7 best and 7 worst shows on TLC

TLC shows are really something. With over 100 original programs under its belt, there's no denying the network's ability to keep millions of people interested, entertained, and coming back for the content they crave each week. However, the TLC viewers know and love today is a far-cry from what the network was originally intended to be.

Founded in 1972 by NASA and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as the Appalachian Community Service Network, its name was officially changed to The Learning Channel (TLC for short) in 1980. True to its name, TLC's earliest days were focused on educational programming, with the network airing documentary series on topics like space and paleontology. However, throughout its years on television, TLC — now owned by Discovery, Inc. — seems to have mostly abandoned its mission to educate viewers, opting instead for programming designed to entertain. 

While viewers might learn a thing or two while binging their current TLC favorites, the network now boasts a steady stream of reality programs showcasing psychic moms, flashy weddings, and pregnant teenagers. Here's a list of the TLC shows worthy of a good binge — as well as those you might want to skip. 

Best: I Am Jazz is a TLC show all about teaching others

One of the best TLC shows is I Am Jazz, a reality show following the life of Jazz Jennings — a transgender woman who quickly rose to prominence in 2007 when Barbara Walters famously interviewed the then 6-year-old Jennings.

I Am Jazz premiered on TLC in July 2015, only a few months after TLC announced its interest in producing an "unscripted series about a transgender person." Upon the March 2015 announcement of I Am Jazz (originally titled All That Jazz), Marjorie Kaplan, group president of TLC and Animal Planet, told People, "Only TLC can tell this family's story in a way that celebrates and demystifies difference in an effort to help create a world without prejudice."

While I Am Jazz centers around a transgender person, it doesn't aim to exploit or sensationalize the transgender community. As Time magazine noted in its review of the show, "I Am Jazz [chooses] to teach to the curious rather than preach to the converted." In March 2019, TLC announced I Am Jazz had been renewed for a sixth season (via The Wrap).

Worst: Does TLC show My 600-lb Life exploit its stars?

Premiering in February 2012, My 600-lb Life had potential to be a somewhat inspiring program showcasing the weight loss journeys of morbidly obese people as they made the major lifestyle changes required to live their best, healthiest lives. Instead, the TLC show has proven itself to be more depressing than inspirational — sometimes even bordering on exploitative. 

As viewers of the show have noted on social media, the shower scenes that often appear at the beginning of each episode are unnecessary and uncomfortable for everyone involved. Expressing their sarcastic take on the shower scenes, one viewer tweeted, "[The] best part about [My 600-lb Life] is how everybody's ashamed of themselves but then TLC is like, 'Why don't you get naked [and] shower on camera?'" 

Commenting on Reddit, another viewer of My 600-lb Life revealed they found the shower scenes difficult to watch, writing, "I'm sure when the show first came out, they were enticing for viewers with that morbid curiosity. Now it just makes me sad and I feel like it is unnecessary for the story."

Best: TLC show Long Lost Family reunites relatives

Based on a Dutch series called Spoorloos, Long Lost Family premiered on TLC in March 2016, hosted by television personalities Lisa Joyner and Chris Jacobs. In a press release for the show, Discovery described Long Lost Family as a series documenting "the highly emotional and touching stories of people who have suffered a lifetime of separation and are yearning to be reunited with their birthparents and biological families or find children they had to place for adoption long ago."

Living up to its promise of showcasing "highly emotional and touching stories," the TLC show will leave viewers struggling to get through even a single episode without shedding some tears. One viewer tweeted, "I'm addicted to Long Lost Family on TLC. My tear ducts get a good cleansing with every episode." 

Even celebrities aren't immune to the heartwarming series, which often features adoptees being reunited with their biological family members. In September 2017, Kaitlin Olson of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame tweeted, "I admit I'm running on little sleep, but I've discovered Long Lost Family on TLC and I've been sobbing for [four] straight hours on this plane." Girl, we get it. 

Worst: TLC show 90 Day Fiancé has plenty of critics

90 Day Fiancé is a TLC show with a controversial premise: Couples who have applied for or received a K-1 visa (the visa given to foreign fiancés of American citizens) must decide if their relationship has what it takes to make a marriage work before said visa expires.

As noted by The New York Times, 90 Day Fiancé found popularity during a time in which immigration to America was (and still is) a heated, often polarizing topic. While a K-1 visa is often associated with immigration fraud, Lenni B. Benson — an immigration expert and law professor — told the NYT that misconception is "not true in the majority of cases." Still, this hasn't stopped viewers from taking to social media and accusing subjects of skirting the system. However, when asked if the show had changed since the Obama administration, TLC president Howard Lee told the NYT, "We don't get into the politics of all of that in the series." 

In other words, instead of contributing meaningful conversation to the topic of immigration, TLC allows 90 Day Fiancé to speak for itself — even though its message is often downright confusing. 

