Thursday, January 20, 2005

Extreme Makeover....to what end? 

I have seen a couple episodes of ABC's reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and have found the show compelling viewing despite some drawbacks that could make the show even better.

The basic premise of the show is that the lives of good families who have to deal with adverse circumstances are changed when the cast of the show and several hundred workers completely rebuild and remodel their house in the span of seven days. The show's premise and execution are great ideas. Each show is self contained (making for easier syndication) and is a "reality" show where people are actually uplifted and helped unlike other "reality" shows where the contestants are the beneficiaries of the fame and attention. The idea of showing spectacular acts of charity and mercy is one that the other mainstream media (and even cable networks) ought to look at copying.

The houses the design team transform are ordinary units to begin with and usually the houses are too small for the family or are in VERY bad shape and in need of major repair. The transformations are spectacular, bold, and very thoughtful and creative and dare I say it?....inspiring. It is amazing to see very creative minds create custom beds for kids or to see the design team match needs with great taste. For example, in this episode, Mr. Wofford was given a new office for chiropratic practice and an elegant master bedroom suite that was designed for a manly man raising a large family. That was one example of getting it right and a demonstration of the show at its best.

The show does have its drawbacks though. The first criticism is the eerie Truman Show-esque placement of Sears products. I know that sears is a corporate sponsor of the show and all, but to have the appliances, furniture and interior decorations from one general source is a little off-putting. The next criticism of the show hits at the show's strong suite: the design of the kid's rooms in the house. Without fail, the design team usually goes overboard in designing a room based upon a child's taste and wants. Therein lies the rub. While I have no problem with designing a room that appeals to children or has good taste, I do have a problem with letting the kid's wants and tastes dictate the design of the room. For instance, on one past episode, a young boy's room was made with a New England Patriots theme. The only problem is that the boy was located in southern California. Perhaps he has always been a Patriots fan, but I doubt it. The question that my wife asked is relevant: "What happens to the room when the kid's tastes change?" That question of timelessness is also my largest criticism of the show.

Even though the makeover of the houses are complete and often very spectacular, I have to wonder whether the show would be better if they concentrated on a common vision for what would make a house a home and how the house would blend in with the surrounding neighborhood and the natural world around the house. I have my doubts as to whether or not the houses redone on the show will be studied and photographed the way Frank Lloyd Wright's houses are studied? I think the show could be sooo much more than what it is if the design team were allowed to stretch and push themselves to think creatively and to ponder timelessness in what they are doing. The cast pursues after instant gratification and a "wow!" factor when their considerable talents could be poured into pursuing truth and beauty instead.

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