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2021 starts with Drag Race, The Bachelor, and these 60+ reality shows

2021 starts with Drag Race, The Bachelor, and these 60+ reality shows
RuPaul's Drag Race season 13 kicks off a new year of reality TV shows (Image via VH1)

Happy New Year! It’s 2021, and while things magically haven’t changed since Dec. 31, when Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper were sober, a new year feels like clean sheets: familiar, but something’s definitely different and better. I hope it’s a terrific year for you, and for our conversations about reality TV.

In reality and documentary TV, what’s different today is the start of an absolute blizzard of premieres. More than 60 shows are premiering in the next 10 days, more than one-third of which are coming from yet another new pay streaming service. Because there are so many, I’ve broken this preview of premieres apart into categories and sub-categories. Let’s get to it.

Returning reality TV shows

Matt James, star of The Bachelor season 25
Matt James, star of The Bachelor season 25. (Photo by ABC/Craig Sjodin/ABC)

While The Bachelorette was delayed last year, The Bachelor is returning for its 25th season, right on time (ABC, Mondays at 8), having been filmed in a bubble this fall.

The more substantial change is that, for the first time in the franchise’s history, it has a Black man as its lead: Matt James.

RuPaul’s Drag Race returns for season 13 tonight (VH1, Fridays at 8), and it has the show’s first out trans man among its contestants. It won’t be groundbreaking in every way: the first episode is doing the “someone gets eliminated right away” thing that was all the rage a decade ago.

There’s a Below Deck marathon today (Bravo, Jan. 1, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m), followed by the show’s new companion series, followed by the new series Below Deck Galley Talk (Bravo, Fridays at 7). That will have former cast members “watch, critique and give their honest opinions on all the drama unfolding on current episodes.”

Also reuniting—virtually—are cast members from all of the Love & Hip Hop shows, as part of Love & Hip Hop: Secrets Unlocked (VH1, Monday, Jan. 4, at 8), and judges and contestants from Worst Cooks in America: Dirty Dishes (Food Network, Sundays at 10:30).

The Real Housewives of Dallas returns this week (Bravo, Tuesdays at 9) with new cast member Tiffany Moon joining Brandi Redmond, D’Andra Simmons, Kameron Westcott, Kary Brittingham and Stephanie Hollman.

A new year, another attempt at America’s Got Talent. This one is called Go-Big Show (TBS, Thursdays at 9), which has both “daring acts” and “personal, behind-the-scenes.”

Also returning for new seasons:

  1. Antiques Roadshow (PBS, Mondays at 8)
  2. Legacy List with Matt Paxton (PBS.org, Fridays starting Jan. 8)
  3. American Portrait (PBS, Tuesdays at 9)
  4. The Circus (Showtime, Sundays at 8 starting Jan. 10), which is adding Jennifer Palmieri as a permanent member of the cast
  5. The Incredible Dr. Pol (NatGeo WILD, Saturdays at 9)
  6. Worst Cooks in America (Food Network, Sundays at 9)
  7. Hell’s Kitchen (Fox, Thursdays at 8).
  8. ¡Nailed It! México (Netflix, Tuesday)
  9. Pit Bulls and Parolees (Animal Planet, Saturdays at 9)
  10. Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons (Netflix, Friday, Jan. 8)
  11. Undercover Billionaire (Discovery, Wednesdays at 8), which has three new billionaires attempting this questionable experiment, and is followed by a new show with season one’s star, Gleen Stearns, returning to Pennsylvania: Undercover Billionaire: Comeback City (Discovery, Wednesdays at 10)
  12. Kindred Spirits (Travel Channel, Saturdays at 10)
  13. Expedition Bigfoot (Travel Channel. Sundays at 9)
  14. Dream Home Makeover (Netflix, Friday)
  15. Home Town (HGTV, Sundays at 8)
  16. Self-Made Mansions (HGTV, Fridays at 8 starting Jan. 8)
  17. Growing Up Hip Hop Atlanta (WE tv, Thursdays at 9)
  18. 1,000-lb Sisters (TLC, Mondays at 10)
  19. Whose Line Is It Anyway? (The CW, Fridays at 8 starting Jan. 8)
  20. Penn & Teller: Fool Us (The CW, Fridays at 10 starting Jan. 8)
  21. Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC, Mondays at 8)
  22. The Wall (NBC, Jan. 4, Mondays at 9).

