(Top photo: a contestant in 'Bridalplasty')
Keeping Up with the Kardashians is essentially a show about a dozen identical supermodels learning to drink iced coffee without messing up their contour; the cast of Geordie Shore are trapped in a boom-bust cycle of hangovers, fighting and kebabs; TOWIE encourages unattainable body ideals to young women and in the time it's not doing that it's making Gemma Collins into a national treasure; I'm A Celebrity… is literally a show about Ant and Dec sniggering while someone semi-famous eats an arsehole.
Point being: there is some horrendous shit on our screens, so what constitutes something so bad that it has to be wrenched from the viewing schedule and left to rot in the frothy dregs of the dark net?
Well, to find out, I closed the curtains, put on a spread of snacks (strawberry laces, share-sized Galaxy [cookie crumble flavour], salt and pepper bagels, big thing of luxury-brand yoghurt, Ben & Jerry's from the reduced section) and set about finding something out: which of these, the worst of all the cancelled-after-one-season reality TV shitshows, was the best, thereby making it the best-worst?
Good question; glad you asked:
Bridalplasty follows 12 women as they compete for their perfect sticky-sweet wedding ceremony, the only caveat being every single one of them dreams of a wedding ceremony based around them having a new nose, or a way better arse. Each week, the winner of the challenge (the challenges are bridal themed, obviously: trying to distinguish between Dom Pérignon and Andre Strawberry Sparkling Wine, for instance) wins anything from a rhinoplasty to dental veneers, from jowl erosion to a thigh tuck. On one hand it's a startling portrayal of America's wedding-industrial-complex and how seamlessly plastic surgery has melded its way into our fuzzy image of domestic heaven. On the other hand it's very fun to watch.
In the first episode the girls decipher their plastic surgery "wish list". One by one they are felt up by resident surgeon, Dr Dubrow, like dogs at Crufts. "You have perfect breasts for an augmentation," he tells Kristen, using a purple Sharpie to etch on a new pair of nipples half way up her chest so they glare at him like perky assault rifles. "Your areolas are looking down a little bit," he tells Ashley, who looks sad.
While other makeover programmes are washed all over with the somewhat unconvincing rhetoric of health and therapy, Bridalplasty is in a way more honest: there are no sob stories here; no saccharine attempts to get the audience on-side. It's just a load of skinny 26-year-olds carving up their abdomen in an attempt to sew themselves into their perfect fairytale ending, and they don't give a shit who knows it.
As the contestants' husbands lifted up the veil of their soon-to-be-wife they would see a totally unrecognisable person. Even the most extreme viewers found themselves mildly disturbed. It is slasher porn but with low self-esteem mixed in. "I can actually make it talk at times," laments Sharon, as she squidges her belly into two gaping lips. "Help me, please, sort me out," she makes it say. Too gory to reach a mass audience, Bridalplasty was cleansed from the airwaves after just ten episodes.
What Would Ryan Lochte Do? (2013)
"Douchebag," Ryan Lochte puzzles, as he does over most fucking things. "I don't even know… what is a douchebag? Like: what is it?" Ryan Lochte looks into the barrel of the camera following him around and is as close as his pure simple heart will ever allow him to get to a bout of existential introspection, and it is over a vagina syringe. Welcome to What Would Ryan Lochte Do?
What would, we ask, Ryan Lochte do? The answer to the question is invariably on the same level as "vandalise a bathroom and blame Brazilian armed robbers for it": we watch as Lochte bumbles through a bro-lite life of flying shot glasses, girls who wear shutter shades to nightclubs and Full And Frank Chats With Members Of His Family And Extended Family, but the whole thing seems too mechanical. Ryan Lochte, God's perfect idiot, should make for perfect 45-minute episodes of dumb TV. Instead, his glossy attempts to be professionally stupid highlight how smart those reality TV successes (such as the Kardashians) actually are. Lochte purposefully infantilises himself like a gaggling baby rolling about in a playpen – you can almost see the gears clunk in his dumb, beautiful head when he realises it gets more attention if he pretends not to know what dinosaurs are when someone mentions them. He's Joey Essex without any nuance. He is Joey Essex without any nuance.
