First off though, I want to explicitly say that I think Sarah Richardson is one of the best, if not THE best, designer working on television today. I mean that. I've literally never seen her do a room that wasn't impressive. And she has a lovely on-air personality. She's funny, sharp, and genuine... at least when she's not reading lines.
Forced, scripted writing was a problem on Sarah's earliest show: Room Service. The design work on that show was fine, but Sarah herself - as a television personality - was problematic. She had that poofy short hairdo. She spoke in an exaggeratedly formal way. It was like she was trying (and failing) to channel Martha Stewart.
Nothing against Martha -- besides the obvious, of course -- but it's important to be yourself.
And then along came Design Inc. and... BAM. Sarah was fabulous. Here was a woman I could love! A Sarah with personality! Design Inc. was a great show, and its focus on what really happens behind-the-scenes - the mistakes, the unforseeable problems, the on-the-fly solutions - was completely compelling. I still watch reruns whenever I can.
Design Inc. gave us a glimpse at a real team at work. A team that clearly respected, loved (and yes, sometimes feared) its leader. I especially enjoyed the way the crew would scramble to please her. There was an air of iron first about Sarah on that show, but a kindness too, and it was awesome. Real. The show's successors, Sarah's House (and Sarah's Cottage, etc.) were appealing in a similar way.
Sarah 101 is a bit of a step backwards in the evolution of the Sarah Richardson brand, which isn't to say that step wasn't deliberate. The show is obviously designed to be what it is: a stripped down, simplified, "back-to-basics" look at design. Consider the logo - the school-house font. Ostensibly, Sarah 101 is attempting to do what I always hoped Sarah would: to show regular people how to make a room happen, in a clear, DIY friendly, and budget conscious way. It's everything I thought I wanted. Nonetheless, something about the format feels dated.
I had a couple of problems with the first episode of Sarah 101 that I saw - a pre-released screener of a yet-to-be-aired episode entitled Big Box Kitchen. I thought the design relied too much on IKEA (though, to be fair, using a big box store was clearly the point). But I was also put off by the overly didactic tone of Sarah's scripted moments. They were awkward and harkened back to her Room Service days. What was missing from Sarah 101, I think, was more of Sarah herself. More of her and Tommy and their amusing banter. More real conversations and moments, less of the obviously contrived.
Don't get me wrong, I understand the attempt. I just think Sarah (and her sidekick Tommy, of course), their personalities, are what sets Sarah's shows apart. And I'd like to see more of them.
During the get together, Sarah also reminisced about the hiring of former intern Lindsay Mens (who's now been on the team approximately 6 years and who you may remember for Design Inc.) Sarah said that Lindsay was the only student she met at one particular event who was brave enough to ask her for a job and to some extent, that's why she was hired. Armed with this information, I jokingly asked Sarah for a job at the end of the meeting. I wish I could describe her expression. She knew what I was doing and she quelled me with a look. It was kind of awesome.
Considering all this, I'll definitely watch Sarah 101 again. I can't imagine not giving a Sarah/Tommy effort a fair chance. And the end credits featured a bit of the banter I love, which makes me hope there'll be more in future episodes. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.