Renovate My Family 9-1 recap: If You Build It, FOX Will Come
Not to bore you, but for various medical reasons, I have been trying to sleep in a semi-upright position in a recliner for over a week now. Trying, not doing. I do not tell you this to gain sympathy, but so that you will be prepared. I’m a little punch drunk, and you’re sure to notice. You have been warned.
Enough about me, let’s move on to the profound meaning of this recap’s title—and remember fondly the one good movie Kevin Costner ever made. (Ah, the cornfields… ) Anyway, the point is that, like me, FOX never sleeps. As NBC, ABC, CBS, TLC, UPN, BRAVO and probably even PAX have learned, FOX is the Dr. Belloq of the airways: [French accent] “Dr. Jones. Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away” [/French accent]. Fwhip, fwip! Pigmy arrows fly past our heads.
And so we have Renovate My Family, FOX’s most recent bastardization of every personal and home makeover show yet conceived of, including a serving of self-help talk show “Dr. Phil”—complete with mini-Phil, Doc’s son Jay McGraw, the latest manifestation of what I like to call “The Ashley Simpson Syndrome.” The premise? Each week host Jay McGraw (who holds a degree in law and not psychology—remember that) will guide our journey as one struggling family receives a makeover of every aspect of their life: physical, emotional, and environmental (the crown jewel of the transformation is the total overhaul of their home), all in seven days.
“A noble spirit embiggins the smallest man.” - Jebediah Springfield
This week’s lucky family is familiar to anyone who enjoys (or endures) another FOX bastardization, Trading Spouses (ABC’s Wife Swap). Meet the Biggins clan of Dallas, Texas: Mother Mela, father Anthony, daughter Chrishara, and sons Omar and Zikea. As part of the final selection process, the FOX team spent a day with the Bigginses to see why they needed a total renovation of their lives.
Mostly it boils down to Mela, the very likeable head of the household who works all day only to come home and face her second job as homemaker. She dreams of becoming a nurse to better provide for her family. Husband Anthony is shown from several angles doing a skillful Homer Simpson impression on the sofa, while Mela runs frazzled about her many duties. As far as I can tell, though, the deciding factor in this family’s favor is the washing machine, which is located cheek-by-jowl with the stove in the kitchen (the dryer is next to the dining room table, but it doesn’t get as much airtime). This strange, yet also efficient, placement wins the Bigginses their chance at a life reconstruction.
You Can’t Take it With You
Unable to resist squeezing out every thimble-full of drama, FOX tells the Biggins family that they have been selected at their local YMCA, where the Bigginses are expecting to watch the weekly basketball game. There is a bizarre emphasis on the placement of the hidden cameras that will catch their reaction. After the buildup, I’m expecting more than just little Phil Jr. running onto the court and yelling, “You’ve been chosen!” at the blank-faced Bigginses. No balloons. No big check a la Ed McMahan. Just a lot of random kids screaming—at the Bigginses good fortune? Or because they get to be on TV?
When they eventually remember who Jay McGraw is, the family is thrilled. Tears and more screaming. They are less excited with the time limit Jay springs on them—the Bigginses have two hours to get everything they want to keep out of their house.
Back at the Biggins’ home, chaos breaks out. Mela bounces through the rooms like a ricocheting bullet, the kids dig desperately through their rooms, and Anthony…well, that announcement at the Y was pretty exciting. He tries to recover from the shock on his favorite couch.
There’s No “I” in Team, But There is Eye Candy
The Design Team arrives. First up is Jude, hair, makeup and wardrobe specialist (FOX’s one-man version of the Queer Eye crew, without Kyan’s looks). Next is Kahi, the interior designer who promises something unique and personal for everyone. When Erica, Jacqueline, and Nicole—the blonde, shapely triplets—are introduced as the “Construction Team,” I have to wonder what those words are supposed to be a euphemism for. But Jay assures us that “these girls are supremely talented in construction and demolition—they really know what they’re doing.” Now just take out the words I’ve italicized, and that sentence will make more sense. Scott McCray is the construction foreman. I think it’s best to admit upfront that, over the course of this two hour premiere, I developed a Cali-Phil-style crush on this serious, likeable, skilled, ruggedly handsome professional. Just in case you think some of this recap is slightly skewed in his favor…it is.
The Bigginses explain to the team what they like and don’t like about their home/appearances. Jude mocks Chrishara’s disturbing hair collection, and takes her parents to task for letting her leave the house in such garb. Jude gives one hair piece to the dog, Sugar. The dog confuses it with a rat, and attacks.
