Positive, easy-to-digest documentaries and reality TV shows, please
October 7, 2015 6:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm on brain rest (yes that's a thing) with a concussion, and need simple TV shows I can get in the US.

I've realized the most soothing shows for me right now are cheerful, uncomplicated, kinda-nonfiction shows... oh, let's be honest, I spent three hours watching "Alaskan Bush People" yesterday and it was ideal. What else is like that?

I loved "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and "Cosmos" but they're beyond me this week. I don't like nature documentaries or the "Walking with Dinosaurs" shows, for the most part. I liked "1940s House" and others in that vein when I watched them before, but they might make me too anxious now. "Running Wild with Bear Grylls" is good -- it's interesting but there isn't too much adrenaline and I know everyone will be okay.

So, nothing with too much failure, as little conflict as possible, no children in peril, humor, people working together... but not so fluffy that I get bored.
posted by The corpse in the library to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I've seen that one about the old guy who moves to Alaska and builds a cabin roughly one million times -- thank you, KCTS -- but that would've been okay otherwise. Newer shows would be better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:10 PM on October 7, 2015

I just watched "Port Protection" on Hulu and I think it would hit that sweet spot for you.
posted by brilliantine at 6:15 PM on October 7, 2015

I love Keeping Up With The Kardashians for this purpose. Also came down from a very bad panic attack once by watching the most serene and warm cooking show, The Great British Bakeoff (or The Great British Baking Contest, as it is known in the US).
posted by raisindebt at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

That Guy Who Was In That Thing is a nice fluffy documentary that just profiles a dozen prolific character actors. Lightly informative, no stakes whatsoever, pleasant. Perfect! It should be on Netflix.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:23 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Mike spends a day getting dirty with folks who do it for a living. The show works because of Mike's personality, the good-natured workers the producers pick, and Mike's genuine admiration for the workers.
posted by Homer42 at 6:24 PM on October 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

When I'm in that kind of mood, I like cooking shows. How about Good Eats?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:30 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Searching for Sugar Man The music of a 1970s obscure American singer-songwriter becomes the soundtrack for the white anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The artist is long rumored to be dead but 2 fans set out to find the truth. Academy Award and BAFTA for best documentary.
posted by Homer42 at 6:30 PM on October 7, 2015

My go-to show in this genre is Treehouse Masters. No real drama, no one in peril, the team works together to make someone happy. Lots of home rehab shows would work, actually, like This Old House on PBS.
posted by desjardins at 6:33 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Netflix original docu-series Chef's Table is beautifully shot and very relaxing. I'm annoyed it was only six episodes long. So very good.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:34 PM on October 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Ray Mears is a higher brow, chiller Bear Grylis. Looks like someone has put his most recent show How The Wild West Was Won on Youtube, but it's on Amazon.com streaming if you'd prefer to pay.
posted by caek at 6:35 PM on October 7, 2015

The first 6 seasons of Parks and Recreation are on Netflix. Season 1 is a negative bust and can be easily be skipped without really losing any of the back story. They staged a reboot with the start of Season 2; just start there with the episode "Pawnee Zoo".
posted by spinifex23 at 6:40 PM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I thought Home Free was a really sweet take on the home-improvement-teams-compete-to-win-their-dream-house type reality show. It aired this summer, but it looks like they have full episodes you can watch at fox.com.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:41 PM on October 7, 2015

Life Below Zero is on the NatGeo channel I believe, if you have that channel, and it is documentary style reality TV about people who live off the grid or in inaccessible parts of Alaska. (Full disclosure, I know some people who work on the show, though I'm recommending because it sounds consistent with some of the things you already like.)
posted by Caz721 at 6:46 PM on October 7, 2015

Totally Great British Baking Show (although it stresses me out because everyone is so lovely on it and I want them to be happy, and someone will be eliminated...but it will be kindly done!), which is actually on PBS right now. I'd watch a lot of Ina Garten in your situation. You could watch hours and hours of House Hunters International, if you like, which is my go-to whenever I have the flu.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:46 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

NHK documentaries are my jam when I need to not strain my brain. (Many are mostly dubbed or in English; some mix in subtitles--if that's too much brainpower right now, I understand!) There are some officially online here (I like Journeys in Japan and Tokyo Eye). There are a bunch of earlier episodes of Tokyo Eye and Journeys in Japan at this YouTube channel. I also really like Begin Japanology, which you can find here.

