Bringing an additional feel-good twist to home remodeling, Fox’s “Home Free” comes from the producer of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which makes this summer offshoot the equivalent of tract housing. Nine couples work together gutting dilapidated homes, with the idea that the newly fabulous product will go to deserving families, while the ultimate winner earns a “dream house” of their own. Yet the pounding and sweating builds toward a payoff that’s undeniably emotional but anticlimactic. While the show has its heart in the right place, it still feels like there are a dozen versions of this on Bravo and Discovery.
Hosted with manly, no-nonsense vigor by Mike Holmes (“Holmes on Homes”), the main issue, strictly from a viewing standpoint, is that Holmes outlines the central wrinkle in the competition early on, one the producers have asked not be divulged. Yet without giving anything away, suffice it to say that the conceit undercuts the tension, and makes much of the back-straining work involved turning these lemons into urban palaces feel like little more than killing time until we can get to the main event.
That’s not to say the producers haven’t done a solid job of casting folks with legitimate tales of striving and woe, tapping into a being-on-TV-cures-what-ails-you level of comfort that has been a staple of this genre since “Queen for a Day.” But it’s hard to get invested in the process of yanking up boards and whatnot (unless you’re really into that sort of thing), or even the internal politics among the players, when the show tips its hand so early.
Granted, given the avarice and cut-throat behavior often on display in reality competitions, one is sort of loath to criticize a series that dares to proffer ideals like altruism, rewarding hard work, and helping families who could use it during tough times — a mentality also embraced, conceptually, by Fox’s latest from Ryan Seacrest, “Knock Knock Live.” Yet while “Home Free” goes the extra mile in its efforts to send viewers to bed with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts, after sitting through the first hour, the best advice, given the rather tedious buildup, would be to wake us each week when it’s almost over.