HGTV shows like 'Fixer Upper' are keeping me sane during coronavirus quarantine

This could be the social isolation talking, but while we’re stuck in our own homes maybe it’s not so crazy finding comfort watching other people optimistically create theirs.
Chip and Joanna Gaines, will you adopt me?
Chip and Joanna Gaines, will you adopt me?Jennifer Boomer / HGTV
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By Jon Savitt

Saying that we live in unsettling times is like saying that McDonald’s fries taste good: you’re underselling it.

Due to the coronavirus, many of us are miles away from our families. We can’t hang out with our friends. Our loved ones are on the frontlines. It’s easy to feel trapped. It’s normal to be scared. It’s important that we’re taking care of each other, while also taking care of ourselves.

Since the COVID-19 quarantine began, I’ve participated in one primary activity to keep safe and sane: watching an unending parade of home renovations on TV.

For me, that self-care has presented in an unexpected way. Since the COVID-19 quarantine began, I’ve participated in one primary activity to keep safe and sane: watching an unending parade of home renovations on TV.

It’s no surprise that entertainment has been an escape for so many of us. We can’t hang out with friends, so we watch sitcoms. We can’t go on dates, so we watch “Love is Blind.” We can’t commit large scale fraud, so we watch “Ozark” (unless, of course, we’re the banks collecting millions for “helping” small businesses get federal loans.) But if I’m being honest, currently I can’t watch any of that.

My mind can’t handle complex plots, romantic storylines or character development. Paying attention? No, thank you. What I need is 30 to 60 minutes of pure comfort. Something real, but not too real. Engaging, but not too engaging. I spent hours searching for the perfect quarantine show. Then I remembered HGTV.

It’s hard to overstate how much HGTV has grown on me since I’ve gotten older. It's like the "going to bed early" of television. It offers dozens of shows, most with variations on the same title, all of which can be boiled down to the same basic plot: You don’t like your house and you want an open concept kitchen. It’s simple. It’s fun. Some might even say it’s genius. Me! I say that. (And so probably do advertisers,) Whether it’s “Fixer Upper” or “Love It or List It,” “House Hunters” or one of the other 15 or so “House Hunters” spin-offs, there’s something calming about the HGTV universe.

Today, that sense of predictable, homey calm is much needed.

In a time when so much is unpredictable, I know how each episode of “Love It Or List It” will play out. A couple is in the market for a new home. One person wants to leave, the other thinks their house can be salvaged. They want something close to their neighborhood, dedicated space for a laundry room, a bigger kitchen, a sprawling backyard. They want a playroom for the kids, but they also want a bigger master bathroom. And so on. The ebb and flow is intoxicating. Unlike the real world, the most dramatic thing that happens on HGTV is the discovery of bad plumbing.

The ebb and flow is intoxicating. Unlike the real world, the most dramatic thing that happens on HGTV is the discovery of bad plumbing.

I can’t believe I’m watching reruns of a channel called “Home & Garden TV” but here we are (thanks, Hulu). And I’m not ashamed. I want Chip and Joanna Gaines to adopt me.

Personally, I can’t imagine the stress of looking for a new home. Or even a first home. And given the job market and 2008 recession, the majority of millennials can’t either. I can’t even keep plants alive. But for an hour or two — or 10 — a day, I enjoy watching other people make those tough choices as I sit and judge them.

I have no skin in the game, as I open a bottle of wine and watch strangers start new chapters. I’m transported to a simpler time (one month ago) as I see them discuss their futures while standing within six feet of one another. The best part is that I don’t even really need to retain any information. It’s not like my friends will ask what I thought about the latest episode of “My Lottery Dream Home” (a real show). This isn’t “Game of Thrones.” It’s better.

HGTV is consistent. There are no surprises. No villains. It always works out in the end. While we may not know what chaos tomorrow will bring, we can always count on HGTV couples asking for an impossible list of requests for their budget. Given the current state of the world, I think there’s beauty in that type of nonsensical predictability.

I understand that there’s more to the shows than meets the eye. It might be lacking the “reality” part of reality television. What happens on-camera and what happens behind the scenes are reportedly different things. When the cameras are turned off, according to firsthand accounts, the scripted nature of the shows reveals itself. There’s even a lawsuit regarding the quality of the work. Like many things in life, HGTV may just be too good to be true.

But perhaps it’s not so wild to want to see the good in things right now — even if just for an hour or so. To believe that people have the best intentions. That everything will work out, even if the plumbing has a few kinks. That the Property Brothers are always that easygoing. Besides, with the current news cycle, there’s plenty of time for reality checks.

This could be the quarantine talking, but while we’re stuck in our own homes maybe it’s not so crazy finding comfort watching other people optimistically create theirs.