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The home remodel as fairy tale

Why stop at one room? 'Extreme Makeover' has deserving kings awake to a whole new castle.

February 14, 2004|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

Having scored with its cosmetic-surgical "Extreme Makeover," ABC now moves into the shelter business with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," premiering Sunday as a regular series after an "inaugural special" last December.

Where low-budget cable-net renovation shows such as "While You Were Out" and "Trading Places" must settle for redoing a single kitchen or playroom -- slapping some paint on the walls, knocking up a little new cabinetry, hanging something strange from the ceiling -- "EM: HE" has the deep pockets to effect sweeping change: Walls are removed, siding stripped, windows created, new appliances installed, plants planted, a house remade from top to bottom. And still the network will turn a profit.

The model for all makeover shows is of course the fairy tale. The frog becomes a prince, the serving girl a princess, the puppet a real live boy -- though they are not so much transformed as revealed, their pure inner natures finally made outwardly manifest. Here, the deserving -- the lucky deserving few -- get the castle in which they were always meant to live. This is not a show about remodeling, so much as rewarding the good.

"What is your family's story?" applicants are asked. "What makes you deserving of a home makeover?" In the Woslums' case, whose Palmdale manse gets the works Sunday, it's the fact that dad was shipped to Iraq two months after they moved in, and they'd like to make it nice for him when he returns.

Led by the Dan Cortese-esque Ty Pennington -- already known from "Trading Spaces" and something of a makeover mogul -- with a best-selling book and a website where he will sell you a necklace like the one he wears on TV -- the "Extreme Makeover" good fairies arrive on-site in a giant tour bus. A crack team of designers, architects, carpenters and shoppers -- who have not yet visited the target of their remodeling and so must devise a plan on the spot -- come in various familiar flavors: the independent hothead, the witty homosexual, the bubbly blond, the efficient brunet, the comical one in a funny hat, who announces to a neighbor, "I'm the straight guy on the show, just so everyone's clear on that, OK?" They are young, but not too young; at least moderately good looking, but always professionally styled. The contractors and subcontractors, who do most of the labor and clearly represent a lower caste, are by contrast dressed in shapeless blue sweatshirts.

As mother and children are packed off in a burst of corporate synergy to Disneyland for a week, this vast army commences to rip out walls and knock out ceilings and in the process gives a picture at how flimsy and ill-conceived is the modern American tract home. For dramatic interest, time is made of the essence -- the task is to complete in seven days a job that would ordinarily take months -- and there is much fretting about the ticking clock as they turn a blank box into a Mediterranean haven. Additional friction is provided by the differing personalities and tastes of the designers. But it all works out, you know.

The place to which the Woslums return has been changed from a house to a "home," albeit a home filled with furniture and fittings other people have chosen. There are paintings and old musical instruments on the walls, vases filled with flowers, a fire in the fireplace. The big new dining room table is set for dinner. (I assumed that the framed photos were actually of the Woslums, but who knows?) The boys' rooms are miniature theme parks. It's a styled environment, constructed to look casually lived-in, like pre-washed jeans.

The actual remaking of the house, however, is more suggested than shown, in order to make time for the human interest, which revolves around sneaking dad back into the country to surprise the family, and it is a hard-hearted viewer who will not break down and weep at their reunion. If that weren't enough, Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers Shawn Green and Dave Roberts appear as if from nowhere to inaugurate the new backyard baseball mini-diamond -- the kids all play Little League -- installed by actual Dodger groundskeepers and featuring real Dodger seating and a mural of the stadium. And here we have traveled beyond the realm of the practicable makeover and into what it takes major television muscle to provide.

There is something to be said for the makeover shows, besides the evergreen allure of the before-and-after footage. While most other reality series are steeped in social Darwinism and spite, makeovers are all about the love; they imply that, with a little bit of knowledge, and some professional help, life can be better. Of course, it is usually improved by stuff -- better clothes, better house, better hair care products -- rather than by, say, recognizing that material goods are a trap and beauty is only skin deep. (Extreme Spiritual Makeover, anyone?) But the fairies seem to like their work and the mortals they work for, and the stories always end happily, ever after or otherwise.


'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'


Where: ABC

When: Premieres 8-9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: The network has rated the series TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

Ty Pennington...Team Leader

Executive producer, Tom Forman.

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