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Cooking up a Good Tuesday Night of Television

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Yesterday I ate no solid food, so clearly I spent the entire night watching food-based programs.  Frankly, everything looked totally and completely delicious.

Last Restaurant Standing had the contestants in the challenge making — or attempting to make, anyway — microwavable meals.  The pictures on all the packages the teams came up with looked truly spectacular.  It didn't look quite as appetizing on the plates, but I think I still could have dug in to any of them quite happily, even the "healthy" stuff the women from Brown & Green (one of the restaurants) came up with.

The entire task actually helped highlight one of the big changes between British and American television.  The corporate folks judging the quality of the meals (as well as the packaging and sales pitch) had absolutely no problem telling the contestants exactly what they thought of the products.  There was no whitewashing of their opinion, and no holding back in order for Raymond Blanc to spring complaints on them.  A U.S. produced program would normally have had the special guest corporate-types straight-faced and quiet. 

The show did, however, fall into one of the traps that reality shows on this side of the pond frequently dip their toes in: they did not provide the teams enough times to actually do the task properly.  All the teams fared pretty poorly in one aspect or another of the challenge.  There wasn't enough time to cook the dish, or there wasn't enough time to truly research what was going into the dish, or there wasn't enough time to put together a semi-decent presentation.  There are always time constraints in producing a television show, but here the time restraints were simply too large for the teams to overcome.

My other food-based show last night, Hell's Kitchen, also had some pretty big challenges to overcome, but it was more successful.  This show, as I've said before, does the same thing year after year, and, amazingly, it still somehow works.  Last night, as happened last year, the contestants were forced to sift through garbage to see how much they wasted in the kitchen and to fillet fish. 

Somehow, despite it being old, it works.  The show works.  Perhaps it's that the personalities are different every year, and this allows for the producers to do the same thing over and over.  Perhaps it's that Gordon Ramsay seems to spew the same (or similar) epithets week after week while making it seem like they're brand new that makes it fun.  I tend to think it's not the contestants' personalities, at least not at this point.  We still don't have a good feeling for who they are; Ramsay (and perhaps Jean-Phillipe) is really why I tune in and I imagine that's the case for most people.  The contestants will come into play down the line, when we know more about them and when Ramsay softens up a little (as happens every year), but right now they're not at the heart of it.

There you have it, cooking shows ruled my Tuesday.  Boston Legal came back, and that was fun too, but it was the cooking shows that really did it for me last night.  Dare I even ask you what you watched?  Wait, let me guess, American Idol, right?

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.