The new FOX reality show Home Free evokes that famous Oprah giveaway: You get a house! And you get a house! And YOU get a house!
In this feel-good series from the producer of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, nine couples compete to win “the ultimate dream home.” Each week they renovate a run-down house in Atlanta, Georgia, and the weakest team gets taken out of the competition. They all think they’re restoring the houses for a deserving family but there’s a twist: the eliminated couple wins the home they’ve just renovated. “Everyone is already a winner but the best part is they don’t even know it yet,” host Mike Holmes gleefully tells viewers.
The teams live on the job site and are divided into indoor and outdoor crews. In the kind of ridiculous deadlines that exist on competition series, they have five days to get the job done. All the couples have a compelling story to tell. Newlyweds Sheena and Jamaal have left their teaching jobs in Brooklyn, NY, for the series. They want to win a home so they can start a family. Twins Andi and Kate have an ill father and are competing to win a home for their parents. Ben and Kasey have four children and lost everything, including their home, when they filed for bankruptcy.
General contractor Holmes, known to viewers for the HGTV series Holmes on Homes, Holmes Inspection and Holmes Makes it Right, is an enthusiastic host. He is encouraging while not cutting anyone any slack. “I know he’s new at this but I do expect people to learn,” he says of one contestant.
Although they’re only seen in the background, Holmes has a real crew doing the real work. So (thankfully) the contestants aren’t hooking up ovens or installing plumbing. They’re mostly relegated to painting, building furniture and demolition. And even what they are allowed to do seems exceedingly dangerous: They’re on roofs, using jackhammers and, in a scene that I was sure would result in a severed finger, cutting wood with a chop saw.
Like a Monet painting that looks best from a distance, the resulting work looks pretty from afar but up close is quite shoddy. An outdoor space, for example, is made of stapled curtains, unsanded wood and masonry work that could collapse at any moment.
Real estate expert Danisha Danielle Hoston and design expert John Gidding walk through at the end to evaluate the finished product. But it’s a little suspicious that the cameras never go inside the bathrooms or bedrooms. Was the entire house really renovated, or just the foyer, living room and kitchen?
The show left me with questions. Why are the interviews filmed in front of an obviously fake green screen background? Is a professional crew going to come through and fix the inferior workmanship or is the “winning” couple going to have to pay for that themselves? Will the winning couple, who could not afford their own home, be able to afford the property taxes on their new abode? What about how much it costs to keep up a pool? I need an episode where the show follows up with everyone at some point down the line and lets viewers know if they are still living in the house they won.
As charming as I found the premiere’s winning couple, it seems the competing teams should have at least suspected they could all be winners. Did they really have no clue the deserving couple could possibly be them? The first couple’s reaction is so affected, it’s hard to believe that it’s true. One half of the couple falls to the floor while the other admonishes, “Get off the floor of our new home.”
To its credit, the series has a diverse cast of participants, but the whole thing feels akin to when you were a kid and you got an awesomely wrapped birthday present only to find there were socks inside. Home Free needs a major renovation.