Best: Little People, Big World is an important TLC show

One of TLC's longest-running reality series, Little People, Big World, is a show with a lot of heart. The series first premiered in March 2006, introducing the Roloff family to the world. Parents Matt and Amy Roloff (as well as one of their four children, Zach) have dwarfism — and, as Matt Roloff explained to The New York Times in 2006, the family decided to participate in the TLC show with the hope that they could shed some light on the daily lives of people living with dwarfism. 

"We don't claim to be representing all little people," Roloff told the NYT. He continued, "We're going through our own particular challenges. But this is without a doubt the most in-depth look at dwarfism."

The show has experienced its fair share of changes throughout the years, including the dissolution of Matt and Amy Roloff's marriage. Additionally, the show has documented the marriages of the Roloff children, as well as the arrivals of Matt and Amy's grandchildren. While the family unit looks a lot different than it did in 2006, Little People, Big World continues to be a heartwarming, enlightening watch. 

Worst: TLC show Hoarding: Buried Alive didn't seem to really help people

Hoarding: Buried Alive premiered in March 2010 — and the stomach-churning TLC show delivered a stream of nightmare fuel for some time.

Dr. Julie Pike explained to CBS News, "Hoarding is a potentially debilitating disorder where people accumulate more and more things in their home — clutter — to the point that they are no longer able to use their house for its intended purpose." Hoarding: Buried Alive provided viewers with an up-close look at the lives of extreme hoarders across the county. However, some mental health professionals think the show's portrayal of hoarders was exploitative and disagree with the program's way of "fixing" the problem by forcing the hoarder to simply get rid of their stuff.

Revealing that she calls hoarding reality shows "exploitainment" instead of entertainment, counselor Debbie Stanley told Everyday Health, "Stripping away a person's coping mechanism before a better one has been gradually established is cruel and unethical, and usually results in more severe hoarding." Added registered nurse, Lori Watson, "Hoarding does not develop overnight and it will not be 'fixed' in the period of a few days of filming."

Best: Who doesn't like the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress?

There's no question that society has an obsession with marriage — or, more specifically, the act of getting married. So, it should come as no surprise that Say Yes to the Dress is one of TLC's most bingeworthy shows

The beating heart of the TLC show is Randy Fenoli, a wedding dress designer and former fashion director at Kleinfeld Bridal, the New York City store in which Say Yes to the Dress is filmed. Witty and welcoming, Fenoli rarely fails in his quests to find the perfect dress for a bride. In an interview with The New York Times, Fenoli likened his work to that of a therapist, saying, "A therapist doesn't tell you what to do, and I don't tell the brides what to do. I guide them." And, considering the series hit 18 seasons in 2019, it's safe to say Fenoli is great at what he does. 

With minimal drama, touching glimpses inside the lives of brides-to-be, and dozens of dazzling dresses to behold, this show is a light-hearted, fully entertaining watch — even if you're totally over the seemingly year-round wedding season. 

Worst: TLC show Unexpected has been done before

According to TLC's website, Unexpected is a series that takes a "raw" look at three pregnant teenagers and the effects their pregnancies have on their families. If the premise sounds familiar, it's probably because it is.

Even if you don't fancy yourself a fan of current pop culture or reality television, you'd have to be living under a rock to escape the presence of MTV's 16 and Pregnant — the reality show that spawned Teen Mom and essentially kickstarted America's interest in teenage pregnancies. While Unexpected seems to be TLC's answer to Teen Mom fans, one of the TLC show's teenaged stars, Lexus, told Us Weekly she disagrees with the comparison. "There's not as much drama [on Unexpected]," the teen told Us Weekly. She continued, adding, "I think it's more real. Our problems are more realistic than [they are on] Teen Mom and shows like that. I feel like our stories are better."

Still, it's difficult to watch Unexpected without feeling like what you're seeing has all been done before. And, in the era of peak TV, is it really necessary to expose the private lives of pregnant teens in the name of entertainment?  

Best: Untold Stories of the ER is an absolutely riveting TLC show

If you love an intriguing (and somewhat cheesy) reenactment show, such as Unsolved Mysteries, TLC's series Untold Stories of the ER is one you'll want to add to your list immediately. While the title is pretty self-explanatory, Untold Stories of the ER can neatly be summed up as the lovechild of Grey's Anatomy and Forensic Files. So, in a nutshell, it's a classic. 

On TLC's website, the description for Untold Stories of the ER reads, "Doctors recount the most memorable cases they've ever encountered. Unusual, touching, humorous or life-changing –- no story is too big or too small when it comes to the ER." However, what the description fails to mention is the fact that it's nearly impossible to stop watching Untold Stories of the ER once you begin. If there's one thing to be discerned from society's obsession with true crime, it's that everyone loves a good mystery. And, while this TLC show won't leave you lying awake at night thinking about serial killers — it will provide myriad of medical mysteries and oddities for your viewing pleasure. 

