Sunday, May 29, 2005

COLUMN: Extreme Makeover Home Edition

This column has me a bit nervous. I'm about to rip on one of America's most beloved TV shows, and it may end up costing me some fans. But I can remain silent no more. This show has tugged at my heartstrings for the last time, and it's time I tackled the emotional whirlwind that is ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

If you've never seen the show, the premise is simple: A needy family is profiled, then whisked away to Disneyland while Ty Whats-his-name and his construction crew demolishes their house and rebuilds from the ground up. The family returns to a palatial estate fit for a king. Warm fuzzies infect the hearts of all. Grown men cry like babies. And I hate it all.

Every week, the family they choose to "make over" seems to fall into one of two camps. The first is the Family That Gives So Much To Their Community. Whether they've adopted 12 orphans or spend their days saving rainforests, the family is too busy giving unto others to notice that they're living in a rat-infested trailer. The other deserving recipients are the families suffering from Freaky Obscure Medicial Condition-itis -- like a child who's allergic to the color orange, and thus needs a carefully constructed orange-free abode.

Well, how is THAT supposed to be fair? I can't top a sob story like that! How can I compete against Orange Boy? I live in a crummy apartment, and hey, I want a new house, too. But my pre-show interview would be like, "Well, Ty, as you can see, my CD and DVD collections are outgrowing my tiny one bedroom apartment. And my closets are barely big enough to stash all my porno magazines. Won't you please lend a hand?" That's not going to make Ty cry.

These crews build an entire new home in SEVEN DAYS. Is that even safe? Now, keep in mind I know nothing about new home construction, but doesn't concrete and caulk and stuff like that have to DRY? How can they build and properly insulate a home in a week? Notice that they never show the completed home during a rainstorm. It's not a contest or a race, Ty, take your time and build these homes right. And who pays for the taxes on these properties? Here, Mr. Impoverished Citizen, here's your fabulous new home!* (*$70,000 property tax bill not pictured.)

But the thing that gets on my nerves the most about the show is what they always do to the poor children's bedrooms. Invariably, they walk into a kid's "before" room, notice one decoration that the kid has out on a shelf, and then theme the poor kid's entire new room around whatever knick-knack or toy he forgot to put away. For instance, in one episode, a kid had a little plastic dinosaur sitting out in his room. Ergo, the crack team from the show decided to turn his room into Jurassic Park, complete with a dinosaur bed and wall murals. To enter the room, you had to walk through a gigantic, snarling dinosaur mouth.

When I was a kid, I remember having some dinosaur stuff. Then 2 weeks later, it was Star Wars stuff. 2 weeks after that? Football stuff. Kids go through phases and change their interests and hobbies ALL the time. Yet poor little Timmy will be stuck in his creepy dinosaur room until he moves out. Let's be honest here -- eventually Little Timmy is going to be a hormonally-challenged teenager, and Little Suzie is NEVER going to let him get to first base as long as they're sitting around in the Land of the Lost. (Though, it must be said, "Hey, baby, wanna see my velociraptor?" has potential as a good pick-up line.)

I can't really knock the show TOO much. Last week, they built a home for the needy family of the first woman killed in recent combat in Iraq. I'm all for helping folks out. What I'm NOT for is how ABC milks the emotion out of the participants. It's almost as if you can sense a drooling producer just off camera going, "Ooh, ooh, she's about to cry! Zoom in!"

Charity is awesome. But charity for the sake of television ratings is just plain evil. It might feel good to watch those in need get the blessings they deserve, but it feels better to do it YOURSELF. Turn off the tear-jerky schlock, open your wallets, and donate what you can to the local American Red Cross or United Way. Then you'll know what charity REALLY feels like.


me said...

Even better than donating money is donating time. Many organizations need volunteers but have difficulty finding them. Helping build a home with Habitat for Humanity or providing snacks for blood donors is even more rewarding than opening up the wallet.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. That show makes me want to puke. Disney has found a way to profit from these poor people.

Is it really charity if Disney is making money off of it? The best kind of charity is the anonymous kind, the kind where no one even knows who did it. Not the kind that is measured in Neilsen ratings.