Thursday, October 09, 2003  
 Clubs TonightHot TixBand GuideMP3sBest Music PollFall Arts GuideThe Best 
Food & Drink
Editors' Picks
New This Week
News and Features

Food & Drink


Stuff at Night
The Providence Phoenix
The Portland Phoenix
FNX Radio Network

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Happiness is a warm glue gun
The joys of Trading Spaces and What Not To Wear, plus Martin Short in Primetime Glick

On the runaway-hit home-improvement show Trading Spaces (8 p.m. Saturdays, the Learning Channel), neighbors get to make over one room in each other’s house, but they don’t do it with malicious intent — if they did, this show would be on Fox.

Instead, they’re paired with a designer and a carpenter who come up with the actual design plans. But they have just 48 hours and a budget of $1000 to complete the projects. Each hour-long episode follows the progress of the makeovers; it culminates in "the reveal," the magical moment when the neighbors, with their eyes closed, are led back into their respective homes by relentlessly perky host Paige Davis and allowed — ta-da! — to see the fabulous results. The camera moves in on the homeowners’ faces as they register delight, shock, anger, or, sometimes, abject misery. And listen, you’d be miserable too if you came home to find the walls of your living room covered in hay (the show’s most notorious design disaster) or your den done over in sickly shades of brown when you plainly told your neighbor that you hate, hate, hate brown.

Let’s be honest here. I suppose it’s possible to pick up some neat, cheap decorating tips from this show, but that’s not why anybody watches it. Trading Spaces is never better than when a project has gotten completely out of hand, when the designer is ego-tripping, when the hay is flying — when you just know the reveal is going to be a doozy.

Trading Spaces is the American version of the British series Changing Rooms (which can be seen on the BBC America channel). Now in its third season, it’s the highest-rated show on the Learning Channel (which is a spinoff of the Discovery Channel). The "cast members," who include designers Genevieve Gorder, Laurie Hickson-Smith, Edward Walker, and Vern Yip and carpenters Ty Pennington and Amy Wynn Pastor, have become stars on the do-it-yourself circuit. The merchandising blitz is set to roll in earnest, beginning with the just-released DVD featuring "best of" and "worst of" projects and lots and lots of reveals. The inevitable all-celebrity episode of the show will air April 13. And a children’s spinoff, Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls, will premiere May 17 on NBC’s Saturday-morning line-up.

The show’s appeal should be obvious to anybody who has ever had work done on his or her house. Stuff happens — bad, expensive, unforeseen stuff. When it’s your home-improvement project that’s gone awry, it’s a catastrophe. But when it happens to someone else — now, that’s entertainment! And Trading Spaces is consistently entertaining, what with out-of-control designers, all-thumbs neighbors, backfiring projects, Paige dancing around in the debris convinced she’s adorable, and, most of all, Ty the Carpenter from Hell. The lanky, laid-back Pennington is the type of dude who says "no prob" to every request but then can’t deliver on time. He’s so flaky, I wondered why he hasn’t been booted yet, but then I stumbled onto the Ty Pennington Internet shrines. It appears he’s the reason a lot of women watch the show. So what if he measures only once?

Hunky handymen and the enjoyment of other people’s home-improvement mishaps aside, Trading Spaces taps into the idea of self-transformation through one’s possessions. We are glutted with possibilities and choices, yet at the same time we are an insecure society. We have become more and more dependent on "experts" to tell us how to live — what to read, what to buy, how to interpret the world around us. Trading Spaces is only one show of many where ordinary people surrender to the expertise of higher powers. Ground Force (BBC America) is a gardening version of Changing Rooms; While You Were Out (Learning Channel) is a whole-house version of Trading Spaces.

And then there’s What Not To Wear, yet another BBC hit that was recently Americanized, under the same title, by the Learning Channel. What Not To Wear (the American version airs at 10 p.m. Saturdays; the British one airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on BBC America) takes a 12-step approach similar to that of Trading Spaces and Changing Rooms. On both versions, friends of some poor fashion-challenged woman stage a "fashion intervention"; she’s committed to the guardianship of two fashion experts who use a tough-love approach in getting her to see her wardrobe mistakes. All of her clothes go into the trash. Then she’s taught how to shop for a wardrobe that flatters her body type; she also gets a new hairdo and make-up. "We don’t want to change your life, we want to make you better at it," explained one of the American hosts in a recent episode.

