My Strange Addiction (Sundays, 10/9c, TLC) is maybe the most entertaining freak show on television now, and definitely the most guilt-free one.
While shows such as Celebrity Rehab, Intervention and Hoarders enlist subjects whose participation is possibly clouded (or motivated) by substance or mental illness, My Strange Addiction is more of a platform for reasonably coherent people to share their weirdness (since they are, after all, signing up for a show that has the word "strange" in its title).
My Strange Addiction embraces those who embrace their own eccentricities.
And, boy, are they eccentric. TLC will air the fifth and sixth episodes of the show's second season on Sunday, and by then we will have been treated to snapshots of the lives of people who are "addicted" to the likes of cycling, eating dryer sheets, chomping rocks and carrying around a pillow. Many of these, of course, stretch the definition of the word "addiction" beyond normal parameters. (Jazz, the one with the 24-inch nails who's supposedly addicted to growing them, is basically on the slowest release capsule imaginable.)
But My Strange Addiction is intent on surveying the vast spectrum of what human beings do ad nauseam.
There's also a tinge of parody. Where other shows set out to rehabilitate in unrealistic slivers of time, My Strange Addiction is kind of just like, "Yeah, whatever." Inevitably, an episode starts with someone discussing their "addiction," progresses to illustrating how this addiction (say, cycling six hours a day or remaining on an unending hunt for dead animals to stuff) affects these subjects' lives, and then wraps up with a visit to some sort of a professional.
Then, maybe these people will kick, or maybe, as in the case of transgender "adult baby" Riley, they will remain "engrossed" in their addiction, "convinced" it's the right lifestyle. No big deal, moving right along to the next (more or less self-proclaimed) weirdo. The lack of hand-wringing feels deliciously subversive.
More traditional addictions are portrayed on the show, like that of the huffer Theresa, a 44-year-old mother who stashes plastic bottles of gasoline around her house and puts her nose to them 120 times a day. Watching her is horrifying, especially after a doctor tells her that she could be doing irreparable nerve damage.
And yet her episode is tempered with Krista, who carries around teddy bears in public, placing one in a high chair while she goes out to eat because, she reasons, "He's gotta be safe!" Krista is a recovering drug addict, and while she's clearly swapping substance for stuffing, at least she won't be overdosing any time soon.
It's not all painless diversion, though. Many of the people on the show have trauma in their pasts and are coping through their strange addictions. But then, the way human survival manifests itself can make for riveting television. In a culture that's filled with people dying to spill their inner lives, no matter how boring it is, My Strange Addiction provides a valuable service: Those who populate this show have secrets worth sharing.