Brand-new reality shows

The brand-new year is bringing us brand-new shows, though some will be very familiar.

I’ve found a daily-ish mindfulness practice to be super-helpful during the past year, so I’m glad to see the Headspace Guide to Meditation (Netflix, Friday), as long as it’s not as much of an advertisement for that particular app as its title is.

(Here’s a recommendation, not an advertisement: Having really enjoyed the journalist Dan Harris’ memoir/exploration of meditation and podcast, I starting using his app, Ten Percent Happier, which has a completely free New Year’s Challenge starting Monday.)

If you’d rather start the new year swearing, also on Netflix is the Nicholas Cage-hosted History of Swear Words (Netflix, Tuesday).

Speaking of, on the special Gordon Ramsay’s American Road Trip (Fox, Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 8), the chef/reality show host travels the country in an RV with with who Fox calls “his best friends, chef Gino D’Acampo and maître d’hôtel Fred Sirieix.” But will he yell at and/or insult whoever or whatever he encounters?

Two new shows profile first responders: When Disaster Strikes (PBS, Wednesdays at 10) “follows the local governments and people responding on the ground,” PBS says, while Cal Fire (Discovery, Sundays at 10) isembedded with Cal Fire’s frontline firefighters across the state,” according to Discovery.

Discovery also has a new show about people digging and digging for treasure: Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch (Discovery, Fridays at 10), while Secrets of the Viking Stone (Science, Sundays at 10) follows the actor Peter Stormare and Elroy Balgaard who explore the Kensington Runestone and The Proof Is Out There (History, Tuesdays at 10) examines mysterious things caught on tape.

The Real Blac Chyna (WE tv, Thursdays at 10). is a behind-the-scenes look of Chyna’s life.

Game shows and a competition

A new year, a new cheap—literally—Food Network competition. On Kitchen Crash (Food Network, Wednesdays at 10), chefs cook in people’s neighborhoods and have to get their ingredients from people who live there.

Four new game shows start this week:

  • A revival of Name That Tune (Fox, Wednesdays at 9), which is hosted by Jane Krakowski and has Randy Jackson as the band leader
  • Celebrity Wheel of Fortune (ABC, Thursdays at 8), which seems so inevitable I can’t believe it didn’t happen until now
  • The three Jeopardy! Goat champions face off against contestants on the revival of The Chase (ABC, Thursdays at 9)
  • The Hustler (ABC, Thursdays at 10) is a game show with The Mole built in: one contestant knows the answers

Murder reality TV

In true crime:

  • The Jane Doe Murders (Oxygen, Sunday, Jan. 3, at 7) follows former Cold Justice star Yolanda McClary as she “and her team of genealogists set out to help local law enforcement solve a murder case from 23 years ago and reveal the identity of a woman left for dead in the remote woods of Polk County, Oregon,” according to the network.
  • JonBenet Ramsey: What Really Happened? (Discovery+, Monday) is for sure going to answer that question, right.
  • Vengeance: Killer Millionaires (HLN, Jan. 3, Sundays at 9 and 10) profiles murderous millionaires, which is what I would have called the show.
  • Florida Man Murders (Oxygen, Saturdays at 7), which is self-explanatory

Nature shows

  • Judy Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure (Discovery+, Monday) is a special that follows Dame Judi Dench and conservationist David Mills as they explore the country that hosted the first season of Survivor.
  • Nature Gone Wild (A&E, Wednesdays at 10) is a clip show with “jaw-dropping footage”

All of Discovery+’s launch shows

Discovery Plus

Discovery’s new streaming service, Discovery+, which has original content and content from Food Network, HGTV, TLC, Discovery, Travel Channel, and other networks under the Discovery umbrella.

