Review: Netflix’s Motel Makeover is perfect lockdown escapism


When it comes to pandemic TV viewing, I’m all about the low-hanging fruit. We’re in lockdown, things are already tough enough as they are. I don’t want high-stakes shows that risk making me feel things.

In fact, when it comes to TV shows and movies in lockdown, I follow Government guidelines and refuse to get out of my comfort zone.

This is why Motel Makeover hits the spot. It’s a harmless mix of reality TV, home improvement and design shows and even hints of a travel documentary (but not quite enough to turn your wanderlust itch into a full-on rash).

Here’s the gist of it: Sarah Sklash and April Brown are friends who decided to quit their day jobs to become moteliers, despite having no experience in the field. This run-down motel is the second one they buy and renovate, as part of their “motel empire” (their words, not mine) of two, named “The June”.

In between buying the motel in the first episode and opening it to guests in the last one, not a hell of a lot happens.

Regular-me would get irritated by their obsession for pink walls and pink wine but pandemic-me does not care. I just want to watch a show without getting emotionally involved in it and, bingo, this is it.

Plus, despite their unnerving vocal fry, which kept me on the verge of switching back to yet another episode of Friends, the moteliers and their project manager Courtney do a bloody good job of that renovation, and are surprisingly candid about the stress of their budget constraints and the effect of the pandemic on their dream design.

They have the invaluable help of the most deadpan contractor I’ve ever seen, Rick – who quickly becomes my favourite person on the show, mostly on account of how little he seems to care about what the moteliers have to say to him about things like mirror selfies. Every scene featuring Rick is mostly just Rick trying to get that conversation to end so he can get back to work.

All in all, it’s very inoffensive, harmless TV viewing. There are no big cliffhangers, nothing much that happens at all. But it’s soothing, in a weird slow-mo pastel-hued kind of way.

Motel Makeover is the Instagram photo of TV shows. Pretty to look at but doesn’t really add much to your life.

In fact, the moteliers in question are seemingly obsessed with creating “Instagram moments” in every corner of their new property, which kind of makes me worry for the longevity of their business, seeing most kids these days are on TikTok and a TikTok replacement is probably not 100 years away either.

But hey, if they want to decorate their motel for Instagram, with pink walls, giant fake plants and rattan pendants and all the things no one will be using in their houses anymore next year, it is absolutely their decision. I am not here to crush anyone’s Kmart dreams.

There’s no real storyline beyond the process of buying a motel and opening a motel and no real drama either. They even managed to come out of the pandemic relatively unscathed, with only a small months-long delay to show for it.

To give you an idea of how low on drama this is, one of the most intense parts of the show is when, at one point, they run out of wood to finish building their deck. That’s it, that’s the big drama: a deck is not getting built as quickly as the people who own the deck would like it to be built.

You’ll probably forget their names as soon as you finish watching the show and that’s fine. The show did its job – it momentarily took you out of the misery of lockdown and made you daydream of poolside lounging and sleeping in a bed you don’t have to make yourself.

– Motel Makeover is currently streaming on Netflix in New Zealand.

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