Reality shows have been a staple of the television landscape for decades now. While there was a feeling during the reality TV boom of the early 2000s that reality TV was a fad that would eventually die out, that didn’t happen. And while reality television may not be as pervasive as it was back then, the overall genre remains a force to be reckoned with in the media industry.
In an era where it seems like a new streaming service pops up each week, reality TV remains popular with viewers, and 2021 has brought a number of new series to satiate fans’ cravings for new offerings. From a fun-loving family of funeral directors to a group of luxury-loving rich folks that plays like a reality TV version of Crazy Rich Asians, a number of new reality shows have debuted in 2021, each hoping to attract viewers’ attention. Picking through the flotsam and jetsam of the year’s new reality shows, these are the best reality TV shows of 2021.
In 2021, 90 Day Journey expands the 90 Day Fiancé universe
Fans of the 90 Day Fiancé franchise have no shortage of spinoffs to fill their TV-watching time. And in addition to the shows already featured on TLC (a substantial number that includes the likes of 90 Day Fiancé: Pillow Talk, 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way, and The Family Chantel), the January 2021 launch of new streaming service Discovery+ brought another one: 90 Day Journey.
According to a press release, 90 Day Journey is “a collection of stories for superfans” of the franchise, taking a deep dive into the stories of couples who’ve been featured on the show. Each of these couples are featured in their own “curated miniseries” that’s comprised of “every single scene” in which the pair has appeared in 90 Day Fiancé and/or one of its various offshoots.
As Us Weekly pointed out, the appeal of 90 Day Journey is that it allows viewers to relive a couple’s love story from the very start, chronicling every aspect of these always-complicated relationships as they progress. Each miniseries will range from three to 15 episodes, depending on how much screen time has been devoted to that particular couple.
Christina Anstead starts over (again) in 2021 in Christina: Stronger by Design
Christina Anstead’s explosive split from ex-husband Tarek El Moussa sold plenty of supermarket tabloids, but the exes managed to put any ugliness behind them and continue to star in their HGTV hit Flip or Flop. Anstead then struck out on her own with the solo series Christina on the Coast, which took a more personal look at her life with new husband, Ant Anstead.
As her fans well know, Anstead’s second marriage didn’t last long, and the new Discovery+ series Christina: Stronger by Design follows her life as a newly single mom in the wake of her split, with a focus on her own self-care.
Speaking with People, Anstead said that Christina: Stronger by Design “goes even deeper” than Christina on the Coast, by delving into “my 2021 plans and things I’m currently doing to stay happy and at peace.” With that in mind, she describes her new series as being “about exploring all the things I’m doing to enrich my mind, body and soul. You’ll see me visit my acupuncturist, explore different forms of naturopathy, do yoga and strategize about the next stages of my wellness journey.”
It's opulence gone wild in over-the-top Bling Empire in 2021
Streaming on Netflix, Bling Empire focuses on a group of ultra-rich Asian and Asian-American friends in Los Angeles, living the over-the-top lifestyle their extreme wealth affords. As a review in The Guardian quipped, Bling Empire makes Selling Sunset “look as if it were filmed on a very tight budget.”
As The Guardian noted, the show’s breakout star is Anna Shay, described as an “eccentric Beverly Hills socialite” who’s so perfectly suited for reality TV that she could have been “dreamed up in a laboratory.” The only child of a billionaire defense contractor, Shay’s childhood can best be described in an anecdote she shared with The Oprah Magazine, about bringing her pet monkey with her on a flight when she was 7 years old.
As Rolling Stone shared, Bling Empire has been described as “a reality TV version of Crazy Rich Asians, and has been one of Netflix’s 10 most-watched shows following its premiere in January 2021. Boasting a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the appeal of Bling Empire was best summed up in a review with Now Toronto, describing the show as “trivial, silly — and lots of fun.”
