By Jim Sabataso
In my recent discussion of summer popcorn television, I left out a crucial subcategory: reality shows. While I’ve never been able to get down with soapy reality dramas like “Real Housewives” or “The Bachelor/ette”— my schadenfreude has its limits — I am a sucker for a good competition show. Shows like “Chopped” and “The Great British Baking Show” are delightful, good-natured escapes that highlight creativity and potentially teach the audience something about the craft.
“Making It” is NBC’s latest addition to the reality competition genre. The show features a pair of unlikely hosts in comedians Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. Poehler and Offerman formerly starred in the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” Fans of that show know the easy chemistry the two had, as Poehler’s plucky bureaucrat Leslie Knope bounced off Offerman’s gruff libertarian Ron Swanson.
Here the two show that chemistry spills over to their real-life selves, as they preside over a crafting competition that pits eight makers working in various media against one another for a $100,000 cash prize.
Offerman, who is an accomplished woodworker in his own right, is a natural fit for the show. He’s got the skills and knowledge to talk to contestants on their level. Poehler adds the comedic element, as a lover of crafts and crafting who playfully leans into her lack of practical knowledge.
The hosts are joined by judges Dayna Isom Johnson and Simon Doonan. Johnson is a trend expert for the online marketplace Etsy. Doonan is creative ambassador for Barneys New York. Together they make an accomplished and stylish pair of judges.
Those looking for Tim Gunn snark or Gordon Ramsey fury will be let down by Johnson and Doonan, who are quick with praise and gentle in their critiques. Their soft temperaments might not lend themselves to TV drama, but, as one who’s never been a fan of that nasty aspect of these shows, I don’t miss it.
The contestants, meanwhile, are a likable, diverse and talented bunch. One contestant, Nicole Sweeney, has a Vermont connection. Sweeney, a woodworker and former display coordinator at Anthropologie living in San Francisco, grew up in Jeffersonville.
The show seems interested in showcasing sportsmanship and camaraderie; scenes where contestants compliment one another’s work and even offer to lend a hand, are sprinkled throughout. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical cutthroat, “I’m not here to make friends” atmosphere on some reality competitions.
But, all that geniality makes for dull television. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not wishing for an Omarosa-level villain, but after two episodes, no contestant has a shown a personality that makes them stand out from the rest or makes you want to root for them. Perhaps they will begin to distinguish themselves once the field of eight gets winnowed down some.
Despite all that cheeriness, there is a flatness to the show at times. With two game comedic actors such as Poehler and Offerman, I was hoping for more laughs. And while we do get some fun interstitial scenes of the two riffing on names of various tools and making up craft-related celebrity-name puns, I was left wanting more.
I can appreciate the show’s desire to play things straight and polite — this is a show that clearly wants the competition aspect to be taken seriously. However, given the screwball sensibilities of the hosts, it seems like a missed opportunity not to take a more deconstructive or satirical approach to the premise the way Netflix’s “Nailed It” does.
Still, “Making It,” is a pleasant enough way to kill an hour. Watching talented craftspeople at work is exciting, inspiring and informative. With so much nastiness in the air right now, it’s refreshing to escape into a show where people are being creative, kind and having fun.
CHECK IT OUT
“Making It” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.