New kids on the Block fail to maintain any interest

Last updated 12:40 12/07/2012
The Block
THE CONTESTANTS: The DIYers vying to win an $80,000 prize in TV3's The Block.

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REVIEW: The Block 7.30pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, TV3.

If being trapped in a Bunnings Warehouse for 10 weeks sounds like a prison sentence, then I have a show for you. Call it The Cell Block.

You'll be cooped up with eight cellmates, all vaguely young, attractive and difficult to tell apart. The warden seems like a friendly chap, because he's ex-Black Cap Mark Richardson, no doubt thrilled to not have to suffer that particular sentence any longer.

Welcome to The Block, the most expensive and elaborate reality show made in New Zealand. Well, not so much made as copied, since the formula is from a Dutch producer and our show is a knock-off of the popular Australian version.

Four couples inhabit four trashed houses side by side on Anzac St in Takapuna, on Auckland's North Shore. They must renovate the houses room by room, competing for prizes and additions to their building budget along the way. At the end the houses will be auctioned off and the couple who makes the largest profit gets to keep the proceeds and a bonus of $80,000. That is enough of an enticement for some of the couples to have quit their jobs to be on the show, and for all of them to surrender their lives to the show's intrusive cameras.

The couples are pleasant enough, based on last week's opening pair of episodes, but they are incidental to the show, which is a huge marketing machine in the guise of a competition.

Bunnings Warehouse is inescapable, but I counted at least 17 other product placements and endorsements in just the first two episodes.

We've brought it on ourselves, of course. Since time-shifting hard drives allow us to skip ads at will, producers have fought back by weaving the ads into the show.

And to lure eyeballs to the infotainment, TV3 has rolled out a huge promotional effort. Want to know more about the couples? There are features in Woman's Day and Your Home and Garden, interviews on The Edge and if gossiping about the couples around the watercooler is not enough for you, the show urges you to get on Facebook and Twitter to join the conversation.

And to think that some grumpy critics complain that social media is trivialising our lives.

I slogged through last week's first two episodes and have yet to see any actual renovation being done. There was some perfunctory bashing of something with a hammer from Taranaki linesman Rhys, but at the end of episode two, Richardson tells the couples that all their building, plumbing and electrical work has to be done by a registered tradesman, so there goes my hopes of any entertaining DIY disasters.

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Instead, I have watched graphic designer Sarah picking colours in her grey palette, which is painfully close to watching paint dry, and brickie Tyson explain that he can't put a tarp on the roof because he can't work out how to extend a ladder.

The timing of the show feels odd.

Wasn't the global recession supposed to have washed away our irrational exuberance about property speculation? Now that a good chunk of the property buying public has taken a bath, do we really still have an appetite for house porn?

Since initial ratings have been high, apparently we do. And figures out this week show that sales volumes and prices are back to 2007's peak levels. Perhaps watching relationships fall apart under DIY stress will knock some sense into us about investing in the property market.

I'll be curious to see if the ratings stay high, but I won't be watching any more. Between the hammy tension-amplifying soundtrack, endless recaps of moments of minor drama and manufactured stunts, my appetite for The Block of Cheese has vanished.

COMING SOON: Coronation Street's 50th anniversary brings a raft of specials, kicking off on Saturday with The Road to Coronation Street dramatising how the show came to be at 8.30pm on TV One and Sunday's offering a countdown of the 50 favourite moments from the show, also at 8.30pm on TV One.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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