Throughout both versions of What Not To Wear, the fashion victim keeps a video diary and talks about her new understanding of, for instance, why she hides her body underneath baggy sweaters and never spends more than 99 cents on underwear (as a struggling New York opera singer confessed in the American version). At the end of the show, she’s given a wad of cash and sent out to shop while the fashionistas watch on a Webcam, ready to rush in and yank inappropriate purchases out of her hands.

I must admit that I’ve learned quite a few fashion rules from What Not To Wear. And I like the message that women of any shape can look great with the right clothes. But I’m partial to the British version, because it truly "gets" the anxiety that shopping can bring for the less-than-perfect-sized women. On one British episode, the makeover subject wept tears of gratitude into her video diary, recounting how, before her intervention, she’d stayed away from certain stores because she felt they were an exclusive club not meant for women of her build.

British hosts Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine offer proper British support — like Mary Poppins, they brook no nonsense, but they know the value of a tart rebuke given with a spoonful of sugar. They’re miles superior to the insufferable hosts of the American version, Wayne Scot Lukas and Stacy London, who make snide, insensitive "jokes" about their subjects’ bodies. In one recent episode, Lukas surveyed a woman from behind and said, "Beep-beep-beep, shouldn’t you beep when you back up? Talk about a wide load!" Later, he ripped off her old winter coat, threw it on the floor of Macy’s, stepped on it, and said, "Clean up on Aisle 15!" This coming from a guy in a hideous puffy camouflage-patterned down jacket, a rumpled rugby shirt, and a hairdo last seen on Fabio. I think somebody needs an intervention.

HE LOVES OLD MOVIES, binges on junk food, has a roly-poly figure, and hasn’t been seen in new episodes of his cable series for almost a year. Tony Soprano? Nah, I’m talking about Jiminy Glick, the bozo di tutti bozos and star of Comedy Central’s warped talk show Primetime Glick. Played by the very strange Martin Short from underneath a Latex fat suit, Jiminy is self-centered, ill-prepared, and often rude to his A-list guests; on one memorable show, he seemed to be completely unaware that guest Jerry Seinfeld used to have a sit-com. During interviews, Jiminy blithely rambles on in a high, sing-song lisp that occasionally dips into an alarming baritone. He stuffs his mouth full of mini doughnuts and frequently has to perform the Heimlich maneuver on himself. He insists on hauling his guests into the steam room for fruity cocktails and a shvitz.

Largely unscripted, Primetime Glick is bizarre, often tasteless, and gaspingly funny. Short has worked up a giddy back story for his coy alter ego: Jiminy is a former personal assistant to Charles Bronson who became a powerful Hollywood gossip columnist; he’s married to the often inebriated Dixie Glick (Jan Hooks) and is definitely not gay, maybe. He shares the stage (reluctantly) with his long-suffering bandleader, Adrian Van Voorhees (a dangerously tanned Michael McKean), who plays the harp — as in angel strings, not blues harmonica. The talk-show bits are interspersed with filmed mock movie trailers and commercials (Short was, after all, a player on both SCTV and Saturday Night Live). Some of those bits, like Short as a screaming Al Pacino advertising throat lozenges, hit the mark; others carom off into icksville (children’s puppet-show interpretations of Hollywood scandals, from O.J. to Robert Blake).

For the third season of Primetime Glick, which begins Wednesday April 30 (10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central), Short has lined up a stellar roster of victims, including Brendan Fraser and Ice Cube (the premiere episode), Steven Spielberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Jack Black, Elijah Wood, Lorraine Bracco, Chris Elliott, and Mel Brooks. If you’ve never experienced the queasy pleasures of a Glick fix, note that The Best of Primetime Glick will be released on DVD on May 6.

Issue Date: April 3 - 10, 2003
Back to the Television table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

I am Seeking
Zip/Postal code

about the phoenix |  find the phoenix |  advertising info |  privacy policy |  the masthead |  feedback |  work for us

 © 2000 - 2003 Phoenix Media Communications Group