The movers show up and box everything in the house, except Anthony’s couch, which he is still holding down. Staged shots of the triplets carrying boxes for short distances. Jude throws out most of Mela’s shoes while she panics. I feel her pain; in the black recesses of my closet are shoes I haven’t touched since high school, but I would use them to beat Jude to death if he tried to take them from me.
The Conveniently Available Claws of Destruction
The family exits through the front door and seems shocked to see the three huge claw-tractor-thingies positioned to demolish their home and the fifty or so men in hardhats waiting to begin, though I’m sure there must have been some noise generated in the arranging process.
This is where I get confused, and so do the Bigginses. Don’t forget the aforementioned claw-tractor-thingies (yes, that is their technical name) looming ominously over the tiny house. Now Jay tells the family that they have to help with the demolition. I’m thinking those gigantic tractor-claws must require some kind of training and/or license to operate, but then, inexplicably, Jay takes everyone inside to have a go at the walls and cabinets with twenty-pound sledges. Can the two-story tractor claws really need the small, round holes in the drywall in order to do their job?
A convenient inspector arrives to clear up the confusion. It seems the original plan was just to renovate the existing structure. But the inspector has discovered a dangerous crack in the foundation, and no part of the house can be salvaged. Okay, so why were the three monstrous claws already in place, if that was the plan? The machines quickly raze the house to the ground, the only possibly use for their giganticness. Methinks I smell a rat (or some of Chrishara’s hair). I have two theories as to why we had to go through with this charade. The first is that Jay was tricking the Bigginses into some preliminary exercising. The second is that the producers wanted the cleavage shots of the triplets wielding sledgehammers.
The family is saddened and a little traumatized as they watch their house being destroyed, but they know this is for the best. Anthony is especially disturbed when the claw takes out his old barbeque—“They tore up the barbeque! No more ribs!” I’m assuming that Sugar is not in the dog house when the claw smashes it, but maybe a new dog is part of the renovation.
Words that Strike Fear and Terror into the Hearts of Obese Americans Everywhere
Next Jay borrows a little from the dating show vocabulary, and sends the Bigginses off to their next adventure in a stretch suburban. Jay reminds us that we are going to rebuild every aspect of the Biggins family’s life, and thus the next adventure will take place at the Cooper Wellness Center, a world renown fitness institution.
Consternation is obvious on every Biggins face as the words “wellness” and “fitness” are bandied about. Mela, aspiring nurse, admits her fear and dislike of doctors. Jay lectures us viewers on the unhealthy lives many American families lead, but I can’t hear much of what he’s saying over the crunch of my Cheetos.
There’s a quick flash back to the leveled Biggins’ house, where a few relatives arrive and are stunned by the destruction. Foreman Scott jokes with them in a charming fashion. The female driver invites Scott to come to her house next, just as I would have.
Back at the health institute, the music is tense and the Bigginses are petrified. Nurse Mela worries about the possible poking and probing that is in store, and insists that “I don’t want to know what’s wrong with me.”
First they are subjected to a long list of questions. Omar reveals that he watches five hours of TV a day, but that he’s not a couch potato. We all snort derisively like the interviewer. Because sitting in an ergonomically correct office chair in front of a computer screen as we surf the FORT is clearly not something that could be categorized as “couch potato” behavior. No couches involved.
The Bigginses are now given thorough physicals, including blood tests, lung capacity tests, and squeezed by those fun fat pinchers. Mela freaks out when she has to hold her head underwater for a second, and I’m guessing she’s not hoping for a pool outside the new house. “I’ve heard of several people actually dying of stress tests,” Mela later hints to the nurse, to no avail. On the treadmill, Anthony uses a beach towel to wipe the sweat from his face.
Jay takes us back to the construction site, where there are problems. They were prepared to build a house in seven days, but that didn’t include laying a foundation first. The blonde triplets are very much in evidence, wearing matching tank tops and leaning over a lot. Now, had I two blonde sisters identical to myself, and were we all truly interested in succeeding in the field of construction, one of the first things I would do to improve my credibility would be to not wear matching clothes. But that’s just me.
It’s Not a Tumor
The Bigginses get the low down on their test results from a Dr. Kerans. Mela is worried that they’ll have found a tumor. But it’s just the news that surprises none of us—four out of the five Bigginses are obese (they don’t name names, but, for those who didn’t watch, Omar is the obvious exception). The doctor runs through the many health risks of obesity, and Mela is offended. “You don’t need to tell me I’m fat!” she grumbles to the camera later, saying they all understand their situation.
Jay asks the family if they are willing to change their lifestyle, and his question is met with ominous silence.
