We’d ordinarily be knee-deep in post-NYE “new year, new you!” shenanigans. But this is no ordinary time… And the silver lining is that 2021 comes with a fully fledged excuse for not feeling as though we have to give our homes/bodies/wardrobes a total makeover. Instead, we can sit back and watch other people doing it, guilt-free. Sheena McGinley counts down TV’s top improvement programmes
12 60 Minute Makeover (2004)
While the show had a proliferation of presenters (including Claire Sweeney and Peter Andre) over its 10-year tenure, the premise remained the same: an unsuspecting homeowner would be carted off for the day by a friend/relative, only to arrive home “60 minutes later” to some new rooms and the overriding hum of freshly sawn MDF, industrial-strength adhesives and adrenaline.
11 Super Garden (2006)
Horticultural reveal shows have been around for eons (just ask Charlie Dimmock and Diarmuid Gavin), and this RTÉ garden makeover series is no exception. It gives unknown designers the chance to showcase their skill, their vision, and – if they’re really good – create a show garden at the Bloom festival. Not only does it have the expected elements of jeopardy, competitiveness and the suspense of being held hostage by the Irish weather, you’re also educated about the best plants for privacy.
10 Mary Queen of Shops (2007)
A veritable tour de force, Mary Portas was Gok Wan, but for shops. It being the late Noughties, online shopping and increased rental prices were on the cusp of destroying the
UK high street. Mary’s no-nonsense approach on the BBC show brought focus to a slew of tired establishments, breathing new life into lacklustre shopping experiences. With focus on how a premises can make customers feel, to helping shop-owners embrace the “less is more” mantra, every business needs more Mary in their lives – especially now.
9 Interior Design Masters (2019)
This may seem a random addition, but A) it includes more Mary Portas, and B) we wanted to include something you could still watch from start to finish. Originally airing on BBC Two in 2019 and rife with pre-pandemic lore (such as limited perspectives on things that actually matter, and the expected level of raging egos), this Fearne Cotton conduit has just the right level of snark blended with pretty things for your peepers during a dank January. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, it’s currently available to stream on Netflix and is essentially The Apprentice, but for interiors.
8 Home Rescue (2017)
While Room To Improve is great eye-fodder, it’s increasingly leaning into the fantastical realm of Grand Designs. If you’re looking for something more achievable and just as innovative, perhaps give RTÉ’s Home Rescue (formerly Desperate Houses) a whirl. She of the flowing locks, architect Róisín Murphy, and he of the mighty jawline, builder Peter Finn, redesign and declutter – all with the help of affordable bits from Ikea. The best part? It’s on for less than 30 minutes, meaning a quicker reveal and none of the faff.
7 George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces (2012)
Of all the George Clarke vehicles – and there have been many: Restoration Man; Old House New Home; Ugly House to Lovely House;
The Home Show; Shed Of The Year – this show captured the global tiny-house movement and literally gave it legs (or, in many cases, wheels). Tree pods, caravans, and barges, George introduced viewers to a more cost-effective way of living, largely thanks to the world of gliding storage solutions.
6 DIY SOS – The Big Build Ireland (2020)
While Nick Knowles and his utility belt have been hard at it since 1999, Baz Ashmawy breathed new life into the UK format for the Irish audience. Uplifting viewing during lockdown, this RTÉ show transformed the lives of deserving souls, while bringing out the very best in humanity. Something all our souls needed.
5 How To Look Good Naked (2006)
From 2001 onwards, TV channels were awash with shows depicting everything ‘wrong’ with a person’s appearance. It seemed the only way one could be more body positive was to either be manhandled by two snarky presenters in the confines of a changing room (What Not To Wear), have 100 strangers judge you in a busy shopping precinct (10 Years Younger) or go under the knife before being shortlisted for a beauty pageant (The Swan). And then, in bustled Gok Wan like a breath of fresh air. True, he was prone to banging on about “bangers” while coercing participants out of their clothes for a (tasteful) nude photo shoot – but none of it involved scalpels, getting fillers, or lipo. He built on what was already there for this Channel 4 show, which was liberating.
4 Changing Rooms (1996)
Arguably the mother of all interior design shows, this BBC gem had it all. Competition, two reveals, and the prospect of warring neighbours if one went to town with the floral dado rails. From mid-1990s until 2003, wee Carol Smiley, with the help of cheeky cockney carpenter Handy Andy, would preside over proceedings in both houses, constantly reminding each project’s lead designer that they had bitten off more than they could chew. One of these overtly ambitious souls, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, took the presenting reins for two series, until 2004. Rumour has it he will co-host alongside Davina McCall in a 2021 resurgence of the show on Channel 4.
3 Tidying Up With Marie Kondo (2019)
We love watching a good tidy up. It instils feelings of productivity – and possibly even glimmers of motivation – without actually having to vacate the couch. In January of 2019, Marie Kondo was the queen of decluttering, bringing order to your drawers and calm to your mind. We really hope she has something new in the pipeline this year; we need it.
2 Operation Transformation (2008)
While shows such as The Biggest Loser, My 600lb Life, and Supersize vs Superskinny all seemed to have a gratuitous voyeuristic component, Operation Transformation brought some heart and inclusion. It takes a more holistic approach to weight loss, tackling not just what each ‘leader’ eats, but why they eat. Each person’s inspirational story then resonates with viewers, who opt to get involved in their own transformation. This RTÉ show doesn’t just change the five participants’ lives, it transforms entire communities.
1 Queer Eye (2018)
For those yet to sample the unbridled joy of JVN (grooming), Tan (fashion), Antoni (foodie), Bobby (interiors), and Karamo (mind reader), may I recommend episode three of season one of Queer Eye on Netflix. Titled Dega Don’t, it focuses on a ‘Make America Great Again’-loving police officer and makes for very pertinent viewing. OK, so you’d be forgiven for balking every time “the Fab Five” get the mandatory mention during every closing blubfest, but I challenge anyone not to be moved by the way they connect to each person featured. That, and the fact that you just can’t quibble with five makeovers in the space of an hour. ‘Yaas QUEEEN!’