There's No Better Reality TV Genre Than the One That Makes Modern Jerks Experience the Hardships of Yore

Image via The Victorian Slum/BBC2.
Image via The Victorian Slum/BBC2.

It takes a lot of arrogance for a contemporary person living in the Western world to think that they could slip back to an era before they were born and easily survive. Which is why reality shows like Manor House, Pioneer House, and The Victorian Slum (airing strictly in the U.K. on BBC2) are so rewarding.


As the latest addition to the “living history genre,” The Victorian Slum places a group of families in a preserved Victorian tenement in the East End of London. While there, cast members must eschew modern conveniences and live a (quasi) legitimate slum life—struggling each day (with no labor laws) to earn enough for room and board. For their ancestors (and now for them), failure to make the right amount of money would result in a night at a doss house, a shelter so crowded that people were often forced to sleep standing up.

The Victorian Slum, a follow-up to BBC2's Victorian Farm, has—according to the Telegraph—its share of flaws:

A wider drawback is that the encyclopaedic flow of sociological information leaves little time to convey hunger, drudgery and squalor. Quite how much squalor they have to suffer is unclear. Here, the temporary residents used the privy to smoke herring. There was no sign that they were using it for more traditional purposes, too.

Give me hunger! Give me drudgery! Give me squalor! Don’t give me this:

The Victorian Slum made no effort to hide from the modern world. At market, James’s father Russell, a resourceful tailor, shifted heritage schmutter to contemporary hipsters. It might have been harder in the 1860s, before poverty chic.

(Actually, BBC2, I’ll take anything you’re willing to give me. Please set up a licensing deal with PBS or Netflix as soon as possible. Thank you.)

While we wait for The Victorian Slum to make its way stateside, content yourself with 2002's Manor House, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and is still great for viewers/miserable for most of the people who participated in it.

Managing Editor, Jezebel



Do you guys remember that TV show where different families had to live in New England as if it were the 17th C and NO ONE cut down anywhere close to enough wood for the winter?

By the end of the summer each family had this measly pile of wood that was about 2-3 trees max and they were all patting themselves on the back going “well done, me. I’ll ration this out for the winter with 1/2 log a week!”

Then they had to be sent home because otherwise they would die.

Great show. The Vermonter in me was cackling the whole way through