Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi stands on an empty beach wearing a red jumpsuit and a smile. “Welcome to Beach Cabana Royale!” she exclaims, as the genial host of a television program tailored to niche interior design concerns. Beach cabanas, passed down from generation to generation, dot the shoreline of Atlantic Beach, and many of them could use a facelift. As benevolent taskmaster, Polizzi yells at the designers tasked with the renovation through an old-fashioned PA system, urging them towards the end. This is a concern that isn’t quite large enough to fill out an entire season of television, but it is perfect for an hour-long special: the correct amount of time to spend watching families with beachfront access get their summer lives upgraded.
Beach Cabana Royale is but one of many highly, highly specific offerings from Discovery+, the new streaming service launched in January. It contains everything in the 90 Day Fiancé universe, HGTV’s entire catalog, and a clutch of original programming. But while creating a television network from the ground up by inhaling the intellectual property of a pre-existing channel is a good foundation, after surveying Discovery+’s original content, the result is not sound and incredibly chaotic.
Every single iconic show offering from the cable brands that live under this corporate umbrella—Food Network, HGTV, TLC—is on the platform, from Deadliest Catch to Sister Wives to Say Yes to the Dress. If the classics are not enough, the world of Discovery+’s original programming takes the general frame of the classics and spins them off into their own multiverses. For 90 Day Fiancé super-fans, there are a wealth of options, including 90 Day: Foody Call and 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After. (Foody Call features “fan favorite” couples from the franchise cooking a meal from the international fiancé’s home country, while also talking about their relationship and answering questions from the fans.) The platform is where HGTV mega-stars Chip and Joanna Gaines are testing out their Magnolia Network wares, before going to cable and taking over what was formerly DIY. But if you’re willing to branch out into truly uncharted territory, there’s an awful lot of mess—some good, some bad, and most, puzzling.
Pig Royalty, a beautiful reality show produced as if it were gunning for every major award, hyper-focused on the petty internecine dramas of the competitive pig-showing world in a suburb of San Antonio, is the best thing I’ve watched on the platform—a study in the cruel popularity politics of the suburbs that stops short of voyeurism. My time with the pigs gave me hope that Discovery+ would highlight a wide variety of niche subcultures through the lens of reality TV. And, to an extent, it does. They Call Me Dr. Miami is a short documentary about the life of a plastic surgeon with a generous interpretation of the limitations of the human body, but it’s the sort of show I’d be interested in watching for a half-hour, not 78 minutes, and it’s less about the world of plastic surgery and more about the man wielding the scalpel. Pushing the Line, a reality show about adventure-seeking youths who highline across mountains in the Moab, feels like a well-produced YouTube show, or, more pointedly, something you’d find on Quibi, may she rest in peace.
Then, there are the now-obligatory grisly offerings. There’s Loch Ness Monster: New Evidence, whose entire existence is predicated on the fact that there is indeed new evidence about the Loch Ness Monster, as well as UFO content tailored specifically, for some reason, to Alaska. If the true-crime genre is more your speed, though, Discovery+ has Signs of a Psychopath, a two-season series featuring psychopaths and the grisly crimes they’ve committed. Deadly Women shines a spotlight on murderers who also happen to be women; Unseamly: The Investigation of Peter Nygård is a four-part documentary series about a fashion mogul’s fall from grace after accusations of rape and sex trafficking from some 80 women surfaced. It’s as if the platform were programmed via late-night Wikipedia rabbit holes.
Then there’s the myriad of nature shows, in keeping with the Discovery name. Yellowstone Supervolcano: American Doomsday is not an action-adventure movie along the lines of Dante’s Peak; instead it’s an hour and a half long nature documentary about imminent natural disaster replete with vivid visuals of hot magma burbling out of fissures in the earth. “This disaster could soon overwhelm the United States,” the narrator intones. “The human cost, unthinkable. Entire cities, wiped off the map.” I appreciate the reminder of our impending mortality at the hands of climate change and natural disaster.
Less doom-filled is Clipped, a topiary-trimming reality competition show hosted by Martha Stewart and Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame, precisely the kind of reality TV that holds my attention. Clipped takes cues from the originator of this kind of competition reality TV, The Great British Baking Show. There are judges, there’s a tent, and there are pleasantly satisfying montages of designers furrowing their brows over extremely complicated plans that they hope to bring to life. It’s not nearly as stressful as Chopped 420, which is an offering that pairs two of my main interests in one program. Unfortunately, the weed connection is just a gimmick, and the contestants are still racing against the clock to complete a dish, with the only twist is that some of their ingredients have weed in it, and some do not. (They should have to work stoned, obviously.) Stuck in Time, featuring Maureen McCormack from the Brady Bunch as host, plays to an audience enthralled with vintage homes that have retained much of their vintage “charm” by simply not changing at all. It’s perfectly mediocre home-renovation content with a twist that is engaging enough to keep a handful of people watching.
But perhaps the ultimate embodiment of Discovery+ is the confounding, yet endearing program The Laundry Guy.
With The Laundry Guy, the sick geniuses at this network have found a way to create a 30-minute television show that marries the satisfaction of watching people clean on TikTok with the schmaltz of Say Yes to the Dress. Patric Richardson is an avuncular man with curly hair who is very good at cleaning clothing and listening to other people’s stories about the items he’s cleaning. Most of the time, these items have sentimental value, such as the vintage “disco jacket” proffered by a divorceé named Brittany, which is in desperate need of some TLC. Over the course of a half-hour, Richardson offers emotional support in a way that isn’t smarmy while also understanding the innate sentimental connection people have with their wardrobe. It’s 30 minutes of education about esoteric and frankly aspirational cleaning techniques, plus some gentle warming of the heart.
Browsing through Discovery+ ultimately feels a bit like the mindless scroll of the cable menu, at a dead time like 3 am or 2 pm.
. There are so many things on offer, and so few that are truly compelling, that finding something both new and satisfying is rare and truly rewarding. At the very least, you might learn how to properly use a toothbrush to detail a jacket worn by a small boy in the 1930s.