'Making It': TV Review

Dorky, digestible fun.
7/31/2018

Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman co-host a crafting competition meant to be NBC's answer to 'The Great British Bake Off.'

If The Great British Bake Off is a soothing, hand-knitted sweater, then Making It is a breezy, insubstantial plaid shirt. Comedians Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman host this six-episode crafting competition, which takes most of its cues from the beloved BBC baking series: the multichallenge tournament structure, the cheery “all in it together" tone, even the homey and buoyant set dressing. (Making It trades a bucolic estate tent for a good ol' American barn.) It’s dorky, digestible fun, but the show ultimately lacks the thrills that keep viewers glued to GBBO.

"Play Nice" reality TV is hot right now. From the feel-good makeovers on Queer Eye to the guffaw-worthy fumbles of Nailed It, the era of "comfort television" just doesn't seem to have room for reality TV's traditional bloodlust anymore. (Heck, even the former libertines of Jersey Shore get to have their upcoming Family Vacation.) Unfortunately, in this newly sanguine TV landscape, Making It comes off less like a friendly grin than a forced rictus.

Eight makers face off in two activities per episode: the abbreviated "Faster Craft" and the showstopper "Master Craft Collection." Each challenge asks participants to construct projects according to a theme — something as precise as a "terrarium that represents home" or as open-ended as a tricked-out children’s fort. (Embracing schmaltzier instincts, the show rewards winners with Scouts-like embroidered patches. It’s pretty cute.) Like other, greater creative contests — fashion design classic Project Runway or the late puppet-making gem Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Making It best succeeds when offering an insider’s view into how disparate materials come together to form something greater than its parts. Who knew there were so many ways to transform a pool noodle?

Contestants include a professional craft blogger, a visual merchandizer and an interior designer, a casting cheat that dilutes the show's amateur appeal. Each person fits certain crafting archetypes: the Felt Artist, the Woodworker, the Paper Crafter, etc., though the  multihyphenates are the true standouts. Surprisingly, the projects arrive in varying quality. Some creations ignite the imagination, such as the stargazing-themed shed with a retractable roof for night sky observation — a feat that exposes the maker’s gifts for visual artistry and user-centered design. Other pieces are just straight-up janky. (A 2D owl decorated with pennies...?) My eyes started to hurt from all the magenta.

Parks and Recreation veterans Poehler and Offerman wander endearingly from station to station, their natural chemistry — “goofy little sister” versus “tolerant older brother” — well-matched for an upbeat competition show. She plays the curious crafting novice, a chirpy audience proxy that asks a lot of technical questions and gushes over the clever solutions and charming constructions. Offerman, himself an accomplished woodworker and best-selling crafting author, is the expert that knows all the right terminology and deadpans with abandon. (For a moment, his flat delivery convinces one contestant beavers produce felt.) The frequent, interminable wordplay, though, never quite lands. If you think puns are the lowest form of humor, this show may not be for you.

The kitschy artifice begins to cloy after a few episodes. Poehler and Offerman seem so determined to make sure everyone-is-having-a-good-time-no-matter-what that the stressed contestants sometimes just tepidly laugh off their awkward jokes.  Where meditative GBBO thrives on pathos and vulnerability, zippy Making It just wants to wrap up everything — including the contestants’ self-effacement — in rainbow glitter decoupage. There’s no European care for tradition, just American-style DIY work ethic in the form of an Etsy-ready, Pinterest-perfect return to wholesome values. The projects soon meld into each other, forming one gluey, pastel-painted heap of cork and balsa wood inside the mind’s eye.

I would have loved just a bit more cheekiness to temper the face-value sincerity; perhaps absurdist home guru Amy Sedaris could have joined Barney’s creative Simon Doonan and Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson as a judge with a sprinkle of acidity.

Real-life crafting is meant to be therapeutic as well as thrifty, so TV ends up being a poor medium for this pursuit. Viewers don’t get the neurological benefits of working with their hands and just end up visually dissecting a lot of cheap-looking products. Our eyes will never feast on a foldable family photo collage the way they do a meticulously embellished gown or an ostentatiously layered opera cake.

Cast: Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Simon Doonan, Dayna Isom Johnson
Premieres: Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (NBC)