Day 3, Jay rouses the sleeping family by beating on their doors and yelling, “Biggins!” with the same intonation as Stanley yells “Stella!” in Streetcar of Desire. They appear unwillingly, and Jay asks if they’re ready for their next adventure. Crickets chirp loudly. He leads them to the gym. “You’ll have fun!” he lies through his teeth.
The family is split along gender lines and turned over to personal trainers, Dave and Kevin. Mela warns Kevin that she doesn’t want to hurt. A frown line appears between Kevin’s muscular eyebrows as he realizes that his “no pain, no gain” motto will not go over well with Mela. Anthony, in words at least, shows a good grasp of the idea that if he and Mela have healthy habits, it will benefit the health of their children. The Bigginses throw balls around, lift weights, and complain a little. Mela asks Kevin if he doesn’t want to decrease the size of the ten pound weights, “just for ladies’ purposes?” Kevin does not. Anthony likes the tension exercises—“I could do these sitting in front of the TV!” he enthuses.
Can You Prove Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day?
Day 3 dawns back at the house, and Scott (with a bit of assistance from his hundred man crew) has made incredible progress. The entire first floor is framed and the landscaping begun. He worries about all the many things that need to come together in the next thirty-six hours, and likens it to a dance. Good with his hands, and a poet.
Jay uses this construction moment to segue to the idea that the Bigginses are also rebuilding relationships. Anthony, it seems, has been wanting to rekindle the romance with Mela. Let me take a brief moment to give Anthony, and any other man in his position, a foolproof tip. When Mela comes home from work, sit her in your couch. Then make her dinner and do the dishes afterwards. I give you a money back guarantee on this recipe for romance. As any woman will tell you, nothing is sexier than a man cleaning.
Jay has other ideas, involving a recreation of Jay’s proposal (well, the one that was accepted) and a new ring to replace the two Mela lost. Kahi (interior designer) has picked out the ring, and I wonder if Jude (wardrobe) felt like she was infringing on his territory. To recreate the proposal scene, Jay and Anthony will also build a bench like the one the happy couple sat upon that fateful night. Because a bench built from scratch is the true hallmark of romance.
If two hour premieres exhaust you as much as they do me, then I think we’ve reached the hour point, and you’ve certainly put in your time on this double-sized recap. So you’re free to leave. On the other hand, if two hour premieres exhaust you as much as they do me, and since you weren’t planning to recap this one, you might have thrown in the towel at this point last night. So maybe this is where you should start reading. Your choice.
The new house is flying up with frightening speed. I’m having “Money Pitt” visions of this rush job’s future. But what am I saying? Scott is at the helm. All will be well. Kahi wanders through the house preparing for her design job that begins the minute the paint dries. A huge spa tub arrives and one of the triplets makes herself comfortable in it. The construction workers, being construction workers, enjoy this.
Scott says this is the kind of day you dream about…while I dream about any day with Scott. The second floor is framed, the roof is in the works, and they are back on schedule. Drywallers have been working through the night and stucco is going up. “We’ll be sweating today,” Scott promises. I’ll be drooling, I promise.
Scott describes the huge theater system being put in the family room. This simply doesn’t jive with the no-more-couch-potato agenda, but that’s hardly Scott’s fault. I blame the designer.
(This show begins to flip back and forth between the Bigginses and the Biggins’ house so frequently now that it’s playing hell with my attempts to be coherent (and I don’t want to have to write a million clever little titles—or even a million titles that are in no way clever or funny, either). Therefore, in the interest of my personal comfort, I’m going to combine the frenzied flipping into longer, less confusing segments from here on out. If this upsets you…well, you’re very easily upset, aren’t you?)
If I Built This Fortress Around Your Heart…
Back to the Connor Center and Mela and Anthony’s relationship. Law-degree-Jay sounds very authoritative as he analyzes the problems. Then he and Anthony get to work on that pivotal bench, without which no romance can blossom. The bench seems both a long and a difficult task—overall, an asinine idea. But I’m no psychologist. Either. Once the bench is finished, Anthony reverts to his favorite position in order to test the construction.
Later, Anthony leaves flowers and a card (no doubt provided in the same way the ring and unassembled bench were) in front of Mela’s door. “Though we’ve been together for years and years,” Anthony says, “I still have butterflies.” Mela loves the flowers and is excited about the invitation for dinner. As Anthony dresses up, he worries about disappointing Mela tonight.