Worst: TLC show Long Island Medium probably just shows cold reading

Long Island Medium is an entertaining — and even somewhat addicting — television show. After all, the so-called reality show has all the ingredients that make up bingeworthy television. The titular medium, Theresa Caputo, inserts healthy doses of comic relief into each episode with her over-the-top personality, which is perfectly complemented by her signature look and Long Island accent. And considering the sheer number of tears shed by Caputo's grieving clients throughout the series, comic relief is a must-have.

That said, the TLC show's entertainment value is overshadowed by the possibility that Caputo isn't the psychic medium she claims to be, and is instead manipulating vulnerable clients using "cold reading" techniques. As explained by The New York Times, a cold reading is the act of a "psychic" picking up on subtle verbal or nonverbal clues and using them to "make educated, but generally vague, guesses about your life and family." Skeptics of Caputo believe she's simply an incredibly skilled cold reader — and, while Caputo has repeatedly denied the claims, there's no way to prove the Long Islander is actually relaying messages from her clients' deceased loved ones. 

Best: TLC show OutDaughtered provides a sweet look into the lives of a big family

While it's certainly not the first TLC show to document the lives of a larger-than-life family, OutDaughtered has a unique twist. The show follows Danielle and Adam Busby, who gave birth to the first surviving all-girl quintuplets in the United States in 2015. Already parents to a 4-year-old girl, the young couple's day-to-day life changed drastically when they became a family of eight overnight. Shortly after the birth of the quints, Adam told KPLC, "Our family is complete. All girls, not trying for a boy." He joked, "We'll have a seventh girl ... that's just how it is, so it's over. The shop is closed!" 

The Busby family is definitely one of a kind, and watching Danielle and Adam navigate life with their six daughters is entertaining and heartwarming. Adding to the show's appeal is the fact that the children aren't being forced to appear on camera. Speaking with All the Moms, Danielle revealed, "We respect all the kids' wishes and if they don't want to be on camera at certain times, we don't make them. And we'll do that with all our kids."

Worst: The stars of TLC show Sister Wives are reportedly unhappy

One of the more controversial TLC shows, Sister Wives premiered on the network in 2010. Despite what its title might lead someone unfamiliar with the show to believe, the titular wives on Sister Wives aren't actually sisters at all. Instead, their "sisterhood" is founded on their separate marriages to the same man, polygamist Kody Brown

When Sister Wives debuted, Brown was legally married to his wife Meri and "spiritually" married to his other "wives" Janelle and Christine. The first season of the show also chronicled Brown's engagement and eventual spiritual marriage to his fourth wife, Robyn. At the time of this writing, Brown is divorced from Meri, legally married to Robyn, and shares a whopping 18 children with his wives. Obviously, TLC has a thing for enormous families. 

No matter a person's viewpoint regarding polygamy, what truly makes Sister Wives uncomfortable to watch are the rumors that Brown and his four wives are miserable in their current situation. In 2016, Kendra Pollard-Parra — a former close friend of Robyn — told InTouch Weekly, "They pretend to be happy for the show, but the family is a mess."

Best: Dr. Pimple Popper satisfies a strange (and often gross) itch

If the rise of social media has taught us anything, it's that our friends are really, really obsessed with pimple-popping videos. And, hey, we have to admit — watching someone pop a zit can feel oddly satisfying. At the forefront of the pimple-popping fixation is dermatologist Sandra Lee, who one day began posting clips of pimple, blackhead, and cyst extractions to her Instagram account – much to her followers' delight. Now, fans of Dr. Lee can find her popping pimples (among other things) on the TLC show Dr. Pimple Popper, which premiered its third season in 2019.

While Dr. Pimple Popper is an entertaining watch for those who have consumed every zit extraction video the Internet has to offer, TLC lovers with weak stomachs might want to skip this show. However, according to some viewers, it's impossible to look away from Dr. Pimple Popper — no matter how revolting an extraction might be. Perhaps this fan said it best when they tweeted, "Dr. Pimple Popper is exciting [and] gross at the same time." 

If you ask us, this show oozes success — pun totally intended. 

Worst: Fans think the TLC show sMothered is "sick"

Mother-daughter relationships have historically made for good entertainment. Steel Magnolias, Mamma Mia!, and Gilmore Girls are just a few examples of mother-daughter stories that continue to remain relevant years after they first made their debut. However, the TLC show sMothered features mother-daughter relationships that viewers will likely want to forget rather than revisit. 

According to the show's description on TLC's website, sMothered "follows four outrageous mother/daughter duos who take their bonds to the extreme!" Honestly, we couldn't have said it any better ourselves. In the trailer for the series — which premiered in 2019 — daughter Angelica admits that she and her mother, Sunhe, share a bed. "I'm the little spoon and she's the big spoon," Angelica said, laughing. Later, Sunhe confesses that if she could find "a man version of Angelica," she would, quote, "marry them in a heartbeat." 

TLC fans wasted no time in letting the network know their feelings about sMothered. "[TLC], I'm a loyal viewer, but #sMothered is sick," one viewer tweeted. Added another viewer, "It's seriously disturbing the shows being aired in the name of 'entertainment' on this channel."