Judge Diane Wild won't be swayed by a hunky carpenter with $1000 in his hands.
"Welcome to Trading Spaces, the show where two sets of neighbors trade houses for two days and completely redecorate one room in each others' place (for $1,000)."—Paige Davis, host
Trading Spaces is an oddly addictive show, with preternaturally perky host Paige Davis leading a diverse team of stubborn designers and hot carpenters to wreak havoc on the homes of two sets of neighbors, who really should know better than to expect the room of their dreams out of the process. They have no input into the final outcome, despite each episode beginning with them speaking about their preferences. And yet, they get lucky often enough—and the 45 minutes of fame is enough—to keep people signing up.
Trading Spaces—Great Kitchen Designs and More offers five episodes from the series, which airs on TLC. As you might have deduced from the title, all five feature a kitchen design as well as another random room. This is an obvious attempt to create a niche for a release of a show that isn't particularly collectible by season, and doesn't have a lot of rewatch value. You might get a few ideas for your own kitchen by watching this disc, but Trading Spaces is not a how-to show, and unless you have your own carpenter on stand-by, with a full assortment of tools, and can get designer discounts and free behind-the-scenes labor, you will not be able to duplicate these rooms for anywhere near $1,000 or two days.
There are lots of ideas to be had, and that's part of the appeal, but it's the personalities that make this show compulsively watchable. Going for the marketing niche is perhaps the wisest way to package the DVD releases, but it doesn't make for the best assortment of episodes. The show works best when the homeowners bring strong personalities to the mix, but on a couple presented here, they barely register. The best reveals—the segments at the end, where they finally see the results of their neighbors' hard work—are when they hate it or love it, but again, there are a couple of neutral reactions here to mar the selection.
Davis's role is to create drama with time and budget issues, while the designers bring their own unique personalities and styles to ramp up the drama in what shouldn't be a particularly dramatic setup. Regular viewers will have their favorite personalities already, and newcomers to the show are sure to find someone to cheer and someone to jeer in a few of the best segments on offer.
Hildi is wildly unpredictable, most often coming up with completely impractical rooms or hideously ugly designs, but occasionally she throws out an absolute gem. However, if you see the homeowners talking about how they hate yellow in the introductory segment of the show, and if they are saddled with her as their designer, it's a sure bet that she'll create the yellowest room that ever yellowed. For her segment on this disc, she does not come up with that rare gem. Instead, she takes the kitchen of teetotaling pastors and transforms it into a tacky and dark winery, with wine labels plastered on every visible space of the walls. The neighbors who helplessly watched as Hildi ignored their pleas finally put their foot down and convinced her to adjust her plans for a wine rack and turn it into a pot rack instead.
Doug is the other wildcard, generally ignoring any objections to his designs and coming up with some oddball creations. His Caribbean-inspired kitchen on this disc turns out wonderfully well, though, and you can always count on Doug to bring an endearing mix of ego and humor, and his interactions with Paige sparkle with snarky repartee.
If I were to subject my home to the Trading Spaces treatment, I would beg, plead, and bribe to have Vern be my designer (in reality, the homeowners get no say). His designs tend to be minimalist things of beauty, and on this disc, the kitchen he creates is a lovely, airy lime, black, and white room.
Other designers here are perky Genevieve, folksy Frank, animated Christie, and the more subdued Edward and Barry, assisted by attractive—and presumably talented—carpenters Ty, Amy Wynn, and Carter.
The show looks a little better than broadcast quality, with vivid colors and crisp detail, but not a lot of technical effort is evident on this release. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is as good as it needs to be for a show that has little opportunity for surround sound or ambient noise—other than power tools, which I'm happy to report are obnoxiously loud and in stereo when the effect is warranted. The poppy theme song is used to fun effect, though it does get annoying towards the end of the five-episode run. A minor annoyance is the brief station identification ads for TLC that make it feel like you're watching TV. The only extra is a fun clip compilation of bloopers, which are from the episode "Trading Spaces—Unglued."
The show works best when it gives the illusion of spontaneity, but there is the occasional awkward, stilted conversation that is obviously neither natural nor scripted. As with its reality show cousins, the show ironically hinges on the casting and script. Rather than highlight the best of Trading Spaces, this selection sticks with a theme, for better or for worse. There are better episodes of the show, but if you love kitchens, or want some tips for your own, this disc is worth a rental.
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