Trash Buffet: Reality TV Recaps for the Week of October 2

Suddenly Royal
The strange Howe clan discovered their royal roots—and drove around in an RV on the Isle of Man—on this week's "Suddenly Royal." TLC

Trash Buffet is a weekly column at Newsweek, a digest covering the world of reality television that spans the wonderful to the weird to the worst. We'll cover five series over the course of a single season, handpicking the highlights and the opposite-of-highlights.

No program could possibly compete with the complex eroticism and inexplicable social perversions of Dating Naked, but all vacuums must be filled, and so a new show has been added to the Trash Buffet rotation regardless. The Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods splits the difference between food TV and travel TV, sending host Andrew Zimmern to far-flung corners of the globe to sample the most exotic cuisine since 2006. Like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as reimagined by David Cronenberg, Bizarre Foods offers delicacies both revolting and strangely tempting. The great cruelty of the show has always been the viewer's inability to actually taste the items being raved about on screen, leaving us with no choice but to sit in rapt envy and listen as Zimmern describes that which must be experienced to be truly understood.

Irrespective of that aggravation—the food's so close, and yet so far away!—there's a slight sick pleasure to be taken in watching Zimmern choke down food so offensive to this writer's bland Western sensibilities. Zimmern's a decent enough dude, not nearly as obnoxious as Guy Fieri and not quite as buttoned up as Ted Allen. What matters is that he's a good sport, even when fishing a gelatinous glob of vitreous eyeball fluid out of his cup of soup and slurping it down like Jell-O. (Zimmern describes the glob as "the oyster of the head" in one of this week's best lines.) This episode sends Zimmern to Guatemala for a sampling of traditional Mayan cooking, including fall-apart cow stomach, ceviche made with bull testicle and brain, and a cooked giant snail called caracol. One bit brings Zimmern to a remote village where the locals cook and eat possum, though the ethics of their methods seem rather suspect. Apparently, possums must be "caged and purged" before they are killed to eat, because their insides are full of dead matter and disease, so the animals get pretty much starved to death until they're flesh and bones. Kind of shocking, but Zimmern plays it cool.

Most Questionable Metaphor of the Week: Zimmern compares a bowl of squirrel soup to "a baby's kiss," prompting the natural follow-up question of how many babies Zimmern has kissed.

Our Suddenly Royal coverage jumped in last week on the third episode of the series, so it should be noted that it didn't take two episodes for the show's core concept to catch up with it. It took four. This week's installment of Suddenly Royal deployed some of the logistical hurdles that a premise as hard to believe as this one must surely have come equipped with. Surprise regent David Howe and his family have only just begun to confront the realities of uprooting their entire lives and relocating to the Isle of Man. By episode 4, the time spent on the independently operating, British-dependent island is starting to feel less like a vacation and more like the new status quo that it is. David's off-putting daughter, Grace, constantly engaged in some shtick or another, understandably has some reservations about starting over in a new country. David's wife, Pam, though she does love to bust her husband's balls during the joint talking-head segments (at one point, she tells him, "You're a great driver. Like Rain Man"), provides her husband with unflagging support in terms of monarch duties. Weird as this all is, the bond of mutual trust and appreciation between David and Pam is sort of touching.

And so David concocts a characteristically harebrained plan to get himself better acquainted with the relatively small island: He packs his family up in a massive RV and drives them around to see their new constituency. Because reality television is nothing without drama, and conflict is the engine that drives all human drama, and also probably because of a slight engine malfunction, the RV breaks down. Unshakable David attains a Zen-like calm about the problem, parking his foldout lawn chair in front of the smoking vehicle and takin' a load off while he waits for roadside assistance. This, we're told, is the Howe family's natural state: finding a way to enjoy life, no matter what's thrown at them. A simple moral, but a difficult one to argue with.

Quote of the Week: "I haven't had this much fun since I lost my virginity in 1987." —David Howe, reacting to the pulse-pounding excitement of a passenger-seat ride in a European sports car

This week's episode of Sister Wives also centered on a getaway taken by a married couple in an effort to work through a snag, but where Suddenly Royal's king and queen are defined by support and respect, the dynamic between patriarch Kody and wife No. 3 Christine has been marred by bullheadedness and immaturity. Christine has been lashing out against Kody, finally telling him that she believes there are foundational problems in plural marriage. Kody hears this and consequently enters DEFCON 1, dragging her out into Texas for a getaway alongside their couples therapist, so they can re-establish their commitment to each other and—exponentially more important to Kody—the principles of plural marriage. Anyone who's seen the harrowing Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams drama Blue Valentine knows full well that as a general rule, any last-ditch effort intended to salvage a faltering marriage is doomed to failure. Kody and Christine's sojourn to Texas does little to challenge that theory.

Kody states outright during a talking-head interview that he'd much rather spend this time having frivolous fun with Christine and ignoring the larger problems that threaten to poison this marriage—the first red flag. Things get decidedly worse when Kody and Christine are tasked by their therapist with building a pile of rocks as a symbol of their marriage. (I cannot purport to understand why so much of marriage therapy is structured around literalizations of symbolic ideas, but that's neither here nor there.) Christine wants to use the exercise as an avenue for discussion about their marriage, but Kody insists on building a stack of 22 rocks to represent the 22 years since he married his first wife. This, understandably, makes Christine upset, and Kody makes it worse by refusing to hear anything else. He can't grasp that Christine wants to be treated as an individual and not as one of a four-piece set.

