Movie: In the past few years, there has been something of a home improvement boom in this country. As people have sought to fix up their homes (and apartments) in order to improve their quality of life, companies like Home Depot and Loews have skyrocketed in growth. Such stores offer project classes for folks of average talent to DIY (do it yourself) with a host of different ideas to make our living spaces more personalized, particularly in these days of cookie cutter houses. During the same time frame, reality television has taken off so it seemed logical for a small cable television network to offer a show (or three) addressing this rapidly growing market. One of the most successful shows in this genre now has a DVD set for fans, The Very Best Of While You Were Out.
Based on a British television show, While You Were Out combines thrift, creativity and timeliness, something few home projects seem to encompass (in the long run at least) with the desire to create special places out of home spaces. The general concept of this hour-long show is to work with a set budget of $1500 ($1800 for outdoor projects), the assistance of a professional designer, two skilled carpenters, a youthful host, and a spy camera. One partner (usually a husband or wife) will plot to get their significant other out of the house for a weekend, usually sent to some cool vacation spot, where they are followed by a cameraman who is filming them for answers to various questions. The partner at home will, between fixing up the house with the team, answer the multiple choice questions based on their knowledge of their partner. If they answer the questions right, they get great prizes to be incorporated into the design. If they get them wrong, they get lousy crud that must stay. Contrary to popular belief, the contestants do not always win the prizes.
In any case, everyone contributes to the final makeover of the room or backyard, and the results are usually surprisingly good. There is just enough technique shown to allow a viewer to get some ideas about fixing their own home up, something that usually takes longer than the 48 hours the show allows. The show has a variety of designers participating as well as some regular carpenters (Leslie Segrete and Andrew Dan-Jumbo for the most part) but has used three regular hosts (initially the weird Anna Bocci; followed by the attractive and talented Teresa Strasser, my personal favorite; and currently the appealing Evan Farmer). In only a few seasons, this TLC show, along with Trading Spaces, has made for a cottage industry of reality shows that are all over television these days. For the most part, I have really enjoyed the show, being something of a new convert, and this DVD set is a collection of fan favorites. Here's a brief description of the shows comprising the DVD set:
Portland: Fireman's Loft: 10/10/2003: Host: Evan Farmer: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
This episode had a wife wanting to fix up a recreation room for her fireman/husband with the help of carpenters Leslie Segrete and Andrew Dan-Jumbo. The wife, Maria Renaudi, had very little technical skills and her husband, Bud, was the one who built their house (doing all the work). The entire firehouse was in on the deal but the danger was him returning home too soon. The other danger was that Chayse's style of design being more suitable for women than manly public safety employees.
Baltimore: Tasting Room: 8/29/2003: Host: Evan Farmer: Designer: John Bruce:
A couple of sisters, Laurin and Tara, wanted to update their mother's kitchen and dining room by converting them into a wine tasting room. The two gals were hotties and I'd have helped them do some homework if I knew they'd be so pressed for time. With carpenters Leslie Segrete and Andrew Dan-Jumbo and a budget of only $1500, there was no way they could finish without some extra help (which they got from some cabinet makers). To be fair, it looked like they spent ten times as much and the rooms looked awesome.
Charlotte: Marblerock Court: 6/27/2003: Host: Teresa Strasser: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
Shawna wanted to finish a room in two days instead of the months it usually takes her in order to surprise her husband Mehrdad. The mission this time is to change a game room from functional to worldly and fun. Her husband is from Iran and she's English so it lent to the theme. Leslie Segrete and Andrew Dan-Jumbo were still working on the room when he walked in the house but it looked much better than before (Chayse can work wonders when forced to do so).
Kansas: West 49th Street: 9/14/2002: Host: Anna Bocci: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
John wanted to give his wife, Amy, a new bedroom and Chayse, with the help of carpenters Leslie Segrete and Andrew Dan-Jumbo, managed to improve the look of the room from a virtual hotel room (they moved in six months prior and haven't done anything with it) to an art deco paradise. This was my least favorite room of the DVD set since it didn't look like much of a difference and the host was my least favorite of the show (as a normal guy, of course I preferred watching Teresa in her jeans).
