This isn’t about suburban Americans with overflowing closets. It’s about people who’ve lost the ability to clean, declutter, tidy or notice the mess. Some have acquired 50 cats, others risk losing custody of their children. The stories are painful. Anxiety disorders, grief and obsessive-compulsive behaviours are often at play. Each intervention includes sessions with a mental-health professional and a professional organiser. Check-in and after-care continue for six months after the clean-up. It’s judgement-free all through.
No alliances. No Tribal Council. Not even a TV crew for company. Just Canadian filmmaker and survival expert Les Stroud, carrying a camera, meagre provisions (occasionally a gun), and living in the wilderness for up to 10 days each season. Episodes have been filmed in the Kalahari desert in South Africa, in remote Norway and in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Key lessons: Smear mud on yourself to confuse and repel mosquitos. To locate north, check which side of a tree trunk has the most moss. And when the physical and mental toll mounts, hit pause, as Stroud did with the show from 2012 to 2014.
Old Enough! (2022-*)
In Japan, kids get a taste of independence and responsibility early, as parents send them out on errands when they’re still in kindergarten. Old Enough! follows the children, clutching cash, toddling along, as they attempt their first tasks away from home. Many simply forget what they were dispatched to do. A few figure it out. But all of them have everyday adventures that adults have long stopped noticing: directions, doggie distractions, noise. Japan itself emerges as unfailingly organised and protective of kids, the heartwarming heroes of the series.
Queer Eye (2018-)
It is, as their tagline says, more than a makeover. Five gay men help one hapless male (and by extension America, and by extension, a global audience) get his life in order. It’s got more heart (and better hair) than its predecessor, the 2000s show Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, which focused on flamboyance. The reboot normalises LGBTQ+ visibility in smaller American towns, on ranches and in conservative neighbourhoods. The five hosts help grieving widowers, retired divorcees, even struggling schools, rediscover their spark, and has picked up five Emmy awards for Outstanding Structured Reality Program along the way.
The Great British Bake Off (2010-)
If you like MasterChef and detest how Gordon Ramsay treats cooks on Hell’s Kitchen (no one should be called an “idiot sandwich”), this British import might be to your taste. Amateur bakers face the usual challenges: finicky ovens, ingredient substitutions, speed tests and shattered glass jugs. There are heartbreaking eliminations and surprise displays of talent. But GBBO presents baking as a pleasure. As custards wobble and puddings sink, competitors offer to help. And there’s a lot of joy, as there should be when dessert is involved.
Fake or Fortune? (2011-*)
What could have been a boring art-history documentary gets thriller-movie treatment in the reality format. British journalist Fiona Bruce and art expert Philip Mould investigate old paintings on rural estates, in churches and at garage sales to find out if there’s a treasure or trickery under the sooty veneer. They’re not always successful – ownership trails meet dead ends, authentication documents are missing, high-tech scans and restoration sometimes yield nothing new. It hasn’t deterred viewers from breathlessly following the two investigators across Europe.
I Am Jazz (2015-*)
Follow Jazz Jennings as she makes her way through life, puberty, squabbles with siblings, soccer practice and school. She’s funny and excited to grow up. She’s also transgender. Alongside is a family that has been supporting her gender journey since she was five. There are episodes about adding hormone medication to the family budget, discrimination from strangers, and why transitioning can be a lonely path even in a loving family. The show has been lauded for its honesty and sensitivity.
Wild Croc Territory (2022-*)
What is life like for Australia’s crocodile wranglers? For Matt Wright, who has been on TV as Monster Croc Wrangler since 2011, it’s not always the reptiles that cause the drama. The show follows him as he responds to emergency calls when crocs and other wildlife stray into homesteads and farms in Australia’s Northern Territory. But it also focuses on what family life is like when the breadwinner has a dangerous, unpredictable job. Meanwhile, climate change, causing floods, fires and drought, is making life worse, for both wrangler and croc.
(* Some shows have not yet been confirmed for new seasons)