If media is a mirror of society, then it only stands to reason that reality television — which reflects and refracts where we’re currently “at,” is getting more freaky and dystopian. From a show hosted by an actual robot to an avatar singing competition, here are some of the most dystopian reality TV shows that meet our collective psyche in this current moment.
The Swan is a forgotten, deeply darksided relic of reality tv, mostly because its premise is too bleak, even back in the salad days of 2004. Women contestants undergo intensive facial plastic surgery to go from “ugly ducklings” to “beautiful swans” so they can enter a beauty pageant. Imagine how insufferable Twitter would be if this show came out today! The think pieces alone would unravel society!
In this dystopian commentary on celebrity, C-list stars dress head to toe in costume, wear masks to conceal their identities, then perform a song for a panel of judges, who vote on their favorite performance. Whoever loses has to lose their mask and be revealed, giving their flailing careers a third act boost. (Hulu)
This Puritan dating show, where couples have to abstain from sex in order to build deeper emotional connections, is hosted by an Alexa knockoff robot called Lana, who shames everyone into not hooking up, and deducts money from their collective pot of earnings when they do. A robot host is dystopian enough, but nobody talks about how there’s another host of this show, a bodiless narrator who we never see. Another robot? Just kidding, we know it’s comedian Desiree Burch. (Netflix)
Welcome to 2021, where the world is burning, Bezos is going to space, and Grimes is judging the world’s first AI singing competition, where motion capture technology will portray contestants’ “dream avatars.” Someone please wake us up when September ends! (Fox)
The sh*t singles put themselves through for love! In this Netflix dating show, single people don elaborate costumes and go on dates dressed as dolphins, pandas, devils, and aliens in order to fall in love without physical attraction. And yes, there is backlash from the furry community! (Netflix)
This reality TV show is about a fake social media network that functions not unlike a real social media network — with catfishing, influencers, and a meticulous crafting of identity. Isolated contestants can only talk to each other via The Circle, which transcribes message into texts like a social media app — enabling contestants to present different identities to the other. They then have to rate each other and the top vote-getters become “Influencers,” enabling them to “block” someone from the circle, and eliminate them. Just like in “real” life. At least it’s fun to watch! (Netflix)
Young singles marry a person they meet AT THE ALTAR, selected for them by a team of relationship experts, in this show that basically shrugs off cultural norms like knowing the middle name of the person you’re marrying, or having at least one conversation. Out of all the couples on the show, 13 have remained married, which is a success rate of 30%, which isn’t as low as it seems like it should be, which is maybe the most dystopian part of it all. (Hulu)
What started as a documentary that coined the term “catfish,” turned into the original dystopian reality TV show. Think of all the things that needed to be created in the world for a show like Catfish to exist: The internet, social media, dating apps, people hungry enough for a modicum of fame that they decide to be the worst user of all those things. (Hulu)
Taking a page from the Gospel according to Elon Musk, Homemade Astronauts is about a bunch of Musk stans who think they, too, can build their own rockets and spacesuits to go to space in this Discovery+ show that’s as stressful as it sounds. We wish them luck on their journey. (Amazon Prime)
This Netflix show that has the energy of a Disneyland wedding follows the biggest talent management company for pet influencers as they scout talent at the World’s Ugliest Dog Competition, try to “diversify” their roster by making some lizards famous, and listen to a lot of lost souls pitch why their bunny isn’t just a regular bunny in this bizarre bummer of a show. (Netflix)