The pitch for “Making It,” NBC’s new foray into reality-competition shows, is pretty simple: Take the structure and — more importantly — the tone of “The Great British Baking Show,” but instead of baking, the challenges all center around craft projects. In the series, former “Parks and Recreation” co-stars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman guide eight professional crafters through challenges blending paper, fabric, wood, and tons of other unconventional ingredients to create wonderful and unexpected things.
Set in a picturesque wooded glen referred to as “the farm” (there’s not much in the way of farmland on screen, but it is a beautiful place), the eight crafters represent a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, with their unique styles showcased by the variety of concepts they’re asked to create. In the episodes screened for review, the projects made include quilts, childrens’ play forts, Halloween costumes, and lawn furniture, and the level of skill presented is really impressive (at least to a layperson).
Is crafting really as big a niche as baking? NBC Universal seems to think so, based not just on the existence of “Making It,” but also the VOD subscription platform Bluprint (which receives a callout in each episode). Bluprint is the learning video network for craft fanatics, formerly known as Craftsy, and the subscription-based-service is the only notable use of brand placement in the series (beyond the regular mentions of Etsy, which gets name-dropped occasionally by judge Dayna Isom Johnson, an Etsy trend expert).
Production values are clean, with non-obtrusive talking head interstitials and clever crafting-inspired graphics, and it’s actually easier for home viewers to evaluate the success of craft projects than cakes and pies, and so the “GBBO” format works well here. Also, much like its spiritual sister, 90 percent of the show’s charm comes from its hosts.
The line connecting “Parks and Recreation” and “Making It” isn’t necessarily the most obvious one, except for the part where the character of Ron Swanson was a skilled woodworker and Leslie Knope was a scrapbooking fiend. Here, as “themselves” on “Making It,” Poehler is very upfront about being a crafting novice, willing to learn from Offerman’s expertise (as he is just as skilled at Ron at woodworking) and also don an exciting variety of overalls.
More importantly, while their “Parks and Recreation” characters were ideological opposites, Poehler and Offerman’s off-screen friendship translates to a wonderful on-screen dynamic that lends itself well to the sort of off-the-cuff riffing that speaks to both a deep bond and strong improvisational skills. As hosts, they bring an irreverence that keeps the tone light, positive, and natural, which in the long run is far more charming than the robotic flair of your Seacrests and Probsts. Plus, there are the puns; “Making It” is so pun-obsessed that every episode literally carves out a few minutes for an Amy and Nick “pun-off” on various topics.
In the end, “Making It” is an aggressively nice series, aiming to celebrate the fun of making something from nothing, and Amy and Nick, as hosts, lean hard into the theme. The most emotionally fraught portion of the series is, naturally, the elimination scene, as everyone seems genuinely sad to be saying goodbye to each earnest crafter. It all plays into a powerful sense of positivity that makes for truly pleasant viewing.
This is the sort of show where the grand prize might be $100,000, but as Offerman says at the beginning of each episode, “The real prize is a job well done.” The nice thing about “Making It” is, you believe it.
“Making It” premieres Tuesday, July 31 at 10 p.m. on NBC.