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Is Hell’s Kitchen Losing its Sizzle?

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Sometimes I'm not quite sure how to approach an issue.  Take today's column for example.  There was absolutely no doubt in my mind heading into last night's Hell's Kitchen premiere that the column would be about it, that was set, after watching the episode though the only question was how to write it. 

You see, there's the traditional review path:  "Hell's Kitchen premiered it's new season last night, a season which is following quickly on the heel's of its last season.  The show, which has established a basic routine tweaked things here and there, but by-and-large maintained the status quo.  It must be said however that this time out the chefs do seem of a lower caliber than last season."

There's also the irate path:  "My goodness, what were the producers of Hell's Kitchen thinking?  That bunch of clowns they put before us last night in the season premiere has to be the most ridiculous group we've gotten in a long time.  Were they rushed into production to the point where they simply opted for rejects from previous seasons rather than actually searching for competent talent?"

One could take the slightly bemused path:  "To be honest with you, I'm not quite sure what I saw last night on Hell's Kitchen.  It was fun certainly, but the cooking seems to have been diminished this year in favor of hysterics.  I know that if it was me, I wouldn't have gone toe-to-toe with Ramsay like Joseph did, but perhaps he has an ingenious strategy.  Perhaps the producers first came up with a carnival credit theme for the season and then chose chefs who would best fit that theme."

So many choices… what to do… what to do… okay got it…

There's always a danger doing a new season of a reality show like Hell's Kitchen so quickly on the heels of the previous season.  The show could end up stagnating, doing nothing different whatsoever.  The show could also, simply not have the time necessary to come up with great new ideas and simply go gimmicky and ill-thought out.  I would have preferred the former, what we got was the latter.

I'm not even sure we can talk about the chefs.  I'm not even sure we can call them chefs.  Oh, I know that they call themselves chefs, but they don't seem like chefs to me.  There is always a lack of professionalism present in Hell's Kitchen's chefs, but last night I'm not sure we saw any professionalism.  I know that it makes sense for the producers to not show us the professionalism early on (otherwise we couldn't see how Ramsay molds the chefs over the course of the season), but putting food in a freezer instead of a fridge, not being able to section a grapefruit even after being told more than once by more than one person how to do it, and having a fight with Jean-Philippe are serious problems.  I liked Van right up until he went after Jean-Philippe – no one attacks JP in front of me, no one.  That hothead needs to go home.  And, that's not even talking about Joseph repeatedly showing his hatred of Ramsay and everyone else.  Did they just get that guy from central casting?  He's a plant, right?

Beyond the chefs though, the rest of it seemed ill-thought out.  One big example – the shrimp cocktail.  After losing the challenge in the second hour – a challenge which started with the completely ridiculous dropping of shrimp from the ceiling –  the women were told they were going to have, as their punishment, to clean shrimp and prepare lemons for shrimp cocktail for the following night's dinner service.  Ramsay explained that everyone in the restaurant would be given the shrimp cocktails.  Did they serve the shrimp cocktails?  Yes, yes they did, but only after Ramsay decided that the chefs couldn't cook anything and that he was going to shut down the kitchen.  I have to believe that the shrimp cocktails were always meant to be used in that capacity, they were always meant to go out once Ramsay shut down the kitchen… something we're supposed to believe he isn't required to do. 

There's no other explanation.  When was that shrimp supposed to go out to the dining room?  Entrees were being prepared.  It wasn't on the appetizer menu.  I would have imagined the logical time to serve the shrimp cocktail was as soon as everyone walked into the restaurant, but it wasn't put out then. Was it supposed to be dessert?  That's the only other choice – it wasn't a set up, Ramsay wasn't required to shutdown the kitchen, the shrimp cocktails were going to be dessert.  Dessert, yeah, that's the ticket.  Plus, I have this bridge in Brooklyn, if you're interested, I'd be willing to part with it for a nominal fee.

I know that we're still early in the season, but I'm nervous, very nervous.  The show is getting a little long in the tooth, perhaps it needed a bit more of a rest and some time to refresh itself before coming back for another season.  Last night certainly gave that impression.  We'll just have to wait until next week and see what happens then.

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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.
  • Doug

    How is it traditional to misuse apostrophes? Is that some ironic gag I am unaware of?

  • Stefan

    Hmmm, what’s that phrase that describes the dropping shrimp from the ceiling??? Ah, jumping the shark or maybe this will create a new phrase, dropping the shrimp? I mostly liked HK in the past but this season appears to be its end. I was hoping for a higher caliber show this time around but instead we’ve got the lowest of the low. Very sad…

  • I don’t remember where but I do recall reading that this season’s goal was to place a higher level of professionalism within the contestant pool. Which I thought was a brilliant idea. How that translated to the ones I saw on the show, I have no idea. I do know I wish the powers-that-be would have stuck to that premise.

    Perhaps the production company decided that Ramsay worked best as high drama for a U.S. audience instead of the one shown on those BBC America shows like F Word. Whatever the reason, I’d rather they work on the idea that on this side of the pond we have the same constitution as the Brits and give us that Gordon Ramsay instead of this one.

    I’m frustrated over this, but not enough to stop watching the show. I guess to me, a lesser version of GR is better than none at all…at least for right now.

  • Dawn

    I say in the end it will be between Kevin and Suzanne. That’s all I got.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Agreed, Crow. Hell’s Kitchen feels so gimmicky that it’s not even the least bit interesting.

  • Hell’s Kitchen is wearing thin. And if you watch some of Ramsay’s shows on the BBC channel, he is generally a decent, even tempered guy. When drama becomes melodrama, I get bored.