How exactly does Brad Pitt know the Property Brothers? It’s a question anyone might have before the premiere of Celebrity IOU, and one that comes up pretty quickly, just after Brad— yes, it’s somehow really Brad!—shakes hands with Drew and Jonathan Scott. “I will be honest: when you called us, I thought it was a prank call,” Drew says early on in the episode.
The strange, dazzled sensation of seeing Brad Pitt on HGTV never truly goes away throughout the first episode of Celebrity IOU, a new series that premieres April 13 in which the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Viola Davis, and Rebel Wilson will also team up with the Scott brothers to pull off renovations for their loved ones. Pitt’s work is on behalf of his long-term makeup artist Jean Ann Black, described by GQ in 2017 as “Brad Pitt’s secret weapon,” and owner of a home in Santa Monica with a freestanding garage that, as in any classic Property Brothers episode, has potential for so much more. Pitt wants to give her a proper makeup table for her clients, and space for guests; the brothers also squeeze in a spa-worthy shower and a ludicrously expensive folding glass door. Pitt and the brothers throw some sledgehammers to block out the back wall, pick out some tiles. It’s a Property Brothers episode; what more do you want?
Well, what if a standard-issue HGTV show featured a drop-by from one of the most magnetic movie stars who ever lived? Wearing his signature newsboy hat, artfully tousled hair, and a genuine smile every time he talks about his long-standing friendship with Black, Pitt is exactly as relaxed and casual as he pretended to be during every awards acceptance speech earlier this year. “I love the sound of a construction site,” he says, not long after dropping that he knows the zoning laws for how close you can build to the property line. “I’m extremely tactile,” he says, picking out engineered hardwood samples like they’re crown jewels. Presumably, someone responsible for the awards campaign for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood was aware that this episode would air after the Oscars, and lamented the missed opportunity. Not that he really needed the help, but it’s impossible to watch this and not want to hand Pitt anything in the world.
His presence makes the usual goofy antics of the Scott brothers seem even more absurd than usual. Pitt’s not in the entire episode, of course, though he does gamely Skype in to weigh in on a bonus outdoor space (he’s all for it, of course). But he returns at the end for the first big reveal, grinning in awe at an elaborately engineered Murphy bed and tearing up at the sight of a photo of Black’s parents tucked into the storage closet. When Black herself arrives to take it all in, he turns to grin at the camera, a moment so unscripted and genuine he’s never fully in focus.
Black’s arrival at the end of the episode, which comes after she’s been talked up to high heaven by her friend Brad, is remarkably able to live up to the hype. A taciturn Texan trying hard not to cry on television, she responds to the renovation in the way that most people do on these shows: with awe, gratitude, a small heartfelt speech. But she also looks like she might jab Pitt in the ribs when taping is over for forcing her in front of the camera. Once the brothers leave, she relaxes a bit for what might be the best part of the episode: Pitt jokes about trying to get her on a true-crime series, and coaches her through lines like “If I can’t have you, nobody can” and “Look what you made me do!” Pitt’s a great coach; he also looks at her with the kind of admiration and affection that can make an entire generation swoon.
The pictures have gotten particularly small lately, and it’s unclear when we’ll be able to get another dose of giant movie-star charisma in its intended, big-screen format. So while Brad Pitt showing up on a HGTV show is weird, it’s also exactly what we deserve right now. Maybe not as much as Jean Ann Black deserves her hidden makeup mirror that rises up out of her new quartz countertop—but then again, Brad doesn’t smile at us that way, either.