What do men want? What can men do? Really, what is a man anyway? And when you figure that out, where can you find one?
In the world of design television, the man is often absent, a cipher, happy to get out of the way while his wife steers the direction of the couple's living space. What a man might want, these shows imply, would be disruptive. A man is a mess.
But since it's not going anywhere, might as well contain it, a proposition tackled by a pair of male-oriented design shows: "Man Caves" (DIY Network, 9 p.m. Tuesdays), which began its third season last week, and "Man Land" (HGTV, 11 p.m. Sundays), which premieres tonight. Both operate from the same premise: that men are best when confined and nurtured. In that context, "caves" and "land" seem somehow too authoritative of words -- "cribs" would be more apt.
"Man Caves" is hosted by Jason Cameron, a contractor, and Tony Siragusa, a former NFL defensive tackle with big hands, a big waistline and a big Super Bowl ring. Demolition and rebuilding are at the core of this show, but it's less an exercise in DIY education than a fantasy-delivery service: "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" without the pesky need to be charitable.
Indeed, there's nothing whatsoever deserving about the recipients of Cameron and Siragusa's work, beginning with last week's beneficiary, Rainn Wilson of "The Office," who needs a home office but lacks all it would require to build it. (The show sprinkles celebrity recipients in with regular joes.) He's gifted with an admittedly impressive free-standing structure built on concrete cylinders running 15 feet into the ground, beyond both his skill set and presumably his scope of imagination: implicit in "Man Caves" is the unmanliness of the recipient, who, if he was manlier, could have done the work himself, no?
And Wilson plays up his helplessness, getting makeup applied for his Golden Globes appearance while Cameron, Siragusa and a gaggle of laborers put the finishing touches on his cave. "I don't deserve my man cave," Wilson exults, accurately, at the reveal. "I need to mark it with my urine."
Ostensibly, "Man Caves" is targeted to viewers who get aroused, or at least won't be frightened, by phrases like "walnut veneer ply" and "10-inch lag screws." But no one is likely to take up tools in response to this show.
While Cameron, at least, appears to be doing hands on-work, "Man Caves" doesn't dwell on the how-to details: Like most home makeover shows, this one wouldn't be possible without promotional considerations from a host of secondary contractors and service providers. What real men do, it seems, is outsource.
Where "Man Caves" is at least theoretically hands-on, "Man Land" is touristic, surveying men -- heroes, really, in the show's conceit -- who have claimed, refurbished and colonized sections of their homes in manly fashion. That means, in the case studies from tonight's episode, a home office with specially outfitted rock-climbing walls, or a built-from-scratch backyard with a putting green, a thatched-roof bar and a "spool" (part spa, part pool). Plus, the apogee of this idea: a University of Georgia-themed suite that includes a vintage phone booth that has been converted into a urinal, perhaps the most vivid manifestation of the male need for retreat.
"Man Land" begins from the premise of warring spouses -- in each of the three aforementioned cases, the man was apportioned a part of the house by his wife to do with as he will in a sort of tacit exchange for his disinterest in how the remainder of the house is designed. Exterior shots of the home are scrawled on, Perez Hilton style, with the square footages of the wife-controlled space (large) and the man land (minuscule).
But while the show celebrates these bulwarks against floral print and sensible furniture plans, it's actually, like "Man Caves," a celebration of domestic bliss. Thus far, every landed and caved man has been married, which means that they're asserting their independence within a framework of sharing.
"Get her approval still first," cautions Dave, the creator of the "Man Land" spool. It's a perspective his wife, Janie, shares: "My space is my space, his space is his space, and we have plenty of space in between."