Tidy TV

I like order, progress, and productivity. I feel good when I’ve ironed and tidied and organized. I have numerous lists and love crossing things off. It would be nice to be laid back and go with the flow, but my flow won’t go until it’s tidy.

And cable TV knows I’m out there. And it knows I’m not alone. There are others just like me. And cable TV panders to us. They bring us tidy TV.

You know what I’m talking about…it’s before and after, before and after, before and after. Buying a house? Designing a room? Cleaning up? An endless parade of half hour shows that are hard to resist. I have to consciously turn off the TV at the end of one show otherwise I’m sucked into the next …and it’s impossible to leave without seeing the end result. The ultimate satisfaction. A job well done.

These insidious programs sell us aspirations that are supposedly within our reach. They have ordinary people in ordinary homes who live the American dream with a few licks of paint and a creative design. We could be them! Except we’re sitting on the sofa watching TV. But the most compelling element is the progress from old and shabby to new and shiny. It’s the ultimate narrative where we all live happily ever after.

On HGTV it barely matters which program is which…Design on a Dime, House Hunters, Curb Appeal, Hidden Potential, Designed to Sell, they’re all as good and bad as each other. But, I recently discovered the best of the genre on the Style channel—I am now obsessed with Clean House!

What differentiates this show is that it’s not just the clean up of the physical home…it’s the ultimate family therapy. Clean House is led by the irresistible Niecy who promises to get “the foolishness fixed when families take control of their clutter.”

She and her team burst in and force people to clean up, sell their stuff in a yard sale, and use the money to redecorate. But best of all, they shake up family dynamics and Niecy won’t brook any nonsense about not changing/cleaning. My favorite was when they got this jerky husband, who constantly undermined his wife, to admit that she wasn’t given any room in the home to express herself. Shockingly, reality TV was probably the first vehicle she had to talk honestly about her role in the home and family.

It’s an empowerment show. It’s Oprah with a duster.

I know you are rolling your eyes. I know I should be ashamed. But that’s my dirty little secret—I’m a voyeur of cleanliness.

15 responses to “Tidy TV”

  1. Rachel says:

    Stella, here at my house we share your obsession. We even sing along with Niecy: “Who wants a clean house?!” I must admit, the show has changed my thinking, and our own space is more pleasant as a result. Those shows like Trading Spaces always bugged me, but this one is different: it catalyzes real life improvement, reinforced by home improvement.

    Still, I’m slightly ashamed, too. Shouldn’t I be reading Tolstoy or learning Chinese or something?

  2. matt c. says:

    I too am obsessed with these shows. I can spend an entire weekend doing nothing but quietly anticipating the last segment of each show. In fact, it’s become my new philosophy of life.

    I am always waiting for the reveal.

  3. Adriana says:

    Oh Stella, me too. Thank you for describing our shameful addiction so eloquently. While we were sitting for friends with cable this summer I just couldn’t get enough of that show.

    Before/after makes us feel like we can have control over our world — we can make it simpler, more logical, more attractive. I think that’s why I like them, even those stupid before/after cleaner commercials.

    Now that we’re back in our cable-less home (which is a good thing and a relief) I am forced to live out Clean House every day in my own territory.

    By the way, have you seen the one with the dysfunctional mother/daughter in which the mother cries and yells at N after their home makeover? She’s completely ungrateful and wants her junk back. Cable TV just doesn’t get more delicious than that.

  4. Jen says:

    I thought I was above watching reality shows, but apparently not. I’ve been cat-sitting for a friend who has cable, and now I’ve gotten sucked into watching The Biggest Loser and Project Runway. What’s more entertaining than homosexuals and fat people? Jeezus, did I just say that? I’m a despicable person. Time to call Dr. Phil. And that Niecy! Giiirrrrl! I need someone like that to git all up in mah face now and then.

  5. Beth W says:

    #4 so funny!

    I was shocked when I got sucked into The Biggest Loser one night. The concept isn’t that interesting to me but they did a great job of making it entertaining. I’m not at all shocked that I just love Project Runway.

  6. bryan says:

    I’ve been cat-sitting for a friend who has cable


    the new “Dave, I’m home.”

  7. PB says:

    I love the first paragraph of this post – anything about TV that starts out with: “I like order, progress, and productivity” – is bound to be fantastic. I intellectually despise reality shows and yet I think part of my loathing is that they affect me so much. I cry during the rebuild a house for sad people show, talk to the project runway folks (“oooo, not the lace! Tim won’t like that!”) and have the voices of the “What not to wear” folks in my head when I shop (“short jackets are good for my figure and look this one has waist darts!”). I totally get lured into the promise of transformation. With a big break, some good advice and 3 toothpicks – your life can be different. As you so well descripe – it is “aspiration” more than inspiration that would actually get us moving.

    I love that your style and language in this essay is so clean and well, tidy.
    Form follows function – brilliant.

  8. These kinds of shows are exactly why I don’t usually sit down at the TV, by myself, with the remote in my hand. I usually encounter the TV turned onto something I’m only mildly interested in. But HDTV and the Cooking Network? Those can keep me occupied for half a day of otherwise productive time. And then I tear myself away feeling disgusted with myself: can’t I have good style and design myself without TV? Can’t I just use the Internet?

  9. Stella says:

    I’m so glad I’m not alone.

    Adriana – I have not see that particular Clean House – thankfully they rerun these shows incessantly…

    And I’m a huge Project Runway fan, Jen.

    I came across a horror of a show recently – Crowned on CW, where “ordinary” mother/daughter pairs compete to be crowned in a sort of beauty/nice people competition. It really should be banned because they managed to attract such incredibly dumb people that it seemed like a blood sport. Each team had to choose its name, and one mother/daughter pair, wishing to express their steely but quiet personalities chose “Silent but Deadly.”

  10. taryn says:

    #9 – “Silent but Deadly” almost made me shoot the lunch I was chewing right onto my computer screen. I too love transformational TV. I swear I can’t get through an episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition without crying! I’m not so much a fan of the reality shows that are currently creeping up in response to the writers strike, however. I watched half of “Moment of Truth” last week and felt yucky afterward.

  11. bryan says:

    #11 — same thing. that show made me sick to my stomach and firmed up my resolve not to watch any of those crappy shows. even american idol has left me feeling icky.

    i do enjoy project runway reruns with molly, though.

  12. bryan says:

    oops — in #11 i should have been referencing taryn’s #10.

  13. taryn says:

    amen, bryan. i enjoyed american idol last season (it was the first one i had watched), so i was all excited for this one… but the way these audition episodes are produced is truly disgusting. they don’t even show you the good ones! only the ones that are ridiculously bad and then you watch the judges make fun of them for several minutes! oy vey!

  14. bryan says:

    and they seem to have no concept that half the people they’re making fun of have mental health problems. but it was bad that way last year too — this year they just seem bored the whole time they’re doing it.

  15. Singing aside, I could have done without the fat guy in the Slave Leia outfit.