It will also have a library of over 55,000 episodes from 2,500 shows that have aired on those networks. So just a few things to watch.

Every show that follows in this list premieres on Monday, Jan. 4, when the service goes live.

90 Day Fiance and other recap shows

The new series 90 Day Diaries has the cast film their day-to-day lives. Plus, there three new shows that recap past 90 Day franchise shows:

  • 90 Day Bares All has cast members “reveal pivotal new information and speak completely uncensored”
  • 90 Day Journey repackages episodes into mini-series featuring just one couple: “every single scene a beloved couple has appeared in across each show,” Discovery+ says
  • The Other Way Strikes Back! is a self-shot series with cast members showing their lives and talking about season 2

Other recap shows:

  • Dr. Sandra Lee talks about previous episodes on Dr. Pimple Popper: This is Zit.
  • Zak Bagans looks back at past episodes on Ghost Adventures: Top 10.

Speaking of Bagans, he and Aaron Goodwin, Jay Wasley and Billy Tolley investigate a Los Angeles hotel on the two-hour special Ghost Adventures: Cecil Hotel.

And a mini-series, Onision: In Real Life, investigates the YouTube star, who was accused of “predatory grooming.”

Shows that might have actually aired on cable but will now require a subscription

  • BattleBots: Bounty Hunters. “In each episode, challengers will compete for the right to become the Bounty Hunter and fight a Legend” for $25,000
  • Jesse James returns with the revival of Monster Garage.
  • “Ben will share his expertise in craftsmanship and carpentry with celebrity guests” on Home Town: Ben’s Workshop.
  • Frozen in Time, on which The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick and designer Dan Vickery “overhaul Southern California homes that are stuck in a design time warp”
  • Say Yes to the Dress: In Sickness and In Health has “Randy Fenoli and Hayley Paige join forces with the experts at Kleinfeld.”
  • Mike Rowe tells stories about connections between events in Six Degrees with Mike Rowe.
  • Freddy Dodge and Juan Ibarra “will use their knowledge of geology, prospecting, drilling and testing to” help make others’ “operations better” on Gold Rush: Freddy Dodge’s Mine Rescue.

Nature shows

  1. Sir David Attenborough narrates A Perfect Planet, about “how the living planet operates”
  2. Mysterious Planet “ventures to the ends of the earth to unlock the greatest mysteries behind the world’s most incredible species”

And that concludes Discovery+’s launch shows. Phew.

Documentary specials

Finally this week, as if that wasn’t enough content, here are seven one-off documentaries and specials premiering this week:

  1. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who call themselves The Minimalists, have a new documentary about living with less stuff. But you need a TV or a laptop and Internet access and electricity and a Netflix subscription to watch: The Minimalists: Less Is Now (Netflix, Friday)
  2. A Thousand Cuts (PBS, Friday, Jan. 8, at 9) is about “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on the press- and his prime target, journalist Maria Ressa,” according to PBS.
  3. Surviving Death (Netflix, Wednesday) is based on this book and explores the possibility of an afterlife, which is unknowable by living people, so good luck with that.
  4. Tony Parker: The Final Shot (Netflix, Wednesday) is about the French basketball player.
  5. Pretend It’s a City (Netflix, Friday, Jan. 8) focuses on Fran Lebowitz’s thoughts about New York; it’s directed by Martin Scorsese.
  6. Ratones Paranoicos: The Band that Rocked Argentina (Netflix, Wednesday) profiles the band Los Ratones Paranoicos.
  7. Tiger Woods is profiled in Tiger (HBO, Sunday, Jan. 10 and 17, at 9).

That’s everything on my list—and I may have inadvertently missed a few. I hope you enjoy whatever you watch this week, and hope you have a great 2021.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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