In 2021, Buried by the Bernards puts the "fun" in funeral
Another Netflix reality offering, Buried by the Bernards follows patriarch Ryan Bernard as he and his family run a Memphis funeral home that offers affordable funeral services for his local community. The “unorthodox funeral home is only outmatched by the unconventional Bernard family themselves,” noted Netflix in its description of the show.
According to a review in The Ringer, Buried by the Bernards feels more life a “goofy family sitcom” than a traditional reality show, with each episode containing “multiple plots of varying precedence, all wrapping up neatly” within 30 minutes. It’s for this reason, reported The Mirror, that some viewers have been wondering just how “real” the reality show actually is. “Is Buried by the Bernards a reality show or a scripted comedy?” tweeted one fan. “This s**t is hilarious, but I honestly can’t tell.”
However, Ryan Bernard has been insistent there’s nothing scripted about his family’s hijinks, and said he wanted to avoid the “drama” usually associated with reality TV — and focus more on the comedic aspects of their lives. “It definitely is a reality,” he told Local Memphis. “This is us. This is us every day.”
Bravo's high-seas franchise widens with Below Deck Galley Talk in 2021
The Below Deck franchise has proven to be continually successful for Bravo over the years, following the exploits of the crew of a private luxury yacht. Having already spawned several spinoffs, the latest entry into the Below Deck universe is a gift for hardcore fans.
According to the series’ description, Below Deck Galley Talk features past members of the cast “as they watch, critique and give their honest opinions on all the drama unfolding on current episodes of Below Deck.” In addition, these fan-favorites also share their behind-the-scenes recollections of some of “their own wildest, most dramatic moments” — all from the comfort of their own couches, filming themselves as they watch the new season and share their unfiltered reactions.
If social media is a gauge, Below Deck Galley Talk has been warmly received by fans of the franchise. “#GalleyTalk is the actual best thing to happen to the #BelowDeck franchise in ages. So fun to have a #ThePeoplesCouch with some favorite yachtys,” tweeted one fan, while another put it even more succinctly, writing, “I effing love #GalleyTalk.”
In 2021, Rob Kardashian's ex strikes out on her own in The Real Blac Chyna
Blac Chyna has been making headlines ever since she began dating Rob Kardashian in 2016, quickly becoming engaged. The relationship, noted People, was brief and tumultuous, resulting in the short-lived reality show Rob & Chyna, an array of dueling lawsuits, and the ex-couple’s child, Dream Kardashian.
Chyna returned to reality TV in The Real Blac Chyna, first announced in 2019 and originally airing on the VOD Zeus network. “I am excited to set the record straight on my life, on my terms,” Chyna said in a statement to Variety. “On The Real Blac Chyna, you will see my raw, edgy, unfiltered life.”
In early 2021, The Real Blac Chyna debuted on the WE network. In a teaser shared by E! News, Chyna opened up, telling viewers they’ll finally get to see the real her. “You know Chyna from the gossip rags, blogs, social media, but you don’t know the girl that has fought her way to be one of the hottest influencers of pop culture today,” she says in the video. “This is my life unscripted, unfiltered, unedited. You think you know me, but you don’t.”
In 2021, clergy meets comedy in The Rev
In January 2021, viewers of the USA Network met The Rev, who’s described as a “hilarious, melodic and inspirational” series focusing on “larger-than-life” Pastor Richard Hartley as he works to transform the choir at his Long Island congregation into a world-class vocal ensemble. As a profile in Newsday pointed out, Hartley is no garden variety choir leader; he’s regarded as “one of the world’s leading gospel choir directors,” also known for his role as the choir director in off-Broadway hit Mama, I Want to Sing!
Also featured in the series are Hartley’s wife of 30 years, Stacey Hartley, and their millennial children, Judea and Jordan Hartley.
Speaking with the Christian Post, Hartley explained that while religion is at the center of The Rev, the show is far from preachy. “I think that’s the greatest characteristic of this show is that it shows love, so hopefully, the non-Christian base would see that we’re not a cult, not extremists,” he shared. “We’re regular people who have a lot of fun, even the church is fun. Hopefully, it can reach those people that way.”
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