who'da thunk a show called "Desperate Landscapes" could be so boring? It's pretty easy to understand why, though: I have no idea what the show is about. I mean, of course, this DIY channel (hunh?) joint is a show about a presenter who brings in a crew to re-landscape the yard and fix the external surface of a house the neighbors are complaining about. You've seen shows in this vein before. Welcome to the reality industrial complex.
But what's at stake here, what values are promulgated, what
education is being provided, and who is being served ... none of that
is clear. There are tips here and there about how to lay concrete
steps, or how to build a shutter, or how to get a plant out of a
plastic pot, but you couldn't start imagining how to landscape your yard, much less maintain
it, from the material they give you here. It's the DIY channel, but they're not really interested in helping you do it yourself.
They don't show the actual design of the yard: they don't get
a camera up on a crane, they don't show you a map or floorplan (or
whatever landscape designers call the plan) of the landscaping they've
planned, even though you know they have one. The presenter dude even
goes a little out of his way to make it seem like he's not familiar
with a color wheel. (He's "not a color wheel kind of guy.") There are
few design concepts presented here, much less discussed. So you don't
learn anything about how to design the landscape, either.
And what's it all for, anyway? All they talk about is how the owners can't manage their yards, but not about why they would want to. There's no case made for how a pretty yard can improve the owners' quality of life. There's no case made for green landscaping. The neighbors have sharp things to say about the owners' yards, but that's because they're being pointedly asked. No case is made for the neighbors' quality of life, or for property values in the neighborhood. So what's at stake? Why should we care?
Shows like this always have to have something at stake, or some why-should-I-care proposition. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, in which a needy family gets all the toys they could ever want, is purely about rewarding virtue or reversing neediness. It's about putting excess in where want used to be. While You Were Out has a family member sending someone away for a few days and redecorating one room in the house while they're gone. The crew must complete the redecoration with a budget of only $1000. This show doesn't mess around with virtue rewarded or any grand themes. It's about home decorating tips on a budget, with two rewards: 1) a dramatic before and after picture and 2) a dramatic reveal for the person being surprised.
There's no big theme in Desperate Landscapes, no thrifty or useful tips being conveyed,
no design concepts taught, and ... this is the key ... there's no big
reward. The big reveal is to the neighbors, but who really cares what
the neighbors think? It's not their house, and they only have to see it
when driving in or driving out. They're not close enough to the main
players for their displeasure to be a serious problem, and their pleasure to be
a reward. And since no case has been made for the owners' quality of life, why should we care that they get a nice new yard? Plus, the makeovers are never dramatic enough to make the reveal dramatic.
There's another problem: all of these folks let their yards go to hell because they don't have the time to do anything about them. Getting a huge group of dudes in there to fix it all up in one day will make it look nice for a while, but eventually, it'll all go to hell again because they STILL don't have the time to keep up their yards. And this is never addressed in the show. The design of the landscaping doesn't seem to have anything to do with ease of maintenance ... or if it does, they're keeping it a secret. In fact, they're not talking about maintenance at all, just how to put stuff in.
It's giving a man a fish, not teaching him how to fish. The owners are put to work, but they don't pay for any of it, and they don't get any say in the design. They're also not learning to do the difficult things.
One clue I have to all this is that the houses being addressed are all clearly in neighborhoods that range from working class, to lower-middle and middle-middle class neighborhoods: what presenter Jason Cameron calls, in one episode, "solidly middle class." These are not yuppies. They are not upwardly mobile. In fact, in most if not all cases (I haven't watched all the episodes), while the owners are thriving, their neglected yards are a definite sign of how much they have to struggle to thrive economically.
This is a class piece that makes the show interesting for a minute. But that minute is killed by the fact that the show brings no particular value. Its presumed target audience isn't getting very practical advice, ideas, or background from this show, nor any moral high drama. And they're also not getting house porn: aspirational designgasms that make them dream of ... someday. They're getting a nice cleanup for their houses, but that's about it. So who is going to watch this show ... and why, again?