11) Below Deck
Twist! There’s actually eleven items on this list. How could I make a best-of-summer TV list without mentioning the crown jewel of hazy summer day binging? Bravo’s Below Deck documents the charting season of a ridiculously expensive yacht and, more importantly, the crew of deckhands, interior staff, and bosuns that make the whole thing run like a charm. Well, that’s what they let the lavishly wealthy charter guests see, anyway. Behind the scenes, among the effervescent personalities and tuna can-sized living quarters, it’s anything but effortless.
There’s drama and sexual politics and workplace strife (will poor Eddie ever be captain?) but, most importantly, Bravo’s masterpiece (a bit of an oxymoron, I know) gets one thing refreshingly right: it’s a reality show about people who actually work for a living. And this isn’t just paper-pushing and water-cooler lunch gab sessions, this is hands-and-knees toothbrush deck cleaning and veritable slave work where an inflatable slide is the enemy and uttering the word “mojito” nearly crashes the boat. Sure, it’s trash TV, but it’s well-packaged, instantly addictive, and won’t make you feel horrible after watching. Season three just started, so jump on deck now before Eros sets sail without you.
10) Another Period
Set in the early twentieth century, Comedy Central’s Another Period documents the daily goings-on of the well-to-do Bellacourts, local royalty on the small Rhode Island hamlet of Newport. Except there seems to be a camera crew following them around and sisters Lillian and Beatrice have a knack for relationship drama and familial strife that wouldn’t be out of place on the E! network. The pilot drags Helen Keller into the mix and puts her in the 1902-equivalent of a bar brawl, and the show as a whole has stocked such a ringer of a cast – from Jack Black to Ben Stiller and Christina Hendricks – that it all operates on a high-wire, high-concept tightrope for most of its run.
Unfortunately, the show occasionally trips over itself on that rope, proving that even people as funny as this may not be able to prevent Another Period from feeling long in the tooth after just one season. Never mind that, though, the series is essentially what it’d be like if someone filtered an Edith Wharton novel through the frantic, splashy lens of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and the fact that anyone took the chance on such a bizarre idea in the first place is worth celebrating.