Television

The Hosts Make Making It

This new reality show about crafting benefits from the best hosts you could ask for: Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman in Making It.
Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman in Making It. NBC

In the last few years, The Great British Bake Off has, like an impeccable soufflé, risen in profile, wafting its wholesome, distinctly British aroma into American living rooms. On GBBO, competition occurs, but with a spirit of fair play and bonhomie. The show is starkly anti-interpersonal drama, focusing instead, on the skills and quirks of its contestants and such high-stakes questions as whether the caramel on the crème caramel has successfully formed. (You can’t know till you turn it out!) On GBBO, the moment when a contestant is sent home, a moment that is milked by other competition shows for all it’s worth, is treated like an unfortunate necessity, carried out swiftly and firmly, but gently. You had thought that part was supposed to be fun? What utter nonsense! The light air of moral rectitude that undergirds GBBO is part of its coziness and charm: It doesn’t just want you to feel good—it wants to be good.

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The Great British Bake Off is the model for Making It, a new competition show about crafters—woodworkers, felters, hodgepodge artists, and other folks who know how to make stuff with their hands that could appear on Etsy. The show, beginning on NBC Tuesday night, is hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, colleagues on Parks and Recreation who bring their repartee and that show’s sweet spirit to their new collaboration. Offerman is a woodworker—a quality that was also given to his alter ego Ron Swanson—while Poehler jokes frequently about her total lack of crafting skills. But they are equally earnestly jazzed about the project—moved by the contestants’ creativity and skills and eager to promote the idea that making things, while increasingly rare, has never been more sustentative.

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In Poehler and Offerman, Making It has the funniest and most accomplished hosts a competition show could ask for, and it makes the most of them. Poehler, always in overalls, and Offerman, charmingly stoic as ever, do the joking, re-capping, discussing of feelings, and contextualizing that is usually left to the contestants. When a young woodworker named Khiem decides to change a Halloween costume he is making from a bat into a dog, Poehler and Offerman riff about it. “Is he a genius or is he changing his genus?” Poehler wonders. They occasionally do competitive punning rounds, in which they try to best one another using crafting terms—“Lay down and D.I.Y.,” “Glue’s the Boss,” etc.

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Even more than GBBO, Making It takes the onus off the contestants to be dramatic characters, since Poehler and Offerman do the entertaining for them. Khiem, for example, is an extremely accomplished and ambitious woodworker who, not unlike Ron Swanson, is disinclined to sentimentality and thus unlikely to provide a warm-hearted personal explanation for his projects. While he’s making a lamp, Amy and Nick try to prep Khiem on what to tell the judges about it, the way the lamp reminds him of home and his very handy father. When the judges arrive, Khiem declares, instead, that he made it because he was inspired by a new lathe that he just really wanted to try out. Poehler and Offerman, in an interview, laugh about Khiem’s refusal to tell the story they prompted, turning what on another show would have been a flaw into a charming quirk, an example of Khiem’s stubborn rectitude.

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Making It also reveals an advantage held by shows in which people make things instead of cooking them: I have no idea how that crème caramel tastes, but I absolutely have an opinion on whether that decoupage bunny is adorable. I have all the information the judges have, so I can tell when I disagree with them. The judges on Making It are Barney’s creative ambassador, general fashion character, and sometime Slate contributor Simon Doonan, and Etsy trend spotter Dayna Isom Johnson; the two of them really do have a thing for bright colors, and they really did not properly appreciate the extremely cool bird lamp that one guy rigged up.

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Watching Doonan and Johnson, it occurred to me that one benefit of not being able to question the judges on cooking shows is that it does allow everything to stay maximally pleasant. Without the tools to question authority, you might be sad that someone was kicked off, but you have to believe they deserved it. On Making It, you may do some internal quibbling with the judges, at which moments the show will be just ever so slightly less than sweet, but maybe marginally more engaging. Poehler keeps suggesting that no one should have to be voted off at all, and it’s a testament to this delightful show that I think it still would have worked that way.

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