The Thing About Trading Spaces

trading spaces
Trading Spaces has returned to TLC. (Who are all those random, new people?) | Screenshot from YouTube.

Trading Spaces returned to TLC last week. Generally, I have been opposed to the reboot trend. This is an easy way for television networks to make money without supporting up-and-coming creative talent. The unfortunate success of Roseanne will only make the reboot trend even worse. But, for whatever reason, I am fine with networks bringing back iconic reality shows. In many cases, these reality shows are money-makers that anchor a network (why else is Survivor still airing?), and their overall success is better for a network in the long run.

Something like Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, which also premiered last week, takes advantage of its truly genius casting and reunites the older Shore cast for a 13 episode sequel. It’s a family reunion with people you never knew you missed in the first place. Producer Sally Ann Salsano ― whose knock-off series Party Down South and Floribama Shore have never replicated the mega success of Jersey Shore ― would be remiss to not send the Shore cast on vacations and turn cameras on them at all times.

Now I’ve always been a reality television addict and certain shows ― the ones that were phenomenons without the benefit of Twitter ― hold deeper meaning for me than something like Jersey Shore.  Trading Spaces is that show. I didn’t know I needed it back in my life until I saw the reboot’s trailer. Everyone is back. Even Frank, who I swore was 90 years old the first time around.

When Trading Spaces first aired in 2000, I was in middle school. 9/11 hadn’t happened. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t happened yet. Social media hadn’t happened yet. Almost no one had cell phones. And on TLC ― a network I love more than any other  ― we hadn’t been introduced to the Gosselins or the Duggars yet. Honey Boo Boo was a phrase we’d never thought we’d hear. It was a different world.

At 11-years-old, I was already a TV junkie, becoming easily obsessed with anything and everything. ER during those years was basically oxygen for me. And you should’ve known me during the first season of Survivor. 18 years later, I still know that first season better than any single season of a reality show. My obsessions with pop culture and celebrities were born out of extreme loneliness and shyness. Pop culture gave me something to connect with during a time when I had so few friends and ― like so many teenagers ― I felt complete misplaced in the world.

There is incredible nostalgia for pop culture from the 90s and early 2000s, largely because 90s kids have a loud voice on Internet. But I was surprised how much nostalgia I felt for Trading Spaces when the reboot was announced. Unlike classic Nick shows, which I sometimes watch with friends, or even ER, which I excitedly binge-watched on Hulu, I forgot how much I loved Trading Spaces.

My dedication to Trading Spaces was deep. I watched every episode, usually with my parents, debating the designs and laughing when the homeowners really loathed the final product. (Never forget the “I really hate brown” lady.) I even went to a book signing of the Official Trading Spaces Behind the Scenes book with designer Laurie Smith. (I got so starstruck I forgot my own name.) I saw Chicago on Broadway because Mindy Paige Davis Page was playing Roxy Hart.

But eventually, like all pop culture obsessions, my interest faded. It happened once host Paige Davis left in 2004 and the original concept shifted to keep fans slightly more invested. By the time I left for college, I had moved beyond needing the calming simplicity of Trading Spaces in the my life. When the show was canceled in 2008, not only had once die hard fans like myself moved on but TLC had also shifted to its new identity. Every show on TLC ―whether it was Say Yes to the Dress, 19 Kids and Counting or even the weird gem of a show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska (how I wish we could go back to a time when failed politicians became reality stars and not the other way around) ― needed to embrace being extreme.

And so, there was no real place for Trading Spaces anymore.

Watching back those episodes now ―TLC blessed us with marathons of classic episodes leading to the reboot’s premiere ― they feel beautifully struck in the mid-2000s. The designs are so bad that you know the homeowners had to fix the final product. The designers are whimsical, wacky, and stubbornly committed to terrible design plans. (God I hope Hildi is kept away from all miscellaneous garden supplies during the new episodes.) But the show itself is safe. As the real world beyond the bubble contained by Trading Spaces became darker and darker, the show stayed simple and calm. It was always an anecdote for whatever extremities were – are – going on in the real world. It feels like the parts of my childhood I want to remember.

I wasn’t able to catch the premiere episode of the Trading Spaces reboot until now. But when I watch the premiere, I was immediately lulled into a quiet calm of what life was like before we got to this weird and awful place we are now.


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