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.