There is a beautiful canopy set up for the lovers, with candle light and champagne. Dinner seems to go well, but afterwards, when Anthony reveals the bench which he built, Mela is skeptical. He seems unsurprised when she refuses to believe and looks for flaws that would indicate he really had a hand in the construction.
Anthony does a cute job with the re-proposal, and Mela is initially overwhelmed by the ring. “Oh, Mr. Biggins!” she exclaims, making me giggle and reminding me of Elizabeth Bennett, who never calls Mr. Darcy “Fitzwilliam.” But the skepticism is quick to return, ruining the moment. “Is this real?” Mela asks doubtfully. “Is this out of Crackerjacks?”
Yes, there actually are a lot of ducks at the Connor Center. And there’s also Jay, who seems determined to follow in his father’s footsteps without the benefit of his father’s years of study. He takes Mela aside the next morning to talk to her about her continual disparagement of Anthony and the hurt it causes.
Mela is admirably open to Jay’s criticism. Instead of becoming defensive, she realizes she should change. She knows that it is hard for her to give “whole, 100% props,” nor is it easy for her to apologize. But she goes to Anthony and they talk it out. Both are nice about it. Anthony reminds her that he’s pointed this criticism out to her before, but thinks she needed to hear it from someone on the outside. She apologizes and expresses a desire to do better. Anthony accepts her apology, and they kiss.
All this is very nice and good, but I can’t help be just the teeniest bit skeptical myself. Doesn’t marriage counseling mostly take more than one session? Have we even addressed the probable pattern of Anthony disappointing Mela’s hopes again and again over the years that may have led to her skepticism in the first place? Then again, this is Jay McGraw we’re dealing with. So maybe the Band-Aid will fix the complex multiple fractures in this marriage.
Let’s return to Scott. I mean, the house. The crew is overwhelmed by the heat—110 degrees and “humider than humid,” as one triplet claims. Another one, or maybe the same one—who knows, they’re still matching—says that with the time tight, you get stressed, you work faster, and something gets broken. Cue the shattering glass sound effect. A custom sized, double-paned window is busted—something that would normally take 3-4 weeks to replace on a normal construction site.
Unlike the triplet, I am not stressed. I’ve seen enough of the shows that this one was ripped off from (Trading Spaces, While You Were Out, etc…) to know that they always panic about things getting done in time, but things always get done in time. I will try to filter out as much of the manufactured suspense as possible.
And the house looks pretty great to me. A basketball court is going into the backyard, next to the new dog house that will be equipped with A/C. Yeah, I’m sure that will last past the first electric bill, too.
Kahi and Scott argue over the fountain that is supposed to be the centerpiece of the front yard. Kahi thinks it is overboard for the neighborhood, but I’d like to remind Kahi that her title mentioned something about interiors. Go inside and let the foreman work.
Scott bemoans the heat again, and claims that he went for a whole day without peeing despite drinking forty gallons of liquid. Possibly too much information, but I forgive him. Because then he takes off his shirt. And yes, I do have to pause the Tivo quite often as I take notes; the slow motion feature also is absolutely necessary to the process, so shut up.
If You Prick Him, Will He Not Bleed?
Night falls, and Kahi is causing more problems. Perhaps the ornamental triplets are not the weakest link in this chain after all. Kahi doesn’t like the paint in the front entry. Scott points out that she chose the paint, but she insists that this paint was for another section of the house. “We don’t have time to do things two times,” Scott argues passionately.
Jay pops out of an uninstalled cabinet (they don’t show that part, but I assume that’s where he came from) to play peacemaker. He calls the paint in question “ugly,” offending Scott. Jay doesn’t think this should upset Scott, since Kahi is the designer. Is it so hard to understand, Jay, that Scott is an artist? This is his baby, and you called it ugly, you callous man. Kahi sulks in the big tub while they fight.
Time speeds up while the house is painted inside and out, the appliances go in, and the turf is laid, while blondes pretend to help.
It’s makeover time for the Bigginses. The girls are especially excited—seeming to feel that the adventure is finally on the right track now. Jude’s goal is to give them each a better look and teach them to keep it. Even Sugar the Dog gets groomed.
Mela is not a fan of eyebrow waxing, and vows never to do it again while she remains black. She gets extensions and hair color. Jude, looking at the finished product, exclaims “I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but HONK! I am good at what I do!”
We see more of the men in the wardrobe phase. Zikea looks cute, Omar suave. Jude says Anthony owns anything he wears. We see the girls twirling in new clothes. The family is separated after the makeovers, so that they will see each other for the first time just before their new house is revealed. The family members express concern over the house that is being slapped together in a week while they have these adventures.
