DIY Network: A step in the right direction?

Ah, DIY. The network I want so much to love, but just can’t. Renovation Realities is fun in an “I’m not that dumb, am I?” kind of way, and Holmes on Holmes is solid, but the host’s constant bemused amazement at the incompetence of lesser contractors is grating. These days there is some new blood in the lineup, and while I don’t watch religiously, I’ve seen enough to comment.

Frontier House

This was one of the more interesting prospects in the new crop of shows. Who embodies the DIY spirit more than a frontier settler? I was excited to learn more about frontier building techniques and their origins, be they native American, invented by immigrants, or imported from Europe. Unfortunately, the “settlers” are rich city dwellers cast to live a life of contrived frontier hardship. The show becomes more a fish-out-of-water reality show, with crying children, incredulous wives, and husbands keen to prove they can still stain their white collars with sweat. Not my thing.

Building Alaska

This is like a modern-day version of what I wanted Frontier House to be. The show follows a man building as modern a house as he can manage on his remote Alaskan site. In one of the only episodes I’ve seen, he runs out of lumber, so he straight-up makes his own from a tree. The show is so matter-of-fact that it makes you wonder, “would I have thought of that?” For example, the plumber practically brings a barge full of every conceivable fitting, because in such a remote location he essentially needs to be his own hardware store. My only issue with this show is scheduling; reruns are sporadic, and new episodes are weeknights at 11, and the show is good, but not good enough to take me away from Conan.

Made in Milwaukee

This is probably the best new show DIY has to offer. The show follows Flux Design, a design-build firm in Milwaukee. I’ll generously call the proprietor “off-beat” (he wears a leather kilt), but some would say “annoying” (he has made at least one Borat reference in every episode I’ve seen. Yeah.). My favorite part is that each show spends about 90 seconds at a round-table, charette-style design meeting at the firm. 90 seconds isn’t much, but it’s better than the approximately 0.0 seconds spent talking about design on any other show. Each member of the crew has a unique personality and it doesn’t seem too forced, excepting a bizarre sequence there the team plays around in some appliance boxes. My biggest beef with this show (and every other show) is the fetish with the “surprise reveal”. The homeowners are forcibly exiled from their space while the design is executed so that we can all see the looks on their faces when it’s done. It’s completely old hat and unnecessary, not to mention unrealistic. Abandoning this gimmick would be a huge step in the right direction for any show.

That’s everything I’ve seen so far. There are some other options that have yet to debut (A Bryk at a Time) or that I have no interest in (The Vanilla Ice Project). If there’s anything out there worth checking out, let me know.

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