Scott D. Pierce: ‘American Dream Builders’ is an absolute nightmare

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: March 20, 2014 11:18AM
Updated: March 20, 2014 11:51AM
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This Jan. 19, 2014 photo shows, from left, Monica Pederson,, Nate Berkus, and Eddie George from "American Dream Builders" at the NBCUniversal Press Tour, in Pasadena, Calif. George, a former NFL player, is turning a critical eye to home building and design as a judge on a new reality television show. He joins designer Berkus and interior decorator Pedersen on "American Dream Builders" debuting March 23, 2014, on NBC. (AP Photo/NBC, Paul Drinkwater)

NBC’s “American Dream Builders” is a home-improvement/reality competition show that tries to be all things to all people and ends up being a misbegotten mess.

It’s sort of like a Victorian mansion with a midcentury modern wing. And, while the original house is filled with sweet people, the addition is populated by unpleasant jerks screaming at each other.

“American Dream Builder” is a ripoff of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” with contestants who act as if they’re on “Hell’s Kitchen.” NBC’s new program, which premieres Sunday at 7 p.m. on Channel 5, is a massive miscalculation.

Fans of HGTV — and you can count me among them — love to see home makeovers. “American Dream Builders” has that. A dozen contestants are split into two teams, and each team works on a house. Then their work is evaluated, and one member of the losing team is eliminated.

So far, this sounds about as original as beige paint on your living-room walls. The twist here is that the contestants are not aspiring designers and builders, they’re all successful professionals.

“They’re not trying to become anything,” said host/executive producer Nate Berkus. “They already are.”

And that’s a egregious error. A big part of what makes reality/competition shows work is the everyman element. If somebody making minimum wage wins the lottery, it’s a great story; if a millionaire wins the lottery, not so much.

Beyond that, it’s pretty much impossible to root for the contestants on “American Dream Builders.” These back-biting, egomaniacal idiots are downright unpleasant to watch.

Just wait until you see this sequence: Contestant Christine Salway is trying to talk on the phone to team leader Jay Riordan, and fellow contestant Elaine Griffin is shrieking at her. When Salway tries to hush Griffin so she can hear, Griffin loses her mind and attacks Salway for being rude.

It’s as unpleasant a moment as you’ll see on TV. And yet Berkus and rest of the “American Dream Builders” team think it’s great entertainment.

“We’re forcing these people who have 12 massive egos to work as teams,” Berkus said. “When they don’t work well together, [judge] Monica [Pedersen] and I are, like, hiding under the desk.

“It’s so scary when people aren’t good team players.”

That is NOT entertainment.

And NBC has missed the irony that, in Sunday’s premiere, one team is criticized for its scattershot design and lack of cohesion.

Really? That’s a problem on a show that features idiots screaming at each other one minute and tearful homeowners giving out hugs the next?

“American Dream Builders” is embarrassingly bad.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.