May 23, 2013

House Rules: a week in review

by Chris Vlahonasios

Yet again Australia has been offered a show that network executives hope will become another mega series. Along with hits like My Kitchen Rules and The Voice now it’s House Rules on Channel 7, the brainchild of the creators who gave us MKR. Now, the first week has gone by and what do we think? Is it a winner or renovator’s nightmare?

I anxiously awaited its premiere. I was keen to see a different take on the reno-genre as The Block on Channel 9, despite still being a very successful series, has for many seasons made me cringe. Also, as someone who works in the construction industry I was very interested to see a programme where I might learn something new.

The show’s concept is different to The Block. Six couples take turns renovating each other’s homes based on a set of ‘house rules’ within one week. At the end of the series each couple’s house will be completely renovated but one will have their entire mortgage paid off. A unique prize as it’s not an upfront monetary reward.

The teams
Chris & Nick
A pair of Greek brothers, the only non-Anglos on the show. Young, ambitious and competitive guaranteed to be liked by audiences. So far they have received the most screen presence on sponsors’ commercials, a sign of their popularity. Being energetic and handsome projects a sense of vitality which the show wants to associate with DIY renovating.

Michelle & Steve
Catering for audiences of the baby-boomer generation, its obvious why this older couple were chosen: to generate tension. They are often confrontational, domineering and aggressive with other teams. They’ve rubbed me the wrong way and it will take a lot for me to like them.

Amy & Sean
Recently engaged, first-time renovators, they play the role of the ‘underdogs’ due to their lack of experience. Highly photogenic, attractive, non-aggressive and good-natured their personalities make them impossible to hate, especially Sean’s big smiles and laugher. He’s the good guy who stays calm and is always there to comfort Amy when she cries – which is most of the time.

Jane & Plinio
The middle-age couple who have no idea what they’re doing. The daffy and docile Plinio plays second-fiddle to his wife who doesn’t know what gyprock is despite ordering a tradie to do it. Although a drama teacher, supposedly a creative person, Jane lacks any design coordination and leaves most of the physical work to Plinio while she goes shopping.

Jemma & Ben
Young newlyweds their house was first to be renovated so we don’t know much about them yet. Now in the second week, carpenter husband Ben and cute-as-a-button Jemma have not won me over. I just don’t gel with them. There’s something about them I don’t like, maybe its Ben’s sinister arched eye-brows?

Carly & Leighton
Carly, the rural air-hostess, is definitely one of my favourites. Despite being rough, loud with an almost ‘butch’ appearance, yet I find her animated reactions and bubbly nature very appealing. Her tradie husband doesn’t emulate that same warmth, coming across a little sly.

Of course, when dealing with ‘reality’ TV it’s vital to have mismatched characters to give the show momentum and make it entertaining. Yet, there’s more to House Rules which is beyond the cat-fights and conflicting personalities. It portrays ordinary people doing hard work. However, there are several things which I cannot take seriously as a builder.

The teams are shown absolutely demolishing each house with almost crazed fury. However, based on personal experience, you do not want to demolish a house in such a manner allowing all the dust and filth from the roof to fall on you. Pink-batts in the ceiling are made of mainly glass which really irritates your skin and eyes. Showing such content on TV is unsafe and irresponsible because ordinary people think there’s nothing wrong with working like that. However, it makes for good TV and audiences must love seeing people smash things and getting covered head-to-toe in about 40 years worth of dust and rat droppings. Also, this is really all the contestants are allowed to do because they’re not registered builders and not all of them are tradesmen.

Site supervisor, Chester, I don’t get. He doesn’t look like a real site supervisor – ‘healthy’ orange tan, perfectly white teeth and model-like good looks and the name ‘Chester’? Also, how can ALL the contestants have pearly-white teeth? The show’s producers must have made it compulsory they all got their teeth polished. And why do Amy & Sean constantly wear the same coloured tops? Makes me wonder if it’s no accident then it must be a deliberate joke.

Then there’s the issue of design consistency. Each house has five teams with different ideas on how to renovate and decorate their rooms. This potentially leads to a house with a ‘schizophrenic personality’ in that the home will have five different styles which do not seamlessly blend as each team is trying to outdo each other.

What I also dislike is how such shows encourage and excite people into completely changing their homes for the sake of fashion. It was funny to see Jane purchase a lamp shade and LED shower-rose which was also used by a team on The Block. This coincidence occurred because these are the mass-produced items currently being peddled by interior suppliers. By using shows like House Rules and The Block suppliers are hoping these items are seen then become desired by the public and establish a ‘trend’ – despite the lamp was better suited in a chic cafĂ© and the shower-rose was as tacky as Las Vegas.

Another criticism is the seven-day deadline. This is very tight. With the first house it could be seen the quality of workmanship was low because the contestants were pressed for time and their work suffered. For example, it’s impossible to pull down a plaster wall, hang new sheets, tape joints, basecoat, sand, topcoat, sand, paint sealer then 2-3 coats of topcoat all in 3-hours! This could be achieved with heaters and several tradesmen but in reality this job, if done properly, would take about two days. If the show cared about quality of work, 10-14 days would have been more appropriate.

To the show’s benefit at least we’re not subjected to thousands of obvious product-placements. And so far House Rules does not get contestants to ‘acting out roles’ to create drama, unlike The Block. But unfortunately it looks like they’re starting to move in that direction. You can feel the stiffness of the scripted scenes – dread! Furthermore, for anyone who works in the industry, the choice of cushions and lamp shades are not the most important part of the reno/building process, but the hard physical work.

The show has created really effective marketing strategies for their sponsors. Masters, Samsung and Commonwealth Bank all have their products/services tied into the show and its contestants, even getting them to star in their commercials. As a result, their faces are closely associated with the product and the show. I thought it interesting how Commonwealth re-screened one of their ads from a few years ago which showed a hula-girl figurine on a dashboard which Michelle also has one in her ute. Coincidence?

Only time will tell if this show is a success. However, House Rules might not make it like other mega-successful series, Masterchef and The Voice, because not everyone is physically able or capable of renovating but almost everybody can cook or sing, or so they think.

House Rules does give audiences something new and in a format that’s fresh compared to the annoying The Block with all its scripted overacting. Yet, even for those who don’t normally get their hands dirty would find the teams’ relationships and drama interesting enough and might learn a thing or two about renovating.

Do you agree? Leave a comment.

1 comment:

Lawrence said...

I've been downloading/watching it via torrents here in China, and I've been enjoying it.

Sure, there are some obvious advertorial moments, but overall its worth watching.

The timing is ridiculous as you mentioned, lots of hand waving over masses of construction workers doing stuff. Even so, the end results do look ok to good. For all the mention of budgets in the early episodes, it would have been nice to see more on that - eg broken down costs a la Storage Wars.

The show hostess is underused - you could lose her altogether, and just have the judges score stuff. Would be a better fit given its a XX rules style show.

I'd score it a 65%. Watchable, and fun, but not overarchingly so.