Apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre, but my idea of hell is other people’s entertainment. Everything about the renovation competition series “Rock the Block” (8 p.m., HGTV) makes my skin crawl.
There was a time when HGTV was worth watching — when it featured relatively normal and non-gorgeous people teaching us amateurs how to cut wood and spackle tile. YouTube and other videos pretty much took over the instructional aspects of home improvement “entertainment,” and HGTV became one long commercial for big-box hardware stores and a showcase for itself and its increasingly good-looking talent.
“Rock the Block” demonstrates this transformation at its most extreme. HGTV star Ty Pennington presides over a competition among eight of HGTV’s design and renovation experts, pairing up to transform completely identical suburban properties in the space of one month.
Increasingly, sitcom set design has come to resemble generic furniture showrooms. Now we’re invited to spend time in ersatz suburban test homes. Whose block is being rocked, exactly?
And, at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, what are the stakes here? Game shows and reality contests used to feature ordinary schmoes striving to win big prizes and change their lives. “Rock” gives each team a $225,000 budget to tart up each phony non-dwelling. Their prize: “bragging rights.” They’re already celebrities with a steady job on a cable channel. So why should we care?
Continuing a trend that began decades back on the classic time-waster “Big Brother,” HGTV offers fans even more chances to monitor the action on “Rock the Block,” via the site HGTV.com/RocktheBlock, where the truly obsessive, bored or both can access scenes from the first season, before-and-after photos and other behind-the-scenes peeks. There are also links to the Instagram accounts of the faux stars renovating a fake house. Help yourself.
It’s funny to think of a network once considered “Home and Garden” concentrating on semi-celebrities renovating non-homes. But it’s hardly alone. There are no arts on A&E and barely any history on History. Even the Weather Channel has branched into entertainment, and too many “news” and religious channels specialize in building ugly cults of white resentment. Given that, HGTV and “Rock the Block” form only a minor circle in my own personal hell.
TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• Quarantine pushes a couple well beyond cabin fever “9-1-1” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
• High-octane competition on “Street Outlaws” (7 p.m., Discovery, TV-14).
• A-list talent (Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and John C. Reilly) animate the 2016 cartoon musical “Sing” (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., FX, TV-PG).