Watching this E! Production it becomes clear that Lochte wants to stay famous long after his swollen abs droop and his webbed feet stop fluttering like they used to, but nobody has told him that he doesn't really deserve to be. "I see me being a designer, I see me being a model, I see me being a TV star," he told the New York Times, ahead of the show, before it emerged that E! had accidentally commissioned eight episodes of an ageing swimmer saying "JEAH!" a lot and trying and failing to make it work. Reality TV is a fine art. Ryan Lochte failing to master it only highlights that.
Kocktails with Khloe (2016)
Kocktails with Khloe follows the conventional format of a Kardashians show; that tried-and-tested format they are such high masters of: somebody has a banal conversation in a well-lit kitchen, there is always a shot of someone reapplying lipgloss, and then a minor episode of simulated drama (in KUWTK: anything from a road accident to someone minorly disagreeing about a fashion line; in KWK, it's basically through party games and faux personal revelations) before being regurgitated out like a perfectly positioned breast implant. Et, viola. Another billion dollars, please.
The set was built to mirror Khloe's actual house, except everything is hollowed out and moulded in plywood, which I suppose could be a metaphor for something. Inside the dusty grey interior, producers hid 22 kameras so that the talk show could be filmed like a voyeuristic reality broadcast, but also I mean it's very clearly not: if Carmen Elektra is turning up at a plywood simulation of someone else's house and rocking full face, she's not here to mess around pretending this isn't TV.
Unfortunately, no innovative structural architecture or watertight branding can detract from the fact that watching Kocktails with Khloe is like being at an awkwardly boring, extremely luxxxxx, high school girls' sleepover.
Khloe is a frigid interviewer, failing to lube up the chat by spending too long on her own anecdotes and asking bad questions – that's before everyone talks over each other while perched awkwardly on the edge of a sofa, or some chef comes in to talk for ages about some food you're never going to have. When, in episode one, Snoop Dog appears as a guest, Aisha Tyler and Kym Whitely produce a far more interesting dialogue, asking him informed questions about what he thought about his portrayal in Straight Outta Compton and the white-washing of the Oscars, while in the corner Khloe stamps her foot like Honey Boo Boo. "Yeah, that was my next question," she says, seemingly mad she isn't the star.
Kocktails With Khloe isn't technically a one-season wonder – season two of the show was commissioned and then cancelled during the broadcast of the first tranche of episodes, and you feel that there's at least some late-night slot E! could fill with a quiet renewal of it – but, watching it back, you feel like even Khloe isn't too bothered about whether her vanity project is extended or not. "Khloe's used to being on a smash-hit show and being able to call the shots," a mouthy insider told the Daily Mail last year. "But it's not like that on a small show… eventually everyone had enough." Same, unnamed Daily Mail insider source. Same.
Who's Your Daddy? (2005)
Man, even the title of this programme lulls with perverse intent. It makes me think of some hairy guy slouched on a coffee-stained sofa asking a girl narrowly escaping puberty, "Who's your daddy?"
The reality of it is about as dark as that, and about as misguided: canned after one episode, Who's Your Daddy? added a much-needed competitive mechanic to heartbroken adopted adults finding their real parents. Adoptees would attempt to pick out their biological father from a line-up of eight men. If they guessed correctly, they would win £100,000 (and a dad); if they guessed wrong, some guy with questionable morals would escape with the money instead. It is essentially Jeremy Kyle melted into game show format. Instead of paternity tests there are challenges, and instead of therapy and Dr Arun Ghosh there is a hunk of prize money. It appears television production companies are one step away from letting sterile couples play drinking games in an attempt to win a foetus.
