Television

'Treehouse Masters': Reality TV Fantasies

Matthew Wollin

Combining a roughhewn, DIY fortitude with a camera-ready smile, Pete Nelson consults with his clients, helps them make a plan, and then does what he likes to do best: he builds a treehouse.


Treehouse Masters

Airtime: Fridays, 10pm ET
Cast: Pete Nelson, Judy Nelson, Charlie Nelson, Daryl McDonald, Alex Meyer, Chuck McLellan, Dylan Rauch
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Animal Planet
Air date: 2013-05-31
Website
Trailer
Amazon

Pete Nelson makes his living building impressive, complex treehouses. He and his family live in Fall City, Washington, where they maintain a treehouse-themed bed and breakfast called TreeHouse Point. It sounds like something of a treehpuse aficionado's fantasy, but once Pete gets to talking, so full of bravado and enthusiasm, Treehouse Masters shows itself to be another kind of fantasy, the kind we've come to expect of reality TV.

This fantasy features workers who've found a way to turn their dreams into a livelihood. Treehouse Masters introduces it with a credits sequence that effectively zeroes in on the childlike appeal of treehouses, cutting from grainy footage of a single small platform in the trees to a series of the monumental structures Pete builds, a sequence spelling out a perfect union of youthful daydreams and American entrepreneurship.

Each episode of Treehouse Masters, premiering 31 May on Animal Planet, follows Pete and his crew as they tackle a new commission. It’s an appealing enough premise, mixing light entertainment and how-to gusto. The customers featured in the first episode are a couple in Texas, Jimmy and Sandy, with land that’s been in their ownership for over 100 years. The cameras highlight a few predictable Southern details (cows! ranch houses! cowboy hats!), before moving on to portray an encounter a big ole’ Southern family and between their Pacific Northwestern employees that’s so mild you could be forgiven for forgetting about all the hubbub regarding red and blue states.

The visit to Texas demonstrates Pete's mode, his easygoing approach to his work, no matter the environment. Combining a rough-hewn, DIY fortitude with a camera-ready smile, Nelson consults with Jimmy and Sandy to plan their treehouse, which seems less like a treehouse and more like a single-story house that’s set a little higher in the air than usual. Pete surveys the surroundings (“The best way to judge a location is to see it from the tree’s point of view”), finds the ideal site, then calls in his merry band to put the whole thing together.

Pretty much everyone on Nelson’s crew is laid-back and attractive, and any momentary hitches they encounter in the process come across more as decisions made in postproduction than any genuine adversity. When Jimmy and Sandy advance the schedule for completing the construction without warning, it takes Nelson all of 90 seconds of air time to devise a solution. The plot here rehearses the conventions of reality programming -- expectation, obstacle, resolution -- more than it does the specifics of treehouse construction.

With this treehouse underway, Pete takes a brief sojourn to repair another one, in the wonderfully named Uncertain, Texas. Here he finds an old fishing shanty in the bayou, and the client, Lonnie, pitches in on the repairs, along with his fishermen friends. As they share a couple of colorful anecdotes, the show offers a convincing depiction of Texas as one big, happy family, where are any potential differences of opinion are obliterated by a mutual enthusiasm for treehouses.

This family doesn't go in for revelatory details, but Pete walks us through basics, say, what kind of wood to use or how to secure the various parts of the structure. Jimmy and Sandy’s treehouse seems fairly ordinary except for its size, and they decide against the more outlandish attributes – trapdoors, bridges – briefly exhibited by the more flamboyant structures displayed in the opening sequence.

Inside, though, it's hardly rustic, but rather, outfitted with flat-screen TV and a full bathroom and kitchen. This makes everybody happy again, the show wrapped up with a neat, triumphal montage that's both moving and artificial. Then Nelson’s crew returns to their home nest to await their next assignment, as they live out a dream that's perfectly watchable, cheerfully inoffensive, and unlikely to inspire much passion or ire from anyone.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.