At the house, Kahi stresses about her late furniture. Maybe it wouldn’t have been late if the moving truck hadn’t had to stop so that could Jay ride in triumphantly on the fender. Everyone scurries to get things unboxed and inside.
Kahi gripes again when the infamous fountain arrives. She tussles briefly, but not physically (sorry, construction workers everywhere) with on of the interchangeable blondes. They turn it over to the watching neighbors to decide if a fountain is right for their street. The neighbors give the fountain a thumbs up.
Kahi hopes the Bigginses will notice the attention to each person’s individual likes. Jay hopes the Bigginses will use this week to jumpstart changes in their health and relationships.
Two Hours Worth of Sub-Titles is at Least One Too Many
The seven days are up. A billboard-sized picture of the old house obscures the new one. A large audience of friends and neighbors wait for the Bigginses. They cheer when the first limo pulls in front of the house.
Omar is first. He looks pretty smooth except for the Samuel L. Jackson beanie that looks stupid on anyone. (Yes, you, too, Samuel L.) Omar works the crowd well. Zikea is more self-conscious, but all smiles when he arrives next. Anthony is looking gangster-fine in a fedora and contrasting stripes/polka dots silk shirt and tie combo. Omar thinks his momma is going to like this look. Chrishara shows up, and Anthony gets all misty about how pretty his little girl looks. Mela is the grand finale, and Anthony reveals his long hair fetish as he admires her new look. Chrishara thinks her mom looks like a movie star. There’s lots of cheering and tearing up and much joyousness all around.
It’s time for the house now, and the family is eager and anxious. The billboard is removed, and the Biggins react with shock and awe (picture the hyper aisle-run from the Price is Right, and you will have the correct visual for the way the Bigginses run to their new porch). Mela in particular seems close to needing an ambulance, and they have to take a break to let her regain her composure before they let her inside.
Let’s Just Hope a Killer Alarm System was Included in this Package
Just so I don’t have to repeat myself, know that the Bigginses love everything, scream a lot, and thank Jesus repeatedly (though I would be surprised if He had much to do with the FOX network).
The Bigginses get their first look at Kahi’s work at the same time we do. And they like what they see. Inside, the house is as opulent as a luxury model home, with gorgeous deep colors, plasma TVs on almost every wall, and appliances I might possibly kill for. At the very least, I will move my washing machine into the kitchen and send in an application to this show. I don’t know where FOX gets the budget for this stuff. Maybe ideas aren’t all they steal (thus explaining the low funds on NBC’s last two For Love or Money runs, but I digress…)
Oddly, the kitchen has six TVs on one wall. To watch cooking shows (something they all enjoy) and to create their own—there are cameras situated to film this kitchen from three angles. In my opinion, this is extraordinarily creepy. The house is all controlled from a spacey console located on the kitchen island.
Next is the laundry room/closet, which is surprisingly small and out of proportion with the rest of the house. But the washer and dryer look pretty nice, and Mela is just excited to have the room at all.
They go through a “lobby” on the way to the family room, where there is an old fashioned popcorn machine and a movie poster featuring the Bigginses. Anthony claims he’s “about to start acting like Mela,” he’s so excited. The look eagerly around the leather-and-speakers family room. “You notice there’s no TV,” Jay points out, and the Biggins family says, “Right,” immediately and in sync. Jay then reveals the 110 inch projection screen that lowers out of the ceiling at a voice command. They probably weren’t considering Anthony’s heart when they planned this surprise, but he survives.
Each of the kids’ rooms is personalized to encourage their hobbies (and discourage physical activity, with more flat screen TVs). Zikea gets a boxing theme and punching bags, Omar gets a ’Nawlins street corner and his own musical instruments, and Chrishara gets a salon and a lot of pink—and a thumbprint activated door lock to keep her brothers out. All are ecstatic. Mela and Anthony’s room is lovely, with another TV, a fireplace, and a smallish walk-in closest, but the real highlight is the football field-sized bathroom that takes up half the top floor. Anthony is so excited by the bathroom that he, like Shania Twain, “feels like a woman.”
It goes on. The backyard, the basketball court, the balcony, the dog house…it’s really quite overwhelming and the Bigginses look dizzy. Anthony is amazed at the love and detail that went into the house—“Grateful is not the word.” Finally, doctor-shy Mela is given a scholarship to nursing school.
The Bigginses each take a turn talking of the changes that go deeper than a new house or clothes. Jay is proud. Shooting stars streak the skies, planets align, and world peace is attained.
Next Week, on Renovate My Family
The Rosier family gets the treatment. FOX declares bankruptcy.
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