Why It's Time to Get Rid of the Guilt in Guilty Pleasure TV

From The Real Housewives franchise to Degrassi, you shouldn't feel any guilt about what's on your DVR
By Lauren Piester Sep 12, 2016 8:46 PM

In this week leading up to the Emmys, we're honoring the shows and genres that TV's most prestigious and pretentious awards show wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole: the teen dramas, the reality shows, the true crime, the home renovations, the dancing celebrities, and all the other weirdness that the small screen has to offer.

This is the side of TV we're told we should be ashamed of for enjoying, but why? Why does it matter if we find joy in a former housewife navigating a life in front of the cameras, or in a woman choosing a wedding dress, or in a pair of millennials trying to buy a tiny house (because it's all they can afford)? It shouldn't, and yet we feel the need to defend ourselves when our roommate comes in and finds us sprawled on the couch, hours-deep into a Degrassi marathon.

The line between a guilty pleasure show and just a regular show is often a very thin one. It also moves around a lot, and sometimes separates not just shows but entire networks, or kinds of networks. Some people consider the CW to be a guilty pleasure network (or at least they did, before the superheroes—but we'll get to that). Some people think all major networks consist only of guilty pleasures. Some people still consider TV itself to be a guilty pleasure, and take pride in the fact that they don't own a TV, have never watched TV, and what's an Ellen Pompeo?

The Most Scandalous Moments on Reality TV

As far as we can tell, the easiest way to determine if something guilty pleasure is this: if it seems like it's about or made for anyone other than a straight man, it's probably more often than not considered a guilty pleasure. Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Mr. Robot all at least started out being primarily about a straight man or two, and all are considered some of the best TV shows ever. Shows like Sex and the City and Buffy the Vampire Slayer don't typically make it on those lists.

Another example: ER and Grey's Anatomy are both long-running medical dramas with lots of ridiculous deaths, lots of rotating cast members, and probably similar ratios of excellent episodes to duds, but which one of those would you be more embarrassed to have spent all weekend marathoning?

The Best and Worst Real Housewives Taglines

And yet another example: The CW is currently the happy home of an entire army of superheroes, but that's not how it always was. A few years ago, the network was close to being a joke. A lot of people were happy to tell you that aside from Supernatural, the CW was just a lot of very hot adults pretending to be teenagers almost having sex, and sometimes there were vampires.

Now, the CW has Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow. Now, many of the hot people are superheroes, many more males 18-34 are watching the network, and its programming is taken a lot more seriously.


On the reality show side, two of the biggest franchises right now are The Bachelor and The Real Housewives, both of which just so happen to be intensely female-themed, and both of which are considered serious guilty pleasures.

On one hand, sure, they're both heavily edited fluff that play into silly fantasies like falling in love and having a magical TV wedding, then living a life of luxury vacations and clothing lines. On the other hand, they're also fascinating looks at what happens when you ask people to live their lives and navigate relationships and societal expectations on camera, and they also happen to be totally hilarious. 

Every Season of Dancing with the Stars Ranked from Worst to Best

Our point here is not to dig deep into cultural sexism or debate the merits (or lack thereof) of reality TV. We're just here to point out the fact that the separation of TV into guilty pleasure and not guilty pleasure is stupidly arbitrary, and it's time we stopped feeling guilty and embarrassed about the TV we enjoy watching.

The fact that you may find Breaking Bad significantly more worth your time than Bachelor in Paradise is entirely your business, but we're proud of the fact that we love them both equally. We're also proud of the fact that our DVR is 80% tiny house shows, and that we watched 12 episodes of The Real Housewives of New York in one day. We'd also like to remind you of the time that Game of Thrones—the most Emmy-awarded drama in history—once featured a secretly ancient woman giving birth to a smoke baby, which then murdered everyone. That's all! 

Sound off in the comments with your favorite "guilty pleasure."