North Andover: Thinking Man's Room: 9/19/2003: Host: Evan Farmer: Designer: John Bruce:
The goal this time was to convert an upstairs study from a drab room full of bookshelves to a worldly, Renaissance type of room for a nuclear physicist father. Bruce is the type of designer to combine function and form in order to appease men more than the frilly style most women seem to prefer. In the end, the room looked like something a modern-day Galileo or Da Vinci would've felt at home with. The father was lucky enough to get a tour of a space museum, something he really treasured.
Virginia: 18th Street North: 8/8/2003: Host: Teresa Strasser: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
Julie, the fiancée of a man wanting to settle down in his new house, gets a swank nightclub style lounge with a Rat Pack theme. Leslie and Andrew are both put to work right away in order to transform the room to Chayse's specifications as AJ is living it up in Atlantic City by gambling the weekend away. Julie didn't get all the questions right so AJ had to win the various accessories in the end quiz or suffer a barren room.
Illinois: Prairie Mist Drive: 8/24/2002: Host: Anna Bocci: Designer: Stephen Saint-Onge:
Shelly is a suburban housewife wanting to make a romantic bedroom for her and her husband Tom. Stephen decides to transform the room into a masculine spa but Shelly keeps screwing up the quizzes, giving the famed designer less to work with. Andrew and Leslie, the regular carpenters, were less at ease here since this was an early episode where their chemistry didn't yet gel as it did in later shows. The room itself looked really good once finished but it seemed like Tom wasn't overly enthusiastic with the end result.
Tennessee: Meadow Trail Drive: 5/30/2003: Host: Teresa Strasser: Designer: Mayita Dinos:
Ken, an insurance agent, wants to fulfill his promise of making over the backyard for his wife, Leah. Aside from some earlier false starts, the huge backyard was really lame looking and the team's work was cut out for them. This was one of the first outdoor makeovers I saw (the first time I watched it, I only caught about 20 minutes of the show) and Andrew was joined by a different carpenter partner, Adrienne Haitz. Most of this show was centered on planting stuff with a few Scottish style projects to accent the theme.
I like the show and really wish it were released in full season sets rather than bouncing around the life of the show as this set did. I know some shows worked out better than others but there was a lot to like in this set of shows. If you have any interest in the fix it craze, you'll probably have a lot of fun with this set, although I was surprised that there were no extras or other value added content you typically find on DVD. I'd suggest you watch an episode or two on cable television before buying this set but if you enjoy what you see, you'll probably think a rating of Recommended to be fair.
Picture: The picture was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, as originally shot. The fleshtones were accurate, the colors solid and the image crisp and clear. While there would occasionally be some pattern noise, it always looked much better than my cable company and that alone made it worth a couple of bucks for me to shell out over the advertisement laden episodes on cable.
Sound: The audio was presented in stereo English with no subtitles present. The music was low budget but added to the charm and the vocals were always clear. Some care seemed to be put into the making of the show and I had nothing bad to say about the audio track.
Extras: Sadly, there were no extras here. I wish there would've been interviews, commentary tracks, or even follow-ups to revisit some of the houses a year or so later to see how a design was holding up but nothing was here. I think future volumes might want to include some of the tips to designing your own makeover or on what techniques were used in a show; the possibilities are endless.
Final Thoughts: I admit to becoming hooked on this show in recent months. As a potential homeowner myself, every episode gives me ideas on what I want and takes some of the mystery out of fixing up a house or handling a project on my own. After all, if some of these regular people can do it, why not me? The show still airs on cable and while I miss Teresa Strasser's dry humor, Evan's starting to grow on me and I'll always have those reruns to savor. In terms of entertainment value for the dollar, the bare bones nature of this DVD set bugs me right up until I look at how cheaply it can be found online, a tradeoff that I hope is revisited in later releases.