For every long-running reality show (Survivor, The Amazing Race, etc.), there also exists one that lasted for just a brief, shining moment in time. There are a multitude of reasons why a show doesn’t take off. Sometimes it’s really terrible, sometimes it’s great but doesn’t connect with a wide audience, and sometimes the show premise is such that anything more than a season or two would be redundant, and would dilute the greatness of the show. I consider these to be the boutique reality shows; small, special, and not widely available. Today, I’ll talk about one of my favorites of these, The Carolla Project.
Most people know Adam Carolla from his long stint as the irreverent cohost of MTV’s Loveline, or as one of the parties responsible for The Man Show, Comedy Central’s salute to perpetual arrested development. These shows were not up my alley, and I did not connect with Carolla’s sneering brand of juvenile humor. But for 13 weeks in 2005, my husband and I caught Carolla fever as we got sucked into his show, The Carolla Project, on TLC.
The Carolla Project followed Adam as he purchased his childhood home from his father and renovated it for resale. Carolla evidently knows his stuff when it comes to carpentry and construction, but instead of hiring an A-team, he assembled a group of misfit buddies of his from his pre-fame days. The relationship he has with these guys is the reason the show works so well. As a group, the show portrays their construction skills as mildly competent on the best of days, so we weren’t watching to acquire new skills. But the hijinks of Carolla and his crew felt real and lived-in, with a history and camaraderie that couldn’t be faked. This ragtag bunch included:
Ray, Adam’s childhood best friend. Ray is a big lug with hidden depths and what seems to be undiagnosed ADD. He does what he wants, including wearing flip-flops on a job site, and stripping down to his skivvies to test out the swimming pool.
Gary, a mild-mannered nature-loving loner who was so unfazed by Adam’s fame that he thought for about the first 5 or 6 years of their acquaintance that Adam was a janitor.
Billy, the hard-headed guy from Queens with excellent taste in hats. Possibly the most talented construction worker of the bunch, but not great at expressing himself.
Ozwaldo, the incomprehensible yet lovable caretaker of the group. He came to California from Nicaragua over a decade ago, but even the people doing the subtitles on the show can’t understand what he’s trying to say. He communicates through food though, cooking everyone massive barbecues whenever he can get away with it.
Steve, an actual licensed general contractor and electrical contractor who dabbles in arena football on the side. Definitely the most organized of the group, but lacks the patience to lead the team.
Adam’s saucy wife Lynette and flamboyant assistant Matt also make frequent appearances on the show.
This show works because it’s really just a flimsy excuse for Carolla to be able to work on his dream renovation project with his friends. The show is just a means to bankrolling the project. Since there are no high stakes or hidden agendas, we get a true slice of life experience that’s lacking in competitive reality shows. Sadly, TLC hasn’t released a DVD of the series, so it’s likely this gem will be lost forever, living on only in my heart. I’ll watch him on the upcoming Celebrity Apprentice, but I’m sure it will be a pale imitation.