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Trading Spaces

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A new TV season is upon us, and all the media is talking about is The Soprano’s. Apparently, life’s worth living again, now that Tony is back. Well, I’ve never seen an episode, and nobody I know talks about it. However, mention Trading Spaces and heads pop out of cubicles at work, perfect strangers start talking to you in stores, even feuding neighbors put aside their differences to chat about this show. “Did you see the one where the lady cried and had to leave the room” is the most common remark I hear. “Yeah”, I always reply, “And Doug didn’t even touch her precious wood mantle.” I’m amazed at how many people watch this show, although they usually don’t mention it until you do. It’s a guilty pleasure, I suppose. The Learning Channel had the good sense to take the British show “Changing Rooms” and make into the American “Trading Spaces”, which ought to satisfy all the highbrows out there that you’re watching quality television

TLC runs two episodes on Saturday night, plus one every weekday afternoon. And if you’ve been good, they run marathons some weekends. The premise of the show is simple: two sets of neighbors redecorate a room in each others house and can’t see the results until the job is complete. Each team of two has two days, $1000 dollars, and help from a professional designer and carpenter. Each show has the same outline: The interview with the homeowner(s), meeting the designer and carpenter, swapping keys to each others house, the first day, homework, the second day, “time’s up”, the before and after shots, the interview with the designers, and the reveal. The reveal is the high point of the show – this is where the neighbors get to see what’s happened to their room. Some people have been known to cry. Others are more low key, but clearly dislike the transformation. Most of the time, people are happy. They tell you not to say “Wow” or “Oh my God”, but everybody does. Even if they hate it.

Why is it so popular? It combines the reality show (or “life unscripted” which is TLC’s tagline) with the home improvement show, recasts it as a mystery, and throws in some fun and personality. First Alex was the hostess, but she moved on, and now we have perky Paige, the younger sister next door. There are two regular carpenters (only one per show): Ty Pennington, who’s a funny flake, and Amy Wynn Pastor, who’s a babe. They have a bunch of designers — who you don’t get to pick.

Frank, dear old cherubic Frank, the beloved designer, the buddy, “thank God it’s Frank!”, the designer who always adds a personal touch of painting, the designer who listens to his people and changes his plans Frank.

Hildy, stylish Hildy, “Oh, it’s Hildy”, spare Hildy, the sophisticated designer, clad in black and shod in heels, don’t talk back to the designer Hildy, “magenta taupe, magenta taupe, all around the room”.

Doug, boo hiss Doug, Mr. Aloof, Mr. Sneer, Mr. my way or the highway, the designer who most closely resembles Snidely Whiplash, “Oh No, it’s Doug!”, Mr. Modern Dark and Brown.

Laurie, nice Laurie, pregnant and now mother Laurie, Laurie of the Red Curls, the elegant designer, the Southern Belle, “Oh, it’s Laurie”.

Vern, small but mighty, wielder of Feng Shui, “Oh good, it’s Vern”, the clean and spare designer, Mr. Candles and bamboo, the romantic designer.

Genevieve, “Oh good, it’s Genevieve”, clad in black and bare of foot, Genevieve of the long dangly earring, the creative designer, the fun gal, the designer who always uses an inspiration piece, Genevieve the voluptuous.

This year there are two new designers, Edward and Kia, added to the mix. Will Trading Spaces be able to keep my interest? I don’t know, but I expect so. They keep adding new designers, the neighbors are new every episode, and they provide both aid and comfort when it comes to decorating. Aid in that they give you some great ideas, and comfort in that they show even professionals can screw up. My favorite disaster was when Hildy decorated a room for a toddler by gluing straw to the walls. When the neighbor mentioned that the child would pick all the straw off, Hildy replied that all you had to do was tell the child not to — end of discussion. Yeah, right. When Doug redid a family room as an art deco movie theater, I had to applaud the execution but wonder at the idea. And when they showed that the “screen” was a puny 19″ TV, I had to laugh.

And what is the deal with the designers and ceiling fans. I love mine, but the first thing that goes in any room on this show is the ceiling fan. I was shocked that on the latest episode, Edward only repainted the ceiling fan. Maybe he represents knew thinking on the ceiling fan. Maybe they just haven’t informed him of the requirement to get rid of them yet.

If you’re looking for something different on TV, give Trading Spaces a try.

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About Kevin Murphy

  • andy

    Trading Spaces is good – for more honest reactions to the rooms, try Changing Rooms (which predates Trading Spaces) on BBC America. And for the landscaping version of that type of show, there’s Ground Force, also on BBC America.

    The wife and I are hooked on them all.

    So are a lot of other people judging by the number of Google hits for “Paige Davis Trading Spaces nude” I get at the World Wide Rant.

  • Mary

    I still prefer Changing Rooms, but TS is growing on me. *The* place to go for episode recaps and snarky forum commentary is

  • Ross

    Nice review. We are hopelessly addicted to all of them — Ground Force, Changing Rooms & Trading Spaces, not to mention Iron Chef. Our weekend television viewing habits are centered around these three shows and the HBO Sunday night lineup. Pitiful but true. Of course, with all of these shows, it’s a matter of vicarious thrill and envy, since we’re neither skilled cooks nor home improvement/gardening folks.

    I’m not a fan of Genevieve. I still haven’t forgiven her for the moss wall.

  • andy

    Hmm, I’m a fan of Genevieve, but not necessarily for her decorating skills. Maybe it’s just me. :)

    Frank is the one I am not a fan of – if roadside faux-country Cracker Barrel decor is what you’re after, though, he’s your man.

    I can’t endure Iron Chef, unfortunately.

  • Kevin Murphy

    Changing Rooms seems to be more about trying to piss your neighbors off and their reactions than Trading Spaces. My problem with it is the same I have with all the British home improvement/decor shows – I can’t relate. The spaces are smaller, older and the design sensibility is different. I only enjoy the human interest part.

    Iron chef – a friend at work loves it, but every time I watch, I just laugh. I’m sorry, I can’t take preparing squid in bizarre ways seriously (like the announcers do).

    That’s the greatness of cable – there’s something for everyone.

  • Ross

    In that respect, andy, it’s not just you who admires Genevieve. I just hate her taste.

    As for Frank, yeah, he’s a bit too country kitchen for me (I’d rank my favorites Laurie of the PreRaphaelite curls and honeysuckle accent, Laurie, Laurie, then Vern, then the rest of ’em in a lump), but I do like the way he engages people in the process. In that way, it’s much more like Changing Rooms.

    And regarding Iron Chef, part of the appeal to me is the unfamiliarity of many of the ingredients, flavors and preparations. These guys really know what they’re doing. My wife & I have been to top restaurants around the world (including Tour D’Argent, whose chef recently kicked Iron Chef French’s behind), and the lunch we had at Nobu in New York (former home of Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto) was one of the top 5 meals we’ve had anywhere, even though many of the flavors and ingredients were new to us.

    The only exception is Iron Chef Italian. He’s lame.