Watching: A Reality-Show Binge

Or a dark comedy.

Author Headshot

By Margaret Lyons

Television Critic

Dear Watchers,

HGTV announced today that it’s reviving its reality contest show “Design Star” for “Design Star: Next Gen,” which will be filmed in its own pandemic social bubble. I hope our future holds more shows about creative expression and fewer shows about buying real estate.

Just one among many hopes this week. Stay safe.

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Inside my head there is screaming

Just think, these lucky “Naked and Afraid” participants haven’t looked at Twitter in days!Chris Horangic/Discovery Network

‘Naked and Afraid’

When to watch: Now, on Hulu.

I wouldn’t say I love shows in which people writhe on the ground, scream-retching for hours and hours while bugs gnaw at their exposed genitals, but I have watched almost six seasons of “Naked and Afraid” in the last few months, so maybe I do.

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On each episode, two survivalist strangers are sent to an inhospitable environment for 21 days with a few tools and no clothing. Episodes are rarely dull, but sometimes the participants are irritating enough to warrant a skip. I am not sure why so many people believe going on “Naked and Afraid” will somehow benefit their children, especially since there is no cash prize.

Most episodes follow the same rhythm with the same squabbles and the same resolutions, like “King of Queens” but about making a fire and eating a snake and deciding whether complaining serves a purpose or merely makes everyone feel worse. Regressive gender politics are common but typically wane over the three weeks. Mostly the people starve and sometimes weep. But they also recount their childhood encounters with Bigfoot or the time they had sex with an Incubus demon; they confront grief and work through negative patterns of behavior; through the sublimation of the self, they achieve a deeper communion with the wilderness than they thought possible, changing their and our understanding of an individual’s relationship to the natural world.

Nothing else has cut through the fear and despair in quite the same way. The recreational asceticism is borderline laughable, but episodes goose the stakes until the show triggers a sort of reflexive para-caring experience. During times of immense stress and isolation, transcendent artistic engagement is hard to come by, but ritualized body mortification maintains its taboo thrill.

I want something with fight sequences

Maisie Williams, left, and Sian Clifford in “Two Weeks to Live.”HBO Max

‘Two Weeks to Live’

When to watch: Starting Thursday, on HBO Max.

If you like quirky assassin stuff like “Barry” and “Killing Eve” or shows in which British people are in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus have to go on a dark adventure, or if you miss watching Maisie Williams exact revenge, watch this six-part import. Williams stars as Kim, whose mother (Sian Clifford) raised her in a restrictive and paranoid prepper environment after her father’s murder. Now she’s an adult on a kind of vengeance rumspringa, knowledgeable about gunplay and hand-to-hand combat but unfamiliar with a lot of other aspects of modern life. For a show with an abundance of violence, “Two Weeks to Live” is goofy and spry, with an appetite for dad jokes.

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