The two never really tend to the dramatically widening fissures in their marriage, either. Kody puts on his bizarre rendition of what a normal human might call puppy-dog eyes and asks Christine, "Would you bestow upon me your gift of validation?" which is the creepiest possible way of saying "Don't be mad at me!" She relents, but this can't possibly be the last we hear of these problems between Christine and Kody.

The Worst Part: Incredibly, the part outlined above is not the worst part. Before they dash off to stack highly symbolic rocks, Kody and Christine go to a horrifying pirate-themed restaurant. Despite not being employees of the deeply depressing pirate-themed restaurant, they are also dressed as pirates. Kody is resolute in his commitment to talk like a pirate for the full duration of their time at the pirate-themed restaurant. It's not easy to watch.

In past weeks, the spectral playhouse known as Paranormal Witness has not benefited from the constraints of its budget. When the time finally comes in each episode for the monstrous apparition to make itself known, the modest means available to the crew become frightfully apparent to viewers who have become absorbed in the show's visions of horror. This week's episode largely circumvents that pitfall by taking a more amorphous, atmospheric approach to terror. The big, bad bugaboo in this episode is not a baby-eating Satan demon, and it's not a possessed doll with a penchant for murder. It's not really much of anything, and that may be the smartest possible tactic for the show to try out.

Jason Snyder was a happy-go-lucky family man, but when he and his lovely wife and daughter packed up and moved to a scenic home near a picturesque pond, strange things began to happen. They were innocuous at first. Candy mysteriously vanished from a bowl around Halloween, but hey, that's to be expected in a house with a kid. The couple's daughter, Lily, would occasionally speak to an imaginary friend in ways that unsettled them too.

Inevitably, the inexplicable occurrences grow more aggressive. In the middle of the night, all of the car alarms in the driveway go off at once without provocation of any sort. Puddles appear out of nowhere in the house, and return mere minutes after being mopped up. After Snyder's wife squeezes young Lily, who looks at her with dead eyes and flatly intones, "Kill me," the couple can't deny that some bad juju has been inflicted upon the property. The story never goes farther than that, however. The producers let the sinister lure of the pond's inky-black waters be as foreboding as it needs to be to inspire fear, and nothing more. It's an altogether more realistic tack, and it does provoke more sincere terror than anything the show's tried before.

Handiest Real-Estate-Buying Tip of the Week: If nothing else, Paranormal Witness provides a comprehensive list of problems to ask about when laying down stakes on a new homestead. The prevailing lesson is that there's no query too specific to voice to your real estate broker. Ask if anyone's ever died in the pond near your house. Ask if anyone's died in the kitchen. Ask if anyone's died in the parlor room. Ask if anyone's died outside, was brought back into the house, and then was transported to a third location. You may feel weird at the point-of-sale, but in two months' time, when your family isn't being terrorized by malevolent spirits, it'll all have been worth it.

Monica the Medium is slowly turning against Monica the Medium. Last week, Monica's sisters added a much-needed dose of real talk to Monica's world of delusion, in which she is the star and everyone else her supporting players. (One can only assume that being made the literal star of a show in which everyone around her is a supporting player could not have helped this mind-set.) The show issued Monica another reality check this week, when Monica's skeptical father returned home to the States after a protracted work trip in Afghanistan. He doesn't quite believe in Monica's ability to commune with those who have moved on to the next life, and he sure doesn't appreciate Monica's bad habit of abandoning friends and family during social situations to run off and do impromptu readings. So when Monica's father tries to take his beloved daughters out for a lunch date after having not seen them for however many months and Monica, true to form, wanders away from their table to make a woman enjoying her sandwich cry (see the counter below), he's understandably frustrated.

Monica's father is the latest in a series of clear audience surrogates intended to express the viewership's frustrations and objections with Monica, a roundly difficult-to-like protagonist if ever there was one. The producers do allot Monica a sequence of unusually subtle humanization halfway through the episode, when we see her on a date with her boyfriend, Mitch. Monica, annoying and self-involved as she is, deserves better. Mitch's interest in her clearly stems from a desire to leech off her mounting fame, and his apparent disinterest in their coming schism due to graduation day for Mitch (he's a senior; Monica's only a junior) is hurtful. This episode never really digs into either Monica's sham of a relationship or her fraught ties with her father on a meaningful level. Instead, the show employs what's commonly referred to in academic circles as "the closure effect," in which a work of fiction leaves some key threads untied while shifting focus to a separate resolution in order to create the overall appearance of a fully formed ending. Monica's father never really declares his skepticism to his daughter outright, and Monica never demands he do so, but her peppy vow to keep on keepin' on, coupled with the Pavlovian resolution music, feels like the real thing anyway.

Number of Strangers Monica Has Abruptly Brought to the Point of Tears: 24 (to be kept as a running tally throughout the season)