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America’s got twine: ‘Making It’ a sweet TV reality competition, free of snark

Former "Parks & Recreation" co-stars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman now host the competition series "Making It."

Former "Parks & Recreation" co-stars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman now host the competition series "Making It." | NBC

When I heard the great “Parks & Recreation” double-play comedy combo of Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman were re-teaming for “Making It,” a six-part competition series about the art of crafting, I thought it sounded like a terrific premise for satirical comedy.

You know, like the Christopher Guest movies such as “Best in Show,” “For Your Consideration,” “Mascots.” I figured “Making It” would be a sly and smart lampoon of all those reality shows where real people compete to make the tastiest cupcake or the most dazzling interior design or the coolest bladed weapon.

I’m such a cynic. Turns out “Making It,” which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC, is a REAL competition series with not a single strand of snark or condescension in its DNA.

In fact this just might be the lightest, sweetest, kindest competition show in the history of American television, and there’s something wonderful about that.

Elsewhere on TV, the judges on “Forged with Fire” test out the homemade weapons of the contestants by slicing into the carcasses of pigs and cows. On “Making It,” the judges test out the homemade creations of the contestants by working the controls on a shadow puppet theater or playing with a homemade toy.

“Making It” is a ray of late-summer sunshine featuring two of our funniest and most likable comedy actors as the hosts; a couple of expert judges whose job titles DO sound as if they’re from a Christopher Guest movie but are also accomplished and lovely people who are compassionate even when offering pointed critiques or sending someone home, and eight contestants who whip up some truly incredible creations using felt, paper, wood, clay, glue, paint, glitter, etc.

At one point deep into the competition, with only four contestants still in the running for the grand prize, one individual finishes a project early — and uses the extra time to help a rival who was struggling to finish on time. Aw!

Each week, the “Making It” contestants are asked to complete two projects: the “Faster Craft,” a timed competition that’s all about finishing a relatively small creation, such as a terrarium or a sports stadium-themed snack bowl, before the clock runs out; and “Master Craft,” a much larger and more elaborate challenge, e.g., create a front porch and front door with a holiday theme, or a backyard party setting with seating for four.

Each of the contestants has a specialty. Billy, for example is a “Felt Artist.” Jeff is a “Paper Crafter.” Khiem is a “Woodworker.” Amber is a “Craft Blogger.” Jemma is a “Hodgepodge Crafter.”

Ah, but they’re going to have to step outside their comfort zones to impress the judges!

Offerman and Poehler offer encouragement and advice to the contestants as they work on their creations. (They also do a couple of light, comedic, craft-themed vignettes every episode.) But the actual judging is left to the experts: Dayna Isom Johnson, described as “Etsy’s trend expert,” and Simon Doonan, “creative ambassador at large for Barney’s New York.”
Johnson and Doonan (who clearly know their stuff) won’t hesitate to point out craftsmanship flaws or disappointingly unimaginative efforts, but in keeping with the upbeat tone of the show, they soften every verbal blow with words of encouragement and reinforcement.

The winner of each individual competition gets … a patch. That’s it: a patch.

However, the last contestant standing wins $100,000 — and even though Amy reminds us at the top of each show they’re not going to emphasize the money, 100 grand is 100 grand, right?

As is the case with all the best competition/reality shows, “Making It” draws us in by providing sympathetic mini-portraits of the contestants, who draw upon their loved ones and their back stories when creating their pieces. In each of the five episodes I screened, the contestant who is eliminated shows no trace of bitterness or disappointment. It’s all tears and expressions of gratitude for the experience. (“I really have bonded with these sweet people,” says one fallen contender. “It’s been a beautiful time, and I’ll treasure it.”)

Our genial hosts wish everyone could stick around, even after elimination.

“Here’s a pitch,” says Poehler. “We don’t send anyone home. We ADD somebody every week, we look at cool stuff, then we go to dinner!”

Offerman notes, “In real life, if someone disappeared every week, that would be terrifying! That would be national news.”

To soften the blow, Amy and Nick welcome each of the freshly eliminated competitors into their tiny home, situated within waving distance of the barn.

Okay, so there IS an element of dramatic license at play. I’m pretty sure Poehler and Offerman don’t really live in that cute little house, and contestants have to go home when they’re eliminated.

But I like the idea of a world where even that part of “Making It” is real.

‘Making It’

★★★

9 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays on WMAQ-Channel 5