Watching NBC’s inaugural season of the reality crafting-competition Making It, it’s possible to start believing that the reality TV genre may have left its troubled past behind. Back in the day, reality TV got ratings in the same way Jerry Springer did: through ugly conflicts and people yelling. But now, reality TV is nice, which is not only wonderful but shocking, too.
One-time Parks and Recreation co-stars Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler host the wildly wholesome and deeply creative program in which a diverse group of plucky “makers” attempt to out-Etsy one another for a $100,000 prize purse and an iron-on patch. But aside from being ridiculously talented, the makers are also slightly problematic for a reality competition. After all, they’re so incredibly kind and collaborative. And that’s where Poehler and Offerman become crucial. Because in the midst of contestants who apparently did come to make friends, the two manufacture tongue-and-cheek drama that is as charming as it is hilarious.
From the first episode of Making It, the soft edges of the competition and contestants are abundantly clear. As the contestants quietly use wool felt, paper, wood, and found objects to create animal representations of themselves, Poehler is intent on sewing dramatic conspiracies. At one point, a balloon being used to make bunny bursts, but the neighboring contestant doesn’t even flinch at the sound. “A balloon pops right beside you and you don’t react?” Poehler questions during a cutaway, her eyebrow arched skeptically. “All I’m saying is maybe she was expecting it to happen.”
The sarcastic commentary on non-existent drama only highlights the refreshing feel of Making It. The jokes work specifically because the contestants are exactly the opposite of what one would expect to find on a reality competition. They avoid pettiness, borrow materials, and even help one another create if they have time. And in the final elimination of every episode, the hugs and tears feel genuine. As do Poehler and Offerman’s stress about sending home people they clearly admire.
Together, Poehler and Offerman create an almost paternal duo. The pair is affable and proud. They love nothing more than to gently tease their contestants and make them chuckle. Even more parent-like, the pair engages in groan-worthy pun duels based on a crafting theme.
Of course, all of this would be precious to a fault if the makers weren’t so damn good at what they do. It’s truly extraordinary and inspiring to see the creations the contestants can put together with raw materials in just a few hours. Almost like a magic trick, the contestants create items as diverse as wall art, costumes, outdoor furniture and playsets from everyday materials like pool noodles and feather dusters.
But unlike other reality shows, the striking crafts are created through the will and imagination of seemingly everyday Americans. The end product doesn’t require a week of dance rehearsal, or a Machiavellian mind, or years of kitchen experience, or a genetic gift to sing — it takes a willingness to experiment, an ability to adapt, a ton of heart, and a boatload of creativity.
It’s clear that Making It intended to be a reality show for a country in desperate need of togetherness, kindness, and humor. It delivers on all fronts.