While I firmly believe in thinking critically about the entertainment I enjoy, sometimes I just want to settle in, safely turn my brain off, and enjoy a reality TV show. That’s especially true this December, when I need more of a a break from reality than usual. While there is no Santas in the Barn this year—?—there are four shows that I’ve been relying on this month for some escape.
Some of them are infused with holiday spirit, but all are warm, wonderful, and positive, and offer an hour or two of escape every week.
The Great Christmas Light Fight (ABC, Mondays at 8). This is the fourth year of this holiday tradition, which consists of one-off episodes featuring several families’ stories and Christmas light displays. Though there is $50,000 at stake in every episode, that’s beside the point. I’m in awe of the creativity, and on the season premiere, was also tearing up on more than one occasion.
Chopped Junior (Food Network, Tuesdays at 8). The competition is no Project Runway Junior, which will debut three days before Christmas, especially because it seems like they’re a little easier on the kids than the adults here. But the kids are still impressively talented and charming, and they help break Chopped out of its formula a little. Mostly it’s wonderful because the show celebrates the kids for who they are—junior chefs and individuals with diverse interests and backgrounds.
Team Ninja Warrior: College Madness (Esquire Network, Tuesdays at 8). This spin-off of a spin-off has rival colleges face off against each other. One member from each team runs the course simultaneously, making for thrilling competition, but still with camaraderie—among teammates, of course, but also clear respect between rivals. The course is still insanely challenging, but Team Ninja Warrior is a little more forgiving (they can touch the water without being eliminated), and each team basically gets two chances to make it through. There have been some absolutely insane runs so far, and it’s just a pleasure to watch younger people attempt and succeed this insane course—especially those who’ve long dreamed of being on the course but haven’t made it to the big summer show.
The Great American Baking Show (ABC, Thursdays at 9). Okay, yes, it’s not The Great British Bake-Off, but this second season of ABC’s version is the next-best thing: a talented group of American contestants who are supportive of each other; witty hosts, Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez, who are more comfortable and relaxed; and the always-flawless Mary Berry. It’s full of life and warmth, unlike those stale baking competitions on Food Network. It’s the most quiet and relaxed competition imaginable, and its only weakness is how it makes me crave sugar, floury, and buttery things.