Square Eyes - Renovate the Cast
Casting. It’s the most important thing in television. It’s why we love Masterchef and hate The Renovators. It’s why we’ll watch The Block but not Top Design. I think I know why The Renovators is so shitful. It’s a really slick, glossy show. Big sets, sweeping crane shots, huge set-pieces and actual renovations. As opposed to The Block, which seems to be more concerned with chasing contestants through a hedge maze while tradies do all the renovating back at the house. It is a far superior production, but production values do not engender love from an audience. It’s all about the casting. I don’t care how well-constructed your reality show is, or how well-written your science fiction drama is, if it is populated by beige beings, chances are episode 3 will be the last one anyone looks at.
Take, for example, the morning shows. On 7 we have The Morning Show with the always personable and polished Larry Emdur, and the patrician poise of Kylie Gillies. If you ask me, for production values, and content, it is the best of the morning shows. It looks great, they churn through info quickly, with a real focus on the kinds of things stay-at-home mums would no doubt be interested in for the brief moments they look up from their insurmountable home duties to notice the television.
Then there is Ten’s The Circle, which looks exactly like what it is - four girls sitting around gasbagging in a studio the size of student flat. The pace of The Circle is languid, meandering from segment to segment in its own good time, and the focus of the show seems to be whatever has taken their fancy. It is, however, far more compelling than the technically better offering over on 7. For one reason only - the casting. The Circle’s Chrissie Swan is like a negative proof of The Morning Show’s Kylie Gillies. Where Gillies is cold and distant, Swan is comforting and warm; Gillies is a humourless journalist, Swan a giggling raconteur; Kylie Gillies is a cold fish, sushi if you like, and Chrissie Swan is a hot chicken parma.
As well as Chrissie you have the unpredictable and hilarious Denise Drysdale, the amiable Gorgi Coghlan and the frequently annoying Yumi Stynes. That’s not a bad thing, by the way, being annoying. I want to have a reaction to people on tv. It’s another of the reasons Masterchef works so well. For every contestant or judge we fall in love with, there’s one who makes us angry and frustrated. For every Masterchef winner like Kate Bracks, who I want to have devonshire tea with, there’s a loser like Sun Etheridge, who I wanted to slap with a cold trout. (Or Kylie Gillies). We need to be as passionate in the negative about casts as we are in the positive. As long as they’re not boring.
This is the worst failing of The Renovators. A dull presenter, judges who seem to carry no authority and contestants that have all the charm of a bag of tacks. There is nothing interesting in watching people in singlets hammering nails into things, unless the people holding the hammer are interesting people to begin with. Host Brendan Moar is almost glacial in his pace - and when he takes a dramatic pause, I keep thinking he’s had a mini-stroke. The alleged experts all look interesting, with their interesting hair, interesting glasses or interesting ethnicity, but they sound like they’re saying exactly the same things as each other: nothing. And the contestants? Dull. Any show that makes me miss the prize dickheads from Big Brother is one that has really forgotten how to make compelling television.
Ten should have taken some tips on making renovation shows from the folks at the ABC. When you watch Kevin McCloud frowning at the choices made about construction on Grand Designs, you believe that he knows architecture, and you wonder how the house is going to turn out, because the people who are building it are invariably wealthy nutjobs with more money than sense. Grand Designs is always more about the people building the house than it is about the house itself. The Renovators is about the audacity of dragging a house on a truck into a studio, or creating a landscaped garden in a field for Don Burke to judge, the people competing don’t seem to factor in to the production at all.
You know what would be an interesting show? One about the producers of The Renovators. Watching them brainstorming their daft, over-sized plans, eavesdropping on arguments over who should be a special guest this week, and then watching the sparks fly as they start blaming each other for exactly why the audience hasn’t turned up. All shot from a crane in an aircraft hangar. That would be good tv.