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 TV Bites With Neena Louise

Don't Try this at Home

by Neena Louise

One Saturday morning (now that the cartoonfest that used to be Saturday morning has vanished), I watched a slew of home improvement shows and laughed myself silly. I don't know exactly what category today's home improvement shows fall in. Fiction? Humor? Drama? Perhaps Sci-Fi? Because, to be sure, this is NOT real life.

Having renovated many a house, I have to wonder just how these people manage to fix everything perfectly (first time around), on time and on budget in 30 minutes or less. This just doesn't happen. Today's home improvement shows are doing a great disservice to those who, after viewing the spectacular results achieved by the TV People, decide to undertake a renovation project, only to find themselves at the mercy of contractors (who always say "two weeks" when you ask them how long a project - any project - will take, then always take 10 weeks to even start). Or find themselves unable to locate the proper materials. Or find that "surprise" problem (and there's always a surprise or two) that requires starting over. Or have permit problems. Or have irate neighbors complaining about the noise...the list goes on. Why don't home improvement shows mention any of these typical renovation problems? They will, at times, touch on the subject of what can go wrong, but, for the most part, the renovation looks clean and perfect with highly skilled tradesmen at the ready, able to fix everything right away at little cost.

Bob Vila is the most ridiculous. I can't stand Vila's monstrous ego and revolting condescending attitude, but I thought I'd give his show a look and laughed my head off. Sure, HE can find people that know what they're doing and do it fast (free national exposure can make any tradesman instantly available, after all) and they remain informative and polite despite Vila's obnoxious insults (where was Bob when I had a curse-laden screaming match with an incompetent roofer?); HE can find people that can handle those "surprises" with ease and calmness (where was Bob when my contractor scratched his head at my uneven ceiling? Or left me with no functioning toilets?); HE can find dry wallers, painters and carpenters that know what they're doing (where was Bob when my painter painted all the windows shut and the carpenter put a giant scratch in my brand new flooring?); HE can find those people - no one else can. And of course, his tradesmen are going to do the job under budget. Do you seriously think that a tradesman is going to go over budget on NATIONAL TELEVISION?!?

Over to Hometime and another gigglefest. These people seem to do everything lickety-split with no mess and absolutely no problems at all. Sure, they vaguely mention how it's "the next day" when doing whatever project they're doing, but with the way this show is presented, it always appears they add a room, build a deck or finish a basement perfectly in 30 minutes or less. Just the two of them. Mwahahahaha!

This Old House comes closest to reality. Not everyone has an old house they're trying to remodel (which have "special" problems of their own), but at least some of the more common problems are presented and solutions are offered (I'll never forget the host's clearly-evident frustration while trying to get a building permit). Since they often take an entire season for a single project, the timeline is also a little more realistic. But, with all those skilled workers just hanging around waiting to do their thing, reality slips a little. A lot, actually.

Anyone who watches these shows and thinks it's really that simple is a fool. Home improvement shows are great for ideas, but the only way to truly know what a renovation project is like is to DO one. They never go "as seen on TV" - it just doesn't happen like that in real life. I suspect if renovation virgins knew what it was really like, they'd never attempt it. I'd like to see a home improvement show that actually shows what a real renovation project is like - the dust, the disruption, the noise, the rude contractors, the tradesmen that don't show up or show up on the wrong day, the delivery of wrong materials, the cost, the constant surprises and the enormous relief when it's finally finished. I'd call it Renovation: Life in Hell
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