TV previews of 'School Pride' and 'The Vanilla Ice Project'

Former rapper Vanilla Ice, aka Rob Van Winkle, has spent the last 15 years following his passion for flipping houses. In "The Vanilla Ice Project," Van Winkle and his crew of contractors embark on his biggest home renovation project, yet -- a 7,000 square foot mansion in Palm Beach. The series premieres Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. ET.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ever faithful to the dream of self-determinism, Americans like the idea behind the old adage, If you want something done right, do it yourself.

The DIY activity that began with our kitchen makeovers (who needs a contractor?) then made the very short hop to DIY-ing almost any social ill where solutions elude elected officials.

Thus our national disarray frequently leads to grab-a-hammer thinking. This involves a lot of talk before one nail is banged, and it all but insists that volunteering be made mandatory. It also depends heavily on an audience -- TV or Internet, preferably a reality series, but in a pinch, a social network shout-out will do.

Grab a hammer and vote the bastards out. Grab a hammer and stave off foreclosure. Grab a hammer and save a child and cure cancer and rebuild New Orleans and add it to your college application résumé.

"School Pride," NBC's compelling but cloying new Friday night reality show, has its heart in the right place, but it is classic grab-a-hammer programming. You have to endure a lot of tears and self-congratulatory hugs or else "School Pride's" job is unfinished.

Asserting a position with which we all basically agree -- that public education is in a woeful state -- "School Pride" finds the surest and quickest solution in basic infrastructure. How can we expect students to learn when the school is literally crumbling around them? Coasting on the same "fed up" vibe that now guides most civic discourse, "School Pride" is predicated on the ineptitude of officials. (Read: Our country is messed up.)

So grab a hammer.

But don't forget to bring TV cameras.

"America, it's time to fix our broken schools," intones the opening to "School Pride." Guided by Tom Stroup, a motivationalist SWAT officer who has his own line of fitness tapes, the "School Pride" team descends upon Enterprise Middle School in the Compton area of Los Angeles, where they are horrified to find dilapidation, neglect and an athletic field riddled with varmint holes.

Stroup is joined by three co-stars: Susie Castillo, a former Miss USA, has come along to spread primer and cheer. Jacob Soboroff, a journalist, has come to "get answers" as well as grab a hammer. Kym Whitley, a comedian (and former teacher, we are told), has come to do her best impression of Niecy Nash from "Clean House" and sass some mice and cockroaches.

The goal is to refurbish the school in 10 days. Enterprise's students and faculty are summoned together when Stroup and company storm into the school and pull the fire alarm to get their attention.

It's never quite clear what happened with actual classroom instruction while the show was taped and the students and teachers were handed hammers and paintbrushes. In fact, throughout "School Pride," it feels as though a lot of technical questions are simply sidestepped; many of the show's scenes feel assembled in the same way the science room floors are re-tiled.

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