After this past week of break, I feel like my brain has put on a snuggie and settled down in front of the television. Just in time for finals season! Cool. For all of you who also anticipate watching a lot of HGTV with your mom after (or as) you write your essays but can’t stand “House Hunters International,” or anyone looking for another series to binge on your laptop in bed, I have just the show for you. “Home Town” is like the “Great British Bake-Off” of home renovation. It showcases people doing what they love and bringing out the best in each other rather than the more common entertaining — but stressful — voyeurism of watching a couple hurtle towards divorce after hitting every pitfall of construction.
“Home Town” follows Ben and Erin Napier, a married couple with an adorable baby, as they restore houses in Erin’s hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. The show’s format is simple. The couple shows the episode’s clients two homes and outlines plans to renovate each into something that suits their needs. The soon-to-be homeowners select one, and the Napiers and their team turn the house into something worthy of a final, emotional reveal. I know that’s the format of every construction or renovation show, but while the other shows make this formula feel as flimsy as plywood veneer, “Home Town” feels solid as a two-by-four.
On most HGTV shows, there’s no real connection between the clients and the hosts, the people and the area they’re in, or, often, anyone and the house pre-renovation. On “Home Town,” the best of small-town community shines through every step of the process. Many of the buyers are families who have grown out of their past spaces, adults coming back to their childhood hometown, people following dreams of starting small businesses or even friends of Erin and Ben’s. The two house options are referred to not by numbers or lists of their assets and trade-offs but by the last names of the previous owners. It’s such a small thing, but it seems to capture the key difference in attitude that “Home Town” has: respect. You understand, suddenly, that this house has a history, that if you demolished it to put up something new and perfectly modern, you would be losing something. Erin and Ben are interested in small-town revitalization, and even the way they talk about the houses communicates that mission to bring the town’s past along with it into the present.
During the renovation montages, along with the shots of tearing out old countertops or putting up new walls, you see the talent that goes into making a house beautiful to live in. Many shows have segments where the hosts walk through a DIY they’re doing for the project, and “Home Town” is no exception. Ben is a woodworker and Erin is an artist, and we see the tables and paintings they make with their clients in mind. But “Home Town” brings the whole community into the project, showcasing local craftsmanship as well as recruiting help from friends and family. A local artist paints a silly but lovingly done portrait of one couple’s dogs for their new entryway. Ben drives out to someone’s old barn for an offer of free lumber or window frames. Erin’s mother makes an appearance on the show to help her sew yards and yards of fabric into curtains. All the personalized touches they add to the finished home feel genuinely personal. I wonder sometimes during reveal shots on these renovation shows if the clients are faking their joy — do they really love the color purple enough to have it plastered all over their living room like that? For their sake, I hope so — but “Home Town” highlights family connections or pieces of the house’s past in ways that manage to make me nostalgic for something from a stranger’s life.
Last but not least, I find Erin and Ben genuinely charming — they’re warm, funny and very in love in a very sweet way. In interviews, they speak like real people while still being entertaining, and when Ben puts his arm around Erin’s shoulder I’ve found myself saying “aww” out loud to the TV.
So in conclusion: Watch “Home Town” for clips of dogs and little children! The catharsis of watching someone smash walls with a sledgehammer! A new season to look forward to in 2021! It’s the perfect quarantine show. During a time of stay-at-home orders and imposed isolation, “Home Town” is a sweet reminder that homes are not just pretty combinations of backsplash tiling and accent pillows. Homes are the places where we live our lives, and the power of community can turn those ordinary lives into something worth seeing, even if it’s through a screen.
Gemma Yoo | email@example.com