Movie: Reality television is one of the fastest growing genres in terms of popularity and if you really take a moment to think about it, most such shows are lame. The one exception to this steadfast rule is the home improvement show. Home improvement television shows have been around for decades, parodied a bit in the situation comedy Home Improvement (with the Tool Time show within a show), in part because people want nice places to live but usually can't afford to hire professionals. In recent years, cable television has seen a flurry of such shows that all have their own unique style. The BBC has also had such shows including a little half hour favorite called Changing Spaces. This show is the basis for a TLC (The Learning Channel) hit called Trading Spaces.
The show's formula goes something like this: two couples, with the help of two professional designers and a master carpenter, trade houses for a weekend and fix up a single room for their friends. They are held to a strict budget of $1000 each by an attractive host (in the first season, it was the lovely Alex McLeod of Joe Millionaire fame, but later seasons had the more energetic and equally attractive Paige Davis), who assists each couple from time to time. Like the spin off show While You Were Out, there are a host of techniques that everyday people with little training in home improvement can use to fix up their living spaces using more sweat equity than cash. The show itself started in 2000 on the little-known cable station and has since helped boost TLC to a newfound status with ratings increases all the time. The core demographic seems to be younger couples since the designers, carpenters, and hosts all reflect that attractive appeal I've noticed in more mainstream projects too. In later seasons, designers like Frank (an older teddy bear type) were added but most of the time, even the guests reflect this focus. In a collection of Season One episodes, Best Of Trading Spaces: Viewer's Choice, host Alex McLeod is present for five of the most popular episodes of this increasingly popular show. Here's a quick breakdown of the show by the cast and episode but more information can be found on the official company website:
New Orleans: Jacob Street: 2001: Host: Alex McLeod: Designers: Laurie Smith and Hilda Santo-Tomas:
Sophisticated Hilda and bubbly Laurie each help a couple redecorate a kitchen (one is more than a kitchen) with the help of carpenter Amy Wynn Pastor. Each room was much larger than usual, stretching the $1000 budgets to the max (forcing the designers to cut corners and call in some favors). This was one of the more labor-intensive shows from Season One.
New Jersey: Sam Street: 2001: Host: Alex McLeod: Designers: Laurie Smith and Hilda Santo-Tomas:
With the help of superstar carpenter Ty Pennington (a fan favorite on his own), Laurie redecorates a dining room, making it far more interesting while Hilda tackles a nearly empty master bedroom in order to make it more adult friendly. Ty didn't get much screen time here in this Season One episode and it seemed like the designers took center stage (something that isn't always the case with the show.
Santa Fe: Calle Feliz: 2001: Host: Alex McLeod: Designers: Genevieve Gorder and Vern Yip:
Genevieve gets the task of designing an outdated living room while Vern handles a functional but boring kitchen. Vern is one of the most technically capable designers of the show but lacked the flair (and great body) of Genevieve, who had a bigger challenge this time. Had the budgets been much larger, a lot more could've been done to both rooms but given the circumstances, each did a lot with Ty's carpentry skills.
Austin: Wing Road: 2001: Host: Alex McLeod: Designers: Genevieve Gorder and Hilda Santo-Tomas:
Alex explored her Texan roots while Hilda worked on a stylish (at least after it was done) living room, Genevieve employs a number of cost saving measures to stretch the budget for her country kitchen (painting a floor?!?). Carpenter Amy Wynn Pastor nurses some really untalented homeowners through a few projects, seemingly adding a lot of time to simple projects. The up side was that if those folks could fix up the rooms (albeit with a lot of help), any of us could do the same.
Orlando: Lake Catherine: Host: Alex McLeod: Designers: Hilda Santo-Tomas and Vern Yip:
Hilda's task is to spice up a boring bedroom while Vern's expertise is used to transform a kitchen from vanilla to a spicy entertainment centerpiece. If this episode had been a contest, I'm not sure who would've won since each designer, with the help of carpenter Ty Pennington of course, did a great job but I leaned towards Vern's kitchen.
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. My one caveat for the DVD's is that there were some moments of pixelation, particularly on the second and third discs, showing a sketchy mastering job.
Sound: The audio was presented in stereo, PCM (pulse code modulated) English with no subtitles present. The music was low budget but added to the charm and the vocals were always clear. I don't mind the music being so minimal; after all, the show is about saving money, but I'd like TLC to consider subtitles or closed captioning for the hearing impaired since they might be a target audience that has been overlooked to date.
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. Also, with only one episode per DVD, there was plenty of room to add extras, or at least save space and put two shows per DVD.
Final Thoughts: Before this DVD set came out, I had never seen any of the Season One shows since most of them are either not in syndication or not rotated into syndication very often. While I like the current host, Paige Davis, much more, the designers and carpenters were still learning to deal with the concept here and gave some of their freshest performances. I'm a new convert to the show and have soaked up as many episodes as I could in syndication but my biggest disappointment with this DVD set is that it wasn't a full Season One set with all the episodes. Like the Best Of While You Were Out set recently released, the lack of extras came a close second in my eyes in reasons to consider this a Rent It but that show was cheaper and had more episodes to enjoy, boosting its rating a bit. You can find the sets on sale at the official website for really low prices but in lieu of getting truly solid season sets full of extras, I can't recommend this one as much as I enjoy the show. With decent DVD mastering, four or more episodes could be placed on a DVD, and subtitles or closed captioning could be added for the hearing impaired, making these single episode DVD's something of a curiosity. By all means, check out the show on cable or pick up this set for an idea of how entertaining it is but consider writing TLC to get them to "do it right" in future releases (they have already started releasing compilations of bloopers, worst of sets with angry homeowners, and other shows with decent extras so I'm hoping they decide to cash in with improved season sets too).