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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review of Grand Designs Australia

Grand Designs Australia is a fairly new program shown on Foxtel's Lifestyle channel (which I am slightly addicted to). It's the Australian version of the very successful English program. And if you'd never seen the English version, mores the better. Because, in contrast, this falls short. However, if its your first introduction to the 'Grand Designs' brand, you'll probably like it just fine.

It follows a relatively simple formula - find a person, or more typically a couple, building an ambitious project from the ground up, with absolutely no construction or project management experience. The resulting situation is inevitably fraught with avoidable stress, mistakes, and delays. Factor in cost blow-outs and personal challenges along the way, and you have for some fairly dramatic television, irrespective of whether you have much of an interest in architecture or construction.

It's impossible not to compare the British and Australian presenters - both are middle-aged, Caucasian, male, architects. So much the same, but oceans apart in character and personality. I remember hearing the ABC 702 radio review of the first Australian episode where the critics cut the Australian presenter, Peter Maddison, some slack, wondering if he just needed a few episodes to warm up. Unfortunately, not.  Across the whole series his interactions range from socially awkward to positively excruciating.    

My favourite episodes are 2, 'Very small house, Surry Hills, NSW' and episode 8, 'Cottage Point House, NSW' as they're the most interesting projects. In episode 8, Maddison shares many awkward, almost sexually tense scenes with the male owner-builder, at one point standing on a pile of cement together, so close as to appear almost face-to-face, discussing the build. In another, they dance with the owner's new girlfriend in the basement 'club' of the house, sipping champagne, disco lights flashing behind them as the camera pans away. Did this strike anyone else as slightly odd? Can't quite recall a similar comparative in the English series.

In any case, the substance of the Australian series is not quite of the same caliber as the English program. Overall the projects are not quite as interesting, ambitious or aesthetically inspiring. One project set in Darwin (episode 5), is run on such a shoe-string budget that there never seemed a hope of it being resolved in time for the end of the episode. And it isn't. It's left in a totally unresolved state, in a very unsatisfying result for the viewer who just has devoted about an hour of their life to see how the project would turn out. Who knows?

It's not all bad though. If you're a sucker for design, building or architecture, you'll appreciate the fact that an Australian series is engaging with this subject matter, in a local context. Just goes to show how important the presenter of a show really is though.

Overall, I rate it 6/10.

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