And Discover Nippon is just super-HD videos of festivals, interesting places, national parks, etc.
posted by wintersweet at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think all of "The Undateables" are on Youtube. Also, Four in a Bed, Come Dine with Me, and Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners are on Youtube. All these shows are really good British reality shows.
posted by Blitz at 6:51 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would also recommend Great British Bake off and companion show Another Slice. Great, low key feel, good talk show.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 7:06 PM on October 7, 2015

Masterchef Junior! It is sweet and fun and charming, more so in Seasons 1 and 2 than season 3. No thinking required.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:17 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Great British sewing bee as well, and basically anything that either David Mitchell or Sue Perkins host will be soothing and gently funny. Mitchell on his own, not paired up. The welsh farm, 18th century farming and Victorian house series are all very good and on YouTube. The bbc does a lot of historical farming series and they had a rather good competitive farming series, A Farmer's Life For Me, where everyone was jolly and interested and helpful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:26 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am enjoying Drunk History immensely. If you haven't seen it, it's comedians who get drunk and tell real history stories to a other drunk comedian. Then their stories are acted out by famous actors dubbed with the drunk narration.

Normally I don't find drunk people all that entertaining, but something about this show cracks me up. And it's oddly educational. Sort of.
posted by cecic at 7:41 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Supersizers Go! Is my favorite show of all time. It's on Hulu and involves this duo, a food writer and Sue Perkins who hosts the great british bake off living in a specific Era for a week. This mostly means eating horrific food we used to think was good and doing things we though were a good idea a the time.
posted by KernalM at 7:43 PM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

How about travel shows? Rick Steves being the world's politest tourist is very soothing to me.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:50 PM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

Netflix has a handful of "secrets of such-and-such big British house" documentaries that might work. They have that kind of breathless repetitive tv-show thing where they repeat their "but the family couldn't have foreseen the incredible changes to come!" teaser lines (so, maybe some tension there? but it's all in the past), but it's pretty footage and something you can sort of zone out to.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:51 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Microcosmos is on Netflix streaming. French documentary about life in a meadow. It's beautiful and mostly peaceful (a few bug fights).
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:58 PM on October 7, 2015

Stephen Fry In America is easily the most soothing (but not dull!) television I've ever seen.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:59 PM on October 7, 2015

I don't have specific recommendations but as a fellow grumpy concussed person I recommend you avoid anything with a laugh track or a studio audience that applauds loudly because it just drills right into your head.

really though i can't remember what i watched this past month at all aside from sexy tudors, and i'm a little concerned.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:01 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oops, just saw you don't like nature documentaries, ignore the Microcosmos suggestion. Bill Cunningham New York, about the Times fashion photographer, is fun and light. Also Iris, along the same lines, about another octogenarian fashion icon.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:12 PM on October 7, 2015

Knuckleball the documentary is people talking about baseball pitching, another one that's easy to zone out to.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:15 PM on October 7, 2015

How It's Made is about the gentlest show this side of Mr Rogers, and is strangely hypnotic, in that you will start watching them and look up to find that 3 hours have mysteriously passed.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:22 PM on October 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

I love HGTV shows for this. Property Brothers, [Tiny/International] House Hunters, Love it or List it, are all completely mindless but surprisingly compelling. For food shows, it's hard to beat Chopped.
posted by gatorae at 8:37 PM on October 7, 2015

If you think fake genitalia is amusing and are not icked out by people being sexually active, the documentary series "Frisky Business" (it's on Netflix, iirc) is adorable and great. I accidentally marathoned it during a cold this spring. It's about a sex toy company in the UK.
posted by Mizu at 8:46 PM on October 7, 2015

Escape to the Country, if you like looking at English houses. A presenter shows prospective buyers three or four properties in, you guessed it, the country. It's an hour of pleasantness and people having preferences about beams and oven ranges. You may have trouble getting it in the US, but if you can, there is an almost endless number of episodes.
posted by kjs4 at 9:04 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is pathetic, but one of my guilty pleasures is a Bravo show called The People's Couch. It's actually different funny combinations of families and friends who watch a mix of shows - and basically it captures their hilarious comments as they watch tv. It's as if someone is filming you and your best friends plopping down in front of the tv and being snarky as you watch say, The Walking Dead. Mindlessly entertaining.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:03 PM on October 7, 2015