So why didn't it work? Well, after receiving complaints from The Cradle, Adoption Nation and other adoption rights advocates, the show was cancelled after the pilot was aired. Only one episode, in which actress TJ Myers correctly identifies her father (we have a winner!), made it to primetime. "It's the most emotional show we've ever put on the air," Fox's head of reality, Mike Darnell, told Variety at the time. "I guarantee you: if you have any heart, you'll be bawling at the end of the show." Personally I was left relatively untouched, my eyes as dry as if I was waiting for some soup to be microwaved, but your mileage may vary.
I Wanna Marry Harry (2014)
I Wanna Marry Harry saw 12 women who have clearly never ever seen a photograph of Prince Harry ever in their fucking life compete for a date with Prince Harry. Unfortunately for them, they were really dating a construction worker named Matt Hicks.
Though it may seem as though these women swallow up the idea that Matt is Harry like they are digesting a dollop of powdered mash potato, the girls were actually the victims of what the lay empathiser might consider to be "full-scale brainwashing".
Researching this programme was like reading the Stasi handbook. The girls weren't allowed phones, TV, books or any form of entertainment while living at the house, and they weren't able to communicate with one another while the cameras were off either – a bit like being in solitary confinement, except instead of fabricating alibis these women were separated in order to stop them discussing their misgivings about whether or not the carrot-headed lanky guy was really the fourth in line to the throne or not.
"They actually had a therapist come on set at one point and talk to a few of us who were saying it wasn't him. We found out later that it wasn't a real, licensed therapist. It was just someone from the production team," eventual winner Kimberly Birch alleged.
But this is TV, and I have no time for moralising. "Is it entertaining?" is all I care about. "Am I entertained?" And, yes, to a degree: there is something humorous about watching women flirt with a metaphorical Prince Harry. "So where is all your family?" one girl asks. "Are they at Buckingham Palace?"
Yet, though I gained an ether of enjoyment watching Kelley and Karina waddle around in cork wedges playing croquet, eventually it became pretty boring. Unlike The Bachelor, where the prize leads have a whiff of charisma, "Harry" is fairly stodgy and monotonous, which I guess is why only 350,000 people tuned in by the end. His main catchphrase, said in a toothy posh-voice, is, "I really think they are starting to believe I am Harry." It could work with another celebrity impersonator, where the impersonator is actually good – Harry Styles, maybe, or Ryan Gosling; Sven Goran Ericsson – but faux Harry leaves a lot to be desired. A swing and a miss.
My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss (2004)
The Apprentice is pretty fake, but what if the logic of fakeness was turbo-charged to an insane degree? You get CBS' My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, a 2004 shitshow where a number of contestants perform tasks they believe will win them a job at Chicago-based conglomerate IOCOR. Not only did the company and the position not exist, but their "mystery" boss turned out to be a chimpanzee in a suit. It is the most fruitless final twist – akin to watching a three-hour film which ends with "and it was all a dream".
Women who look like dental secretaries and guys with Craig David-esque stubble patterns were filmed doing perilously stupid tasks like selling cosmetic surgery procedures for the dead, creating a marketing campaign for landmines and flogging soup on a sweltering hot Chicago day.
When the finalists, Annette and Mike, reach the last episode and the walls of The Truman Show drop down they cackle with hysteria, while deep within them the images of their bodies wedged under Bill Gates' arms flutter into obscurity and their new positions as human punchlines zooms into clinical focus.
To end the programme the chimp spins a wheel and Annette wins £350,000 purely because it lands on her face. I may as well have set up a livestream in my local Betfair.
It's pretty clear why it My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss was cancelled after five episodes: in reality TV, one at least wants an effigy of authenticity, otherwise the show is just an inflatable cloud of hot hair. And anyway, the idea of a job offer is already a joke in our current socio-economic climate. If I went to a job interview and someone said, "The job isn't real, the boss is a chimp," I'd probably be like, "Oh, standard, thanks for emailing me back."
Bring back Bridalplasty and give it a decent enough narrator and I'll watch another series of it, if I have to. Bridalplasty is the winner.