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:
Baltimore: Tasting Room: 8/29/2003: Host: Evan Farmer: Designer: John Bruce:
Charlotte: Marblerock Court: 6/27/2003: Host: Teresa Strasser: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
Kansas: West 49th Street: 9/14/2002: Host: Anna Bocci: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
North Andover: Thinking Man's Room: 9/19/2003: Host: Evan Farmer: Designer: John Bruce:
Virginia: 18th Street North: 8/8/2003: Host: Teresa Strasser: Designer: Chayse Dacoda:
Illinois: Prairie Mist Drive: 8/24/2002: Host: Anna Bocci: Designer: Stephen Saint-Onge:
Tennessee: Meadow Trail Drive: 5/30/2003: Host: Teresa Strasser: Designer: Mayita Dinos:
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.