The TMS Guide to: Cooking/Reality TV Shows



Food TV was forever revolutionized by the Food Network, a channel that promotes obesity, lust and extreme hunger with every minute of programming. More than that, it has the cross-over appeal, fusing the demographics of "suburban housewife" and "stoned college student" together in most unexpected fashion. Before that, the viewer had to make do with rigid, formulaic 30-minute shows where chefs fudged their way through antiquated recipes.

It didn't take long for Reality TV to get involved, branching out from their touchstone varietals (listed below) to start hitting food and cooking for their own nefarious, faux-drama needs:
- People isolated somewhere, and their personalities clash while all trying to win some kind of money
- Horny, promiscuous people have casual sex with no strings attached, trying to win some kind of money
- Hey, you're fat. Would you like to lose weight for some kind of money?
- Hey, can you do anything special, like sing or dance? How about you do with the chance to win some kind of money?
- Hey, you will do anything for money. Let's test that to its logical limits, with the chance to win some kind of money?

And so, with the landscape rather muddied, we thought it wise to break down the food shows so you don't waste too much of that precious time of yours.


Top Chef
Awesome. A little over-dramatic, occasionally predictable, but generally good. Ruined periodically by dumb challenges that don't seem to have much to do with good cooking. It used to be the alpha dog thanks to a couple of seasons where strong personalities reigned over proficient chefs, but now they're stacking the deck with a bunch of miserable competent chefs who are all focused on the competition and mindlessly crank out decent food that the judges like. Tom Colicchio is a solid head judge, and the glorious Padma lights up the screen like a 4th of July fireworks show.


Smell the lack of interest!

Chopped
Absolutely terrible. Ted Allen is so irritating, and I've yet to see an episode where any dish is actually edible. Maybe they could drop the lame concept and stop putting together baskets of food that is never, ever, ever gonna work together in a single meal.

Iron Chef
Weird, bizarre, utterly compelling. Love the voiceovers, but I loathe that all the food looking fucking disgusting. The fact that the chefs are all Asian and use weird Asian ingredients like toad eyeballs, blowfish semen and tofu in EVERYTHING is just too much to bear. That said, Chef Morimoto is a bonafide bad-ass. I never understood why they have Iron Chef Italian though. No-one ever picks him. He's lame. And why are Japanese chefs specializing in Italian food anyways?

Iron Chef America
Safer, sanitized version of the original. Edible food with normal, everyday ingredients, but the fact that everyone challenges the ginger douche Bobby Flay makes me want to choke him to death on blue corn tortillas. The presence of super-nerd Alton Brown helps, though "floor reporter" Kevin Brauch is a bit much. Don't he and Alton do the same damn job?

The Next Food Network Star
Lame. Horrendously lame. All the contestants are bland and trying way too hard, and none of them will ever amount to anything. Guy Fieri was the exception to the rule, but yeah; all these idiots will flounder during that oh-so-coveted Sunday morning @ 9am timeslot that their limp-dick shows end up in.



Hells Kitchen
The pinnacle of the genre, exhibiting the perfect union between reality television and cooking. I mean, none of the participants can actually cook, and it's hilarious to watch a bunch of under-qualified hayseeds flounder their way around a simple menu. The casting is excellent; they find every self-righteous, delusional fry cook and throw them into a phony four-star restaurant where they show how useless they are. Some of 'em can't even cook pasta! Some are good at burning french toast! It's great! The challenges are always designed to be deceptively simple, because then we all get to laugh at how fucking terrible they are at Cooking 101.

And to top it off, Gordon Ramsay is a bulldog wrapped in an avalanche of tsunamis, the walking epitome of someone who's perpetually waking up on the wrong side of the bed. And that bed is filled with diarrhea, and the two-bit hooker they lazily fucked last night stole all their money and painkillers.

Top Chef Masters
A weak-willed, tepid facsimile of the original. All the chefs are courteous, polite, even-keeled and hard-working, thus robbing the poor, hapless editors of any natural conflicts that they might be able to build the show around. Even when faced with ridiculously difficult challenges, they all work so serenely and calmly that it sends me to sleep. The tensest moment I think this season was when some French douchebag wasn't cooking enough quesadillas to meet demand.

Give me a fucking break. Plus the host isn't nearly as sexy and fantasy-inciting as Padma Lakshmi. Seriously. Watch her ad for Carl's Jr and send me the dry-cleaning bill


I just dumped special sauce in my pants...

The F Word
Mr. Ramsay cooks with panache, flair, and does so in a manner than makes us all think, nay, believe, we can replicate his efforts at home. Preaching from the gospel of demystifying the art of cooking, Ramsay's a delight, and so are his coterie of horse-faced accomplices. His recipes are delicious (I've made several), and it's refreshing to see Gordon be nice to people instead of berating them for incompetence.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares
Let's all point and laugh at the inept restauranteurs and proprietors who have blown their life savings upon awful dining concepts, horrendous food and retarded waitstaffs. It's sad after a while, and one wonders how the Health Board hadn't already shut all these places down. The UK version was at least informative as Ramsay legitimately tried to give advice and showed the inner workings of his plans, but in the USA, he just yells a lot at people who are already overacting in front of the camera.

The Chopping Block
This had some serious potential, but like with most things, NBC royally fucked it up. The editing was a mess, the contestants were bland and poorly selected, the challenges were way beyond their abilities, and Marco Pierre White was an inconsistent, underwhelming host. In typical NBC fashion, they programmed it on the wrong night of the week, then dumped it to Hulu after just two weeks. Way to go, Ben Silverman!


TMS hopes this helps you in your quest for good television viewing while you're stoned/drunk/hooked on painkillers/hooked on phonics. Reality TV has invaded food television, and is undoubtedly here to stay. Let it wash over you like a warm bouillabaisse.

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