R.I.P., “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”

Earlier this week, it was announced that ABC was canceling “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The final episodes will air in January. And this made me deeply sad.

The show is cheesier than the aggregate of all of Wisconsin, it is corporate and sponsored out the wazoo, and it is heavily edited and storyline-manipulated within an inch of its life. But I love it very much because, as a parent, it has facilitated some amazing conversations between my children and I that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

For several years now, it has been the Sunday night routine at my house that we sit down to watch “the build-a-house show” as we call it, myself and my nine-year-old son and my six-year-old daughter.  We “oooh” and “aahh” at all the moments everybody else does once the (Diamond Coach, yes, branding) bus has been moved. We talk about the things that would go into our dream house, and would you look how pretty that bedroom is, and oh my gosh, are you kidding me, that kid has got a climbing wall in his room now?

But leading up to that is something more important. The show, for us, has been an opportunity to talk about and explore empathy. It’s been an entry point for my kids and I to discuss the many ways we are fortunate, to talk about the struggles that lots of people have that we are fortunate not to have.

We have talked about our good health when the show chronicles a child with some debilitating illness that makes their current house a deathtrap. We talk about how grateful we are to be together when the show focuses on a family that has been split apart for one reason or another. We talk about how blessed we are to have a home that is a blessing rather than a curse.

You can try to explain to kids that they are better off than many other people and therefore should be grateful – just ask any parent who has attempted that “starving kids in China” routine. You can tell them just how lucky they are, and you will exhaust yourself, because only a tiny bit of what you are telling them will get through. (They’re not that different from us adults, in that they’re much more likely to focus on what they don’t have rather than what they do. It appears to be the default position on the switch of human emotion.)

But despite its relentless ad placement and goofball tone, this show has for years given us a real-world barometer for those conversations. It has humanized pain, suffering, guilt, regret – and along with those, compassion, hope, love and kindness – in a simple way that child and parent alike can understand. And talk about.

For all those reasons, I will miss it dearly.

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