla: Fix My Life, OWN, Sept. 6, Saturdays at 9 p.m. This is the start of the third season of Iyanla Vanzant’s series, and while I confess that don’t watch it regularly, when I do, I’m transfixed by her approach to helping people solve their problems. She’s brutally direct but compassionate, and unlike most people in business or life makeover series, she seems truly interested and invested in actually helping, not just performing for the cameras. The result is usually insightful and can’t-look-away entertaining.

 

Love Prison, A&E, Sept. 8, Mondays at 10. I’m intrigued by the premise of this show, which sends couples who’ve never met to a small island for seven days. It’s basically Catfish without Nev, Max, and Max’s useless camera and with the drama that comes from discovering more about another person.

 

My Friends Call Me Johnny, Esquire Network, Sept. 3, Wednesdays at 10. On paper, this seems like an unlikely series: it stars an unknown, occasionally incomprehensible philanthropist and photographer named Jean Pigozzi who somehow has a bunch of celebrity friends who he interviews all around the world. Except they’re not quite interviews and it’s not at all like Andy Cohen interviewing his celebrity friends. Here he is talking with Dov Charney, American Apparel’s gross founder, pushing him to reveal more about his philandering, and it’s an oddly mesmerizing conversation to watch.

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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.