I'm a reality TV junkie. Give me a talent show and I will watch it. Give me unscripted reality and I will...not change the channel, but maybe not actively invest in it. I'm old enough that my high school jazz band used to go hang out after rehearsals and watch the first season of Survivor. The viewing parties continued into the summer and tensions grew high over whether Richard really deserved to win with that attitude.
My tastes have softened considerably since then (although the aggression and shock value of the first few seasons of Real World will always hold a place in my heart) and I'd rather watch kind, talented people get a chance to show off what they can do with constructive feedback. This is more the Great British Bake Off or Chopped style. Bring the best who will do the show in, let them show off what they can do with clear skill even if they fail the challenge, and hand a nice prize to whoever performs the best.
Making It is NBC's craft version of this format and it's just a delight. Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman host a competition where eight crafters are invited to compete in a craft making competition. Winners of individual challenges get beautiful embroidered patches, while the worst performing crafter get sent home each week. The last crafter standing gets $100000 (and, presumably, another patch).
There have been quite a few skill-based reality shows over the past 20 years. There have even been other reality shows dedicated to crafting in part (The Great Domestic Showdown) or in full (Craft Wars). Some have embraced (Steampunk'd), tolerated (Face Off), or disapproved of (Work of Art, Project Runway) crafty people, but very few in America have embraced crafting without needless drama or twists just because it's reality TV.
Making It is just so happy and positive. The format is all about the contestants showing off what they can do rather than embarrassing people for not having specific skills. It's only been one episode so far, but the show seems far more open to a wide variety of skills than any competitive reality show I've see before. Take the specificity and kindness of The Great Pottery Throwdown and expand it to any way you can make things with your hands. That's Making It.
Making It is tied together by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. They have a wonderful dynamic onscreen and the show fully embraces their improv backgrounds. Amy, admittedly, does not know a lot about crafting, while Nick is an excellent woodworker. They don't know everything and they don't pretend to know everything. They make jokes about crafting without mocking the crafters or the crafts, and even have short improv comedy segments to break up the sections of the show. I have never seen as sweet and funny a moment in a competition reality series as Nick and Amy having a bad crafting pun battle while sitting in handmade Adirondack chairs.
The episodes feature a Faster Craft, a timed mini challenge, and a Master Craft, the elimination challenge. The first Faster Craft had the contestants create an animal that represents who they are. They can use any medium they want and these contestants showed off most major areas of skill except for thread-based hand needle-crafting (see how specific I have to get?). They demonstrated skills in woodworking, felting (that's a needle craft, and a dangerous one at that--you have a tool with many sharp needles that you repeated stab into wool to create fuzzy sculptures), sewing, paper craft, painting, fabricating, and, my personal favorite, hodgepodge. That's where you take found objects and turn them into something new. Think bottle caps for eyes or anything Amy Sedaris ever described in her DIY books or At Home with Amy Sedaris.
The Master Craft challenge isopen to a wide variety of interpretations, as well. Contestants had to create two complimentary pieces: a photo album and a quilt-style heirloom. The only condition was they could not actually produce a traditional quilt for the quilt-style heirloom. Contestants were still allowed to use fabric, but most ventured out into paper or wood to produce their quilt.
Competition reality shows have eliminations, and eliminations have to be judged on something. This is, perhaps, where Making It gets it better than any other reality show I've seen. Judges Simon Doonan and Dayna Isom Johnson obviously have to evaluate the crafts against each other to determine a winner and who goes home. The critiques they give are so individualized to the crafter and the medium they worked with. They're not discussing how well someone cut out an elaborate weave of paper hearts while critiquing someone who only used woodworking techniques.
Someone who riffed on a familiar idea in sewing crafts, despite their skill level, was critiqued for not pushing their work far enough, while someone else who created a similar project without that element was simply praised. Yes, the level of skill among contestants is compared--stretching fabric in an embroidery hoop does not take as much technical ability as designing and assembling a three dimensional hanging quilt made entirely of precise woodcuts--but the styles of craft and the crafters are not spoken down to for their choice of medium.
It becomes a matter of vision and execution. It really did feel like one contestant who made an 8-bit style wall hanging out of cut out squares of felt had just as much chance of winning as another contestant who created a large segmented heart out of wood and various collage elements. The eliminated contestant was not treated poorly or made fun of for their mistakes; they were evaluated by the quality of the project they created. The piece was incomplete and just not as polished as the contestant intended, and that was the reason they were eliminated.
That's the whole crux of crafting. No matter how skilled you are or how hard you try, some projects just won't turn out how you planned or expected. A failure doesn't mean you're bad; it just means something went wrong. You try again and eventually you get it right. I had, of all things, a giant 10 foot tall whale sculpture built from chicken wire, 2x4s, and papier mache collapse after working on it for weeks for a haunted house. I was disappointed, but not upset. It just meant that, for the first time in five years, that haunt was not getting a giant sculpture. I scrapped the project, salvaged the materials I could, and produced a number of smaller pieces to fill in the giant whale-sized gap in the crafty haunt instead.
Making It is such a positive, happy reality show. It's the perfect venue for crafting to be seen by a wider audience. Crafting is something anyone of any skill can do. Not everyone will make a living from it, but anyone can find a handcrafting hobby to relax and have fun with. I dabble in a lot of these mediums and see them all being treated right by a reality TV show for the first time. There's no snark. There's no mockery. It's a showcase of what some very skilled people can do with creative challenges. May the show receive a second season so this home haunter with a craft background can apply and hopefully compete; I hope they have enough of a glitter budget to handle what I do.
Making It airs on NBC at 10PM on Tuesday nights. It's also available to stream on Hulu the next day.
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