This laidback, family-friendly competition show sees surprisingly talented kids attempt to carve out success in shop class.
If you can imagine a competition show about virtually anything, chances are that there’s a streaming platform willing to house it. And if Netflix can make a success out of glassblowing, it stands to reason that Disney+ can do the same for Shop Class, their new family-friendly show about surprisingly gifted kids learning the ins and outs of woodworking. It’s right in their wheelhouse, after all, being about children and boasting a laidback, encouraging atmosphere, and God forbid the House of Mouse miss an opportunity for some Imagineer cross-promotion. But that’s the most cynical element of what is otherwise a pretty enjoyable and light educational series.
Hosted by Justin Long, whose job is basically to goof around, and judged by him, architect Brooks Atwood and interior designer Lauren Makk, Shop Class sees teams of two teens and a shop teacher compete to build a pretty complex project in three 12-hour shifts. Despite a typical tournament structure and a grand prize for the champions, in true participation trophy fashion, the losers come away with a pretty handsome reward too. This is in the spirit of good-natured family-friendly competition and Disney’s trademark youthful, idealistic creative ambition, so you can’t complain, even if some cattiness never goes amiss in shows like this.
Despite being named after and revolving around shop class, the show is smart to veer away from trying to be overly educational and instead strikes a nice balance between designing and making the project and having a laugh while doing so. Long is the perfect host for this kind of thing, especially since he’s clueless about the subject; he helps to reinforce the idea that most kids aren’t as adept at woodworking as these contestants, which puts their accomplishments into context and also prevents the show from feeling too exclusionary – after all, nobody, least of all the young demographic Shop Class is aimed at, wants to watch preternaturally gifted people be awesome. There’s no drama in that.
Then again there isn’t much drama in Shop Class either, but that isn’t the show’s intention. In the spirit of Disney, it’s largely about fostering the kids’ interest in making stuff, giving them gentle encouragement to carve their own paths and let their creativity loose. That’s a positive and worthwhile message, and if just one kid at home decides on a career in carpentry on the back of this series, then its mission was comfortably accomplished.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.