I was also going to suggest home improvement shows like Design on a Dime, Fixer Upper, Holmes Improvement, etc. (Or Home Free which has Mike Holmes.) They're super easy to binge and satisfying to see the end result which is satisfying. Antiques Roadshow and similar and fun too. Reality shows like Chopped are really great too. Dirty Jobs is also a good one if you're not squeamish to the types of jobs. Oh and How It's Made is so satisfying.

My favorite line from How It's Made is when they were talking about how the metal blocks they use to start are about ten pounds, or as the narrator says, "About ten pounds, or about the weight of an average house cat." We now weigh things in "house cats" in my world. How It's Made is great for gems like that.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:04 PM on October 7, 2015

2nd Come Dine With Me (I've only seen the Canadian version). Benignly ridiculous, the only thing I could tolerate on certain weekend mornings. Five non-chef people compete (gently, winner only gets a grand) to be the best dinner host. Everyone trying hard to be gracious and caring so much about their duck confit or cool whip dessert or whatever and then getting tipsy (2nd that) and friendly is adorable.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:29 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "Chef's Table," which is a beautifully-filmed, ambient documentary about chefs and cooking and it's all so beautiful.

Also, look for "Luke Nguyen's France" on the Cooking Channel, which is a gorgeous combination travelogue/cooking show. I have all of the episodes of it on my DVR and just keep watching it over and over.
posted by jbickers at 3:27 AM on October 8, 2015

Any chance you'd enjoy some classics, like Pride and Prejudice, or something along those veins?
posted by barnone at 3:45 AM on October 8, 2015

Ok so I didn't like nature docs either, but I'm absolutely in love with Human Planet. It's on Netflix, please just try one! They're super interesting and I'm trying to get everyone to watch it so that we can discuss the people in it!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2015

Along the lines of Chef's Table, there is also The Mind of a Chef which is a PBS series available on Netflix.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 7:38 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dogs with Jobs is a great series. Three little vignettes for each series of (yes indeed) dogs with jobs. On Netflix. At work so cannot link.
posted by shaarog at 7:51 AM on October 8, 2015

I don't think anyone's mentioned American Pickers yet. They're charming and no one yells at each other. Plus you get to see the inside of all kinds of crazy collections.
posted by MsMolly at 4:29 PM on October 8, 2015

May I suggest "Trick My Truck"? Modeled on MTV's "Pimp My Ride", except that on TMT friends and family write in on behalf of a worthy trucker. So the trucker is sometimes confused and suspicious when the Chrome Shop Mafia show up and want to take his or her truck away to be tricked, while providing a loaner of course. (Maybe a good mood-setter for concussed people -- you're confused! But really, everyone is conspiring on your behalf!) The Chrome Shop Mafia then modifies the truck, usually in ways that help solve its owner's practical problems, as well as adding personalized flash. The show's premise is that rugged hardworking truckers don't get enough money or love from the industry that employs them, so at least for once we're gonna treat them like the heroes they are. Naturally the Chrome Shop Mafia also get shown as heroes. Some stuff gets swept under the rug (hey, why don't these truckers have health care and pensions? What's obstructing the Teamsters? How come the working class heroes we're shown slant so very white and male? Could the Bechdel test be failed less spectacularly plz? What cultural politics appear when transposing "Trick My Truck" from "Pimp My Ride?"). But the rug sweeping is tidy, and the show is exceedingly heartwarming, so it's easy to just kick back & enjoy everyone's whimsy & solidarity & good deeds & team spirit.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2015

Oh, and you might want to avoid Love It Or List It. Nice show, but built around conflict, and some of the spats turn nasty.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:12 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

How It's Made is the best, I love it for how soothing (and informative!) it is.

Income Property is another good HGTV show that I haven't seen mentioned yet.
posted by kassila at 8:12 PM on October 8, 2015

Psst - Kjs4 so intrigued me with the description of Escape to the Country that I started looking for it. There are quite a few episodes of it available on YouTube, at least as of today.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:04 PM on October 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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