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HGTV’s Celebrity IOU brings A-list celebrities to cable reality TV

HGTV’s Celebrity IOU brings A-list celebrities to cable reality TV
Melissa McCarthy with Drew and Jonathan Scott on the new HGTV series Celebrity IOU (Photo by HGTV)

“She has no idea; she’s going to lose her mind. She will—she’ll lose her mind,” said the person surprising another person on HGTV’s latest home renovation show. That soundbite was repeated twice, which is normally the kind of thing that that would annoy me on a reality show, except this time it was being said by Brad Pitt.

Yes, Brad Actual Pitt, Oscar-winning, A-list star, doing an OTF (on-the-fly) interview, where he stood in a yard and answered a producer’s questions. The HGTV channel has really outdone itself with Celebrity IOU, a mosaic created from pieces of Property Brothers and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and adds actual celebrity to make it sparkle.

This is no Dancing with the Stars. While Brad Pitt was on TV in the 1980s, appearing on shows such as Growing Pains and Dallas, and guest starred on an episode of Friends, he’s not someone who shows up on television—even in the past decade, when so many film actors have also done scripted television, as it’s become the dominant force in pop culture over the past 10 to 15 years.

Future Celebrity IOU episodes will feature Melissa McCarthy, Viola Davis, Jeremy Renner, Rebel Wilson, and Michael Bublé, who will surprise someone who’s had an impact on their lives.

Brad Pitt chose his makeup artist of 30 years, Jean Black, and had Jonathan and Drew Scott convert her storage space into what was basically a tiny house (living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, patio) that also had storage for her makeup and tools, and functionality so she could work there.

If the Celebrity IOU premiere wasn’t so charming, I’d probably be asking why A-list celebrities couldn’t have done this earlier, without a TV show’s help and money, considering the celebrities’ financial and other resources.

But it was charming, even before the reveal to Jean herself. “Oh my god, this is hilarious,” Brad Pitt said when he saw the renovated space. “It was such a shitbox. This is amazing. This is just amazing.”

It’s also amazing to hear Brad Pitt on a reality TV show calling a space a “shitbox,” twice. Oh, and he also called it “that dump.”

“I’ve been waiting so long to see something like this happen to that dump. That’s honest,” he said in an interview. Yes, Brad Pitt did both OTF and sit-down interviews for a reality show! And he called Jean’s garage a dump again when touring the space with Jonathan and Drew.

The post-dump design and work was fantastic, and included a makeup mirror that raised from the center of a kitchen peninsula, so Jean could use the space to do work for clients (“We’ve been doing makeup at her kitchen table for as long as I’ve known her,” Brad said). There was also a hidden walk-in closet that opened by literally pulling on a book on a bookshelf.

While Brad Pitt, actor, was on HGTV doing interviews, he did not spend three weeks renovating a house with The Property Brothers.

“Brad has to go out of town,” Drew explained, which also might be the kind of thing that makes me roll my eyes as a show tries to explain away why their Special Guest Star is about to evaporate.

But Brad Pitt was also around for much longer than I’d expect Brad Pitt to be around on a cable reality show.

He was there for at least three days: the first day, with demo and design consultations, and then toward the end, to see the changes, and then again on the big reveal day.

And he wasn’t just a pretty face, though there was plenty of pretty and plenty of stubble, helping with demolition and also delivering a soliloquy about his design sensibilities: “I’m extremely tactile; in fact, I’d prefer the design be more in the materiality than actual decor or decoration. Seeing how the materials relate to each other and what’s the feeling you get living amongst it.”

Drew and Jonathan Scott, Property Brothers: Forever Home
Drew and Jonathan Scott on their series Property Brothers: Forever Home (Photo by HGTV)

By the time Drew and Jonathan went on a field trip to explore Murphy bed options, Brad was gone, reappearing at only during a perfunctory Facetime chat to to consult when Drew and Jonathan wanted to know if they could renovate part of the yard, too.

Most of the work was done by an anonymous crew; there was more talking about creating the space than creating the space. That’s typical and to be expected, as it’s impossible to show three weeks of work in 40-something minutes, and because the network is focused more on personalities than how-to demonstrations.

But honestly, Brad Pitt appeared to do far more than some of the Brady kids did on A Very Brady Renovation last fall. He sledgehammered a wall, and looked at tile options.

And he made his time on reality TV worthwhile—although at the end, he was upstaged by his friend Jean. During a wonderfully charming scene at the end where Brad and Jean just hang out, and she gets emotional that Brad has done this for her.

“My main goal was just to get you on television,” he said at the end of Celebrity IOU. Jean added, “It was going to be a crime show.” Then they ran lines and Brad side coached her, as if she was on a true-crime reality show: I didn’t do that!

“I think what we’ve done here today is proven that Jean does have a career in crime reenactments,” Brad Pitt said later.

But what Jean then proved is that non-actors still make the best reality TV stars. She looked up at the crew filming her chat with Brad and said, “Where’s all the people that did it? I know it wasn’t any of you.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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