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Pool Shows: A Deep Dive

As we deal with an increased likelihood of a fully scorching Earth due to future heat waves, I've thought a lot about one of summer’s respites: pools.

I don't have a pool, but I can enjoy the idea of pools in my air-conditioned living room. This is especially true considering we are in an age of constant bombardment of pool shows. To give you an idea of just how ridiculous this is, while I was writing this article TWO more pool shows premiered.

Between three networks: DIY, Animal Planet, and HGTV, we are inundated with seven TV shows about pools. Each one of them tells a dramatically different story, but ultimately satisfies all of our escapist needs and wish fulfillment. Don't worry, I've extensively covered them all, much to the dismay of my ever-patient wife, and I will tell you which to watch based on your preference and interest.

There are a couple different types of these pool shows, and I've compiled them by similarities in the following sections: infotainment, pool porn, and cash cows.

Infotaining shows

The first show that got my attention was Insane Pools: Off the Deep End. This show revolves around a crew of lovable misfits that are a staple of multiple shows taking on a specific setting and construct like this: Pawn Stars, Duck Dynasty, Fuck, That's Delicious, etc.

Insane Pools revolves around the company, Lucas Lagoons, based in Florida, and the varying projects they take on. The team consists of: Lucas Langdon (owner and founder), Woman (Lucas's mom), Old Man, Crash, and Sunshine. The bulk of this show focuses on their interactions amidst these builds. You get to learn more about all of them in addition to some brief information on the family or couple that have hired the team.

The takeaway from this show, is that it is an inspiring, collaborative character study. None of those terms are things I take lightly, but this is truly an environment encouraging a collaborative effort.

When faced with a challenge, albeit force majeure, or an unforeseen curvable in the design and execution process, or anything else, Lucas brings all parties involved to determine a solution.

Lucas in general has a quest for knowledge which I really appreciate. He comes across as a frat guy, but he shows his artistic flair when it comes to his design process. If he was a frat guy, he's the type that when he's done crushing Natty Ice's is furiously studying and secretly enjoying it. He is routinely inspired by the natural elements around him. So much so, that he has laid down on the ground to get a feel for the elevation and vegetation around him, and gets constantly made fun of for "talking to rocks."

To clarify, whenever Lucas looks at a set of rocks that he wants to incorporate for a project, he literally speaks to them as a means of thinking through where they should ultimately end up in the build.

In addition to his inspiration, when he encounters something that he is unfamiliar with, he leans on his team’s strengths, or seeks out an expert in the field for their knowledge. As a man of letters, (two of them, B&A {Bachelor of Arts}), I appreciate this tremendously.

When it comes to his team’s expertise, Woman held a career as a landscaper, and Sunshine (in spite of his caricature sounding Staten Island accent), has a Master's in Marine Biology, which has become extremely useful during Koi Pond builds. Even the vendors he uses for furniture, custom stone cuts and designs, and audio visual installation, are included in the rotating cast of characters, and get some of their own aside talking head interviews.

To summarize: if you want equal parts inspiration and entertainment, along with some sick pool designs and a plethora of waterfalls and grotto designs, then Insane Pools: Off the Deep End is for you.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the educational component of a pool build. This is extensively covered in Pool Kings.

Considering that they rotate new design teams with every episode, you don't get that same character development as you do in Insane Pools, and additionally, the pools themselves are a little different.

Pool Kings builds are more ostentatious and gaudy then Lucas' designs. Some of them come off as campy, but ultimately that's how the client wants it. This is especially evident in the "Pirate's Treasure," and "Miner's Paradise" episodes. To be clear, those two episodes contain an animatronic pirate, in addition to a fully restored minecart purely for decoration.

In spite of this airing on the Do-It-Yourself network, they air a disclaimer at the end of each episode that you should not do this yourself. I believe that is due to the scale and complexity of these builds, but nonetheless, that is a curious feature only specific to Pool Kings.

One thing that I end up missing from this show compared to other pools shows is the lack of a discovery process of the design. Granted, I'm the guy who will spend more time relishing the behind-the-scenes commentary, sometimes more than the film itself, but without that discovery process, the execution is less impactful for me, and the artistic component of this is greatly diminished.

Here you get a sense of the clients, and why the build is happening, but the lionshare of this program becomes the build itself. It's because of Pool Kings that I now know what Diamond Lath, Shotcrete, Gunnite, the lug, coping, and jigs are. Go ahead, ask me!

This show is the only one out of all of them that is intentionally teaching the viewer. When a term comes up that previously has not been used, there is a graphic that pops up on the lower third of the screen detailing the term and the definition of that term.

The big takeaways from Pool Kings are: if you want an education and escapism, then this is the pool show for you. Also, if you want unnecessary fire features and other elements: this is your jam.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Pool Master, which is, well, a lot. This is a man with a personality that lingers with you, regardless of whether you want it to or not.

Anthony (pronounced Antoni, even though it's spelled in the opposite manner) Archer Wills is extremely boisterous, almost a caricature of a British man, with more zeal and lust for life than Alec Baldwin's much maligned character from Friends.

Double A (as I'll call him from now on), is primarily a landscaper first and foremost, and a pool designer second. Therefore, his builds always have a geographical authenticity. As he says in a later show, "If I'm doing my job right, you won't know this is a manmade pool."

The standout differences from this show is that the native geography, and the locations they work in (Colorado and California), have a lot more variance than the wilds of Florida. Additionally, there is always a biofilter, which comprises of plants that naturally clean the pool as opposed machinery.

The irony of utilizing the biofilter is that the end of the build - the glorious reveal moment- is immediately deflated because the pool water looks like shit. The biofilter, after original deployment, makes the water green (from excess moss) and then in a couple of days, or a week after the grand reveal, the water will become crystal clear - so he says... My question is, why not cut to a clip of the finished biofiltration process?

During these Double A shows there is a consistent supporting staff that you get a brief glimpse of: Ed and Dave, who, with all due respect, are so forgettable compared to Double A that I had to go back and check my notes just to remember their names.

There is a very consistent formula to these episodes of Pool Master as well. First Double A and his team go on a local adventure to explore the geography of the location, and AA tries to get his team into the local rivers for a swim. They show some brief quibbling, and ultimately AA is the only one that goes into the water source.

Then, they cut to the family and why this install is important to them. AA follows this with peacocking about and rambling on about taking care of the landscape. Construction initially starts, and then about halfway through the process, there is a remote segment with the family and AA's team. During this jaunt, they learn more about the family and their wants and needs, and this is ultimately where they determine what the surprise element of the design will be.

The more you watch Pool Master, the more you will be repelled by the Pool Master. His enthusiasm quickly becomes nails on a chalkboard.

Pool Porn

For two of the seven shows, Ultimate Pools, and Best. Pool. Ever. HGTV capitalizes on the same formula as The Best Thing I Ever Ate! on the Food Network: objectification porn. Both of these shows are a visual feast with not a lot of substance beyond that. It's no surprise that these are all hosted by the same parent company: Scripps.

Ultimate Pools and Best. Pool. Ever. both take 3 minute segments for each pool that gives you a "WOW" factor.

Here, you start each segment with the finished pool. This immediately takes the air out of the room for me. They remove any and all suspense in the build. For both of these shows, you get a small sense of who the builders are, and an even smaller sense of why the pool is designed. They all can be summarized by the same sentence that the clients repeat ad nauseum: we wanted a space to do a lot of entertaining, and we wanted a space for our kids to have fun. This is sadly devoid of personality of their clients.

This formula consists of a couple cutaways of the designers/installers, the family, and cutting back to people playing in the pool and saying “wow.” Sadly, these shows are the ones with the most longevity. Perhaps it's a matter of overhead costs being cheaper so these shows can be edited and distributed at a quicker rate?

Ultimately, this easily-digestible format is not for me. I'd much rather take on a larger narrative. This would also explain why I've preferred a novel vs. a novella (sorry Kate Chopin, you're still cool though).

Curiously, there are two crossover episodes hosted by, you guessed it, the Pool Master himself, Anthony Archer Wills. This is sadly true. Even more curious, is the fact that he narrates two episodes of obviously man made pools, as opposed to what you think would be Ultimate Pools: Natural Edition or something to that effect. That's like Jon Taffer bringing in an extremely specialized chef into Bar Rescue, then telling that chef to deal with all the family/bar owner nonsense while Taffer takes on the kitchen.

This is, again, not enjoyable to watch.

Cash Cows

Two very recent shows are exploiting this market flood of pool shows: Pool Hunters, and Supersize My Pool!

Pool Hunters feels like a camel of a show (in the Parks and Rec, Mark Brandanowitz sense of a boardroom trying to agree on a horse makes a camel). Essentially, it's a couple that wants to buy a house with a pool. This feels extremely disingenuous. This is House Hunters plus a "Wow look at this pool!" segment. Those approximately last 15 seconds, and you get no insight into this process. No builder perspectives, no family perspective, just a gaudy ridiculous pool out of context.

The most upsetting thing about this show to me is that the pools displayed, at one point and time, were custom builds specifically made for some families. But now, the "magic" of the design process and the "why" of the pools is completely lost. This feels gross. I'm grimacing just thinking about it. What has the potential to be an intensely personal process, ultimately feels discarded and left behind.

I would recommend watching this show if you want to flirt with the idea of what it's like to buy a house with a pool. That's it. I was immediately repelled by this.

For Supersize My Pool, you get the fun of the surprise gift of a new pool. Better yet, for the families, the person that surprises them with a redesign of the pool is Mario Lopez! For no reason other than being Mario Lopez, Mario acts as the liaison between the family and the pool building crew, which changes per episode.

As much as I'd like to denounce this show because of its ludicrous setup, I can't; it's just a good time for everyone involved. Mario Lopez is as charismatic as ever, you completely get a sense of why the design exists, who the family is, and it's a special thing that brings joy to all.

To be clear, Mario does not build the pool, but merely consults. However you still get the full scope of the design process, in addition to the surprise. It's not as educational as an episode of Pool Kings, but enjoyable nonetheless.

So, why is there such a plethora of pool shows? It boils down to capitalism really. The parent company of Scripps does a great job at giving you eye candy and just a hint of education.

There used to be a point where the Food Network, their flagship, had true recipes on that channel. Think of how thorough the cooking and recipes on Good Eats compared to well, any of the cooking shows now. They've opted for infotainment with an emphasis on the entertainment. They've found a formula that works extremely well for them, and keep making it until they run it into the ground. I can't really blame them, as I will easily fall victim to binging any show in that format.

Now if you'll excuse me, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives is on for the next eleven hours straight.


Jordan Young

Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic , and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.




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