Dust bunnies of America: Your days are numbered! There's a new dynamic domestic duo in town, and they have soap, water and pristine cleaning rags. And they aren't afraid to use them. Actually, dust bunnies are the least of the worries facing Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie as these imports from the United Kingdom attack some of the filthiest homes in the United States in "How Clean Is Your House?" a series premiering tonight at 11 on Lifetime.
Based on Woodburn and MacKenzie's runaway U.K. hit of the same name, this breezy, often hilarious new entry in the growing "make-better" TV genre sends these two gasping and utterly appalled women into horrifying homes that are sure to make most average American slackers feel virtuous about their own sloppiness.
We're talking homes not for the faint of heart, with rat droppings inside the oven - no, you read that correctly, inside the oven - as well as multi-feline homes with overflowing litterboxes, sinks piled high with food-smeared dishes, and bed linens crusty with weeks-old filth.
Cleaner in the U.K.?
It's enough to make a Yank hang his head in nationalistic shame - or would be, if Woodburn and MacKenzie weren't fair- minded enough to acknowledge that the folks back home are no better.
"Dirt is dirt," sighs Woodburn, the tall, imposing blond Brit who sweeps down on the unclean like the righteous wrath of every household god in Western civilization. "The houses in England have very much the same problems as you find over here."
MacKenzie, Woodburn's pixie-ish Scots-born partner in grime-busting, adds that many nasty homes in both Britain and America share a hilarious, if surreal, feature.
"Most of the houses we go to, certainly in Britain, they have one or two spanking new vacuum cleaners," she laughs. "Apparently they think, 'If I buy a new vacuum cleaner, I will clean,' but it certainly doesn't always happen that way. The vacuum is the cleanest thing in the house."
Lifetime is so enthusiastic about the series that 22 half- hours have been ordered for the initial season. In each episode, Woodburn and MacKenzie sweep down, so to speak, on a frightfully filthy home with what Woodburn terms "some jolly good cleaning products."
After the initial tour of devastation, punctuated by shrieks, whoops and involuntary gagging by the hosts, the residents must surrender their home to Woodburn and MacKenzie's team. Afterward, the residents return to a spotless new home, with pointers on how they can keep it that way without a lot of expense and with minimal effort.
In one episode, a young woman whose handsome but asthmatic boyfriend is yearning to move in with her learns that her nauseating carpet contains enough allergens to literally kill her beloved.
Another episode is poignant, as it captures a working wife and mother who clearly seems to be teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown due to the domestic doofiness of her husband and five kids.
This raises an obvious question: Do Woodburn and MacKenzie realistically think they can get people to change?
Track record of recidivism
"We've done 27 shows in England," she says. "Of those, five or six of the people really turned it around and are keeping cleaner homes now. About half of the other 21, I would say, improved a little, while the other half went back to their old ways."
Once a home is clean, the women say, it requires nothing more than soap, water and clean rags to keep it that way.
MacKenzie admits to hearing her mother's voice coming out of her mouth as she admonishes her sons not to drag their fingertips down the walls as they descend the stairs, and she agrees with Woodburn's First Principle: Clean as you go.
"That's really one of the biggest keys to tidiness," Woodburn says. "If you make a cup of tea, put away the tea and sugar and rinse out the cup. If you pass a book lying out of place, pick it up as you walk by on the way to the place where it belongs. Most of the time, there's no reason to let any substantial mess accumulate. Who wants to clean a week's muck off the kitchen? Once you get your home clean, it's so very easy to keep it that way. It takes seconds.
"Good heavens, this isn't rocket science, you know!"