The irony with an article about a cable TV show is that I no longer have cable TV. Our family cut the cord for many reasons, one of which would be the quality of programming, particularly reality TV. Reality TV can tempt viewers to celebrate any number of sins: envy, lust, malice, slander. Programs can dramatize and degrade or idealize and idolize. Even the best shows can lead viewers to find the grass greener on the screen and covet that marriage, that house, that shiplap. At our worst moments, we can fall into these temptations even with a show like HGTV’s home renovation hit Fixer Upper. But at our best, that’s not why we love it.
What’s to love about Fixer Upper? Let us count the ways. If you’re like me, you could watch stars Chip and Joanna Gaines do just about anything. I’d be entertained by watching them watch paint dry. They’re good at their work and enjoy doing it. And, perhaps even more appealing, they honor each other and laugh a lot while working together. They include their kids in projects. They’re champions for their hometown of Waco, Texas. They must’ve boosted business for every carpenter, graphic designer, and antique mall within a 40-mile radius. They’re fun, entertaining, admirable people who seem to have a pretty cool job. That would be enough to draw their record-breaking audience of between 3 million and 5 million viewers each week.
But there’s even more to it.
Beauty for Christ’s Sake
Though their faith isn’t explicit in the show, if you spend a bit of time Googling you’ll find that Chip and Joanna are Christians and that their work is very much influenced by their faith. They take ugly homes, some of which are in such bad condition they should be torn down, and create beautiful new houses with life ahead of them. Doesn’t that reflect the heart of God? He takes the ugly and destined for destruction, and makes us new.
Not only is their particular work about taking what’s slowly decaying and bringing it to life again, but how they do it also points us to the beauty of the gospel. Fixer Upper often includes moments of Chip and Joanna with their four children. One episode caught them on a warm evening on their farm. Chip had taken their oldest son to buy fireworks to surprise the family with a show in the backyard. The parents reflected that they intentionally create these moments for their kids to enjoy and remember.
How tempting is it to not take the opportunity to create a beautiful memory? Think of the cost of the fireworks, the hours of cleanup, the loads of flammable shiplap within target range. But as Christians loved by the God of the universe, we consider beauty and relationship greater than the values of a world that prioritizes profit, efficiency, and practicality.
Fixer Upper shows countless examples of how faith inspires the Gaineses to enjoy God and appreciate creation and creativity in everyday work. How tempting it is in our age just to get by, to plod through or to escape. The magic of the show is the consideration given to detail and meaning that otherwise could be overlooked.
In a recent episode, the Gaineses remodeled the home of a music composer and his family. In his music room (a.k.a. man cave) Joanna had the song sheet of a song he’d written for his wife blown up and hung on the wall. The husband was nearly brought to tears as he reflected on the song, his love for his wife, and how delighted he was in how she’d enjoy the new home. Home is in the details, not in four exterior walls. As you watch Fixer Upper, you see how Chip and Joanna pay careful attention to what homeowners love because of how they react when they see it. A special piece of artwork, a family photo, or a knickknack speaks to them. It’s a small way Chip and Joanna honor their clients as individuals. They’re confirming the value of their clients’ God-given passions and interests.
Many different kinds of shows can draw a large audience. It doesn’t take a media guru to know sex and violence sells in America. But Fixer Upper is different. It inspires viewers.
How so? It models an affectionate and fun-loving marriage, a department in which most programming is lacking. And though our marriages may never appear on HGTV, we have untold opportunities, in the mundane rhythms of everyday life, to show a more joyful and compelling way. The show also models the excellence and importance of work. It models bringing our children into our life’s ambitions to teach them the importance of our daily endeavors. It models family as a priority both in how the Gaineses’ kids are included in every episode and how they show respect for the families they serve.
The Gaineses’ mission is simple: transforming the old into the new for the enjoyment of others. And we certainly enjoy watching them do it.
Editors’ note: Don’t miss The Gospel Coalition’s 2016 National Women’s Conference, April 16 to 18 in Indianapolis. Lauren Hansen will be speaking on a panel about “Respecting Husbands: Challenges and Joys” and leading focus gatherings on “Seeking Joy and Abundance in Infertility” and “Eating Disorders and Plastic Surgery.” Workshops are filling up fast, so register now!