Although it’s not the return trip to Pawnee that viewers have been yearning for, Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman’s new reality competition series, Making It, positively brims with the goodheartedness of their previous NBC collaboration, Parks And Recreation. The erstwhile Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson host this spirited contest in a repurposed barn out on a stretch of farmland, where the snacks flow and the crafters’ creations—and camaraderie—inspire. As the competition goes on, the levels of artistry and criticism rise. But with Poehler and Offerman cheering and riffing from the sidelines, Making It joins the new tradition of life-affirming competition series like The Great British Baking Show (or, as it’s known across the Atlantic, The Great British Bakeoff). There’s none of the Machiavellian antics from Survivor, no manufactured drama from contestants living together during filming. Instead, we have decoupage, mutual respect, puns (so many puns!), and personal growth, all in roughly the same time it takes for the first alliance to fall apart on MTV’s The Challenge. Making It is like summer camp for adults, only with a lot less fridge-fucking—though Poehler has effectively picked up Susie’s “producing–slash–co-executive-producing” duties once more.
The premise is simple: Eight expert crafters, who all work in different media, whip up both a Faster Craft and a Master Craft inspired by a theme that usually proves quite revealing (translation: prepare to shed a few tears). Filming is relegated to the workspace, where we watch the contestants—sorry, “makers”—as they snip, lathe, and glue their way through each round, earning badges and making time with Poehler and Offerman, who also act as mentors. The atmosphere is so convivial that it’s easy to forget we’re watching a competition—that is, until someone must pack their pinking shears and go. And we’re not kidding about the tears: Poehler and Offerman’s eyes frequently glisten as they reluctantly bid farewell to a contestant each episode. Meanwhile, you’ll stifle a few sobs listening to the contestants’ stories of coming-out, craft-centered family reunions, and unconventional proposals.
Making It isn’t the only competition show on the air that places talent above (almost) all else; it certainly borrows from GBBS, Project Runway (there’s something here for fans of that series’ unconventional materials challenge in particular), and even RuPaul’s Drag Race. But it’s efficient, stout-hearted, and absolutely punderful—a combination that would please both the director and deputy director of Pawnee’s Parks And Recreation. In the spirit of the show (and the Girl Scouts), we’ve stitched together some of our own badges to hand out to the hosts and contestants.
Sorry, Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres. Better luck next year, Fab Five. Go mind your soufflés, Sue and Mel. Poehler and Offerman are the hosts with the most—the most chemistry, most puns, most storied history. They have disparate levels of experience with woodworking and repurposing materials, as demonstrated in various challenges they pose to each other when they’re not cheering on the competitors, which is what makes them great presenters and coaches. The Parks And Rec alums also bring some of their old TV selves with them, Poehler displaying Leslie’s famous can-do attitude and Offerman gravitating toward the lunch meat. But their friendship is no mere callback—the hosts radiate such mutual esteem and warmth that when they retire to a house of indeterminate size at the end of each episode, you’ll want to ask if there’s room for you.
Making It is as cleverly crafted as the terrariums, wall hangings, and furnishings that are judged each episode. Each challenge is designed to reveal something new about the contestants, who are all personable and talented—this is crucial to keeping resentment out of the needlepoint. Poehler and Offerman act more as camp counselors than anything, gently nudging competitors to open up or put more of themselves into their art. Like Tim Gunn, they’re too engaged with the contestants to judge them—that’s left to famed Barneys window designer Simon Doonan and Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson, who gauge the crafts’ marketability as well as artistic merit. It’s a smart move, because it means the hosts can wander away for a pun-off and the requisite corporate sponsorship nods without disrupting the flow of the show. Elsewhere, focusing on the work allows viewers to learn in real time how to convert a five-gallon paint bucket and yards of rope into some outdoor furniture, as well as maintains the spirit of the competition. But Making It also weaves that DIY spirit together with an aspirational element—as the competition rolls on, the crafters become more ambitious and personal in their creations.
We learn a lot about the contestants despite only seeing them in the workroom, thanks to talking heads and the subtle interviewing skills of Poehler and Offerman. They show a genuine curiosity in all the artistic choices of the makers, who reliably share something about themselves in the midst of explaining their creative process. Away from the barn, Poehler and Offerman open up about their respective families, and how crafting sometimes brings them together. It could all be a bit cloying if it weren’t so sincere—and if the hosts didn’t play so well off each other even in the more potentially saccharine moments. Personal revelations are key to virtually every reality series, but on Making It, they fortify the viewers’ investment in the competitors. Love that scrapbooking tip or ingenious use of cheese cloth? Well, prepare to bawl when you find out where those ideas came from.
Making It’s opening credits see Poehler and Offerman breaking down the format of the show with typical wit, giving us a little taste of the Pawnee work ethic by placing a sense of personal accomplishment above the monetary prize ($100,000—but who’s counting? Not Amy and Ron). This back and forth is one of the highlights of the show; the dynamic burnished by years of working together ensures each Offerman giggle and Poehler chuckle sounds wholly earned. Their wordplay is all above particle board, though: Not only is the title of the show a double entendre, but Poehler and Offerman also have multiple quippy showdowns in each installment. Now that you have a bead on how riveting these pun-filled exchanges are—they really will hold your Pinterest—Poehler and Offerman show no bias when offering guidance, refusing to buttonhole any of the competitors based on their preferred media.
It’s a reflection of the current state of well, everything, that we keep coming back to how decent this show is, from the top down. Poehler and Offerman encourage more often than they tease the crafters for some of their choices. Contestants never snark each other’s concepts from their tables, but they do help each other put finishing touches on their work. Even Doonan and Johnson, whose interactions with the contestants are limited to keep the judging impartial, offer only constructive criticism. A drama-free competition that’s nonetheless suspenseful, Making It is the bear hug of a TV show we need right now. Offerman and Poehler have really put their stamp on the genre (pun obviously intended).