When I sat down to watch Masterchef, it was largely out of curiosity: I knew of the format internationally, and was curious to see how