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'HGTV $250,000 Challenge'

TELEVISION REVIEW

Makeover meets the meltdown as recession-plagued contestants compete for a big win.

May 29, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

Premiering Sunday night on HGTV, the four-week "$250,000 Challenge" takes the home makeover that is the foundation of that network's programming and puts it in the hands of amateurs. Five couples from the same street redesign the rooms of their house, with a team eliminated at the end of each episode and a cash prize at the end.

Judging by the catalogs that arrive abundantly at my house, and quite possibly yours, I would say this show represents the very quintessence of the American dream. Can you say "accent wall"? I thought you could.

A rotating cast of personalities from other HGTV series is there to help, advise and judge. Host Drew Lachey (Nick's younger brother and former boy-bandmate, and a "Dancing With the Stars" champ) pitches in as well, lending a hand to each couple in turn, as needed. Every challenge has a special requirement: Kim Myles ("Myles of Style") wants an item from the old room repurposed; David Bromstad, from "Color Splash," requires an original work of art for the new bedroom.

The stresses of time and of working together with one's spouse (or one's sister, in one case) are the bases of the drama, although for the most part the teams cooperate and cohere in a situation where there is much potential for friction, if not grounds for divorce. The ticking clock is the real adversary, and it reaffirms the fact that on a deadline everything takes longer than you think it will.

We also see that shopping -- even with other people's money, even when there is nothing else you are allowed to do with it -- can make a person weep in frustration.

Money is the less than subtle subtext here. (The show is called "$250,000 Challenge," after all.) This has been fitted as a series for the New Depression -- one husband is long unemployed, one woman needs to win to keep her house from foreclosure and so on -- and it is no accident that there is a lot of actual cash on dis- play.

Still, it's the makeovers we come for; they provide a kind of psychic relief. (That is their promise: that your Before can have an After.) And these amateurs do well all told: Their new rooms improve greatly on the old, suggesting that money liberates taste. It may not buy you happiness, but it can get you a sectional sofa or a new floor, which can amount to pretty much the same thing.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'HGTV's $250,000 Challenge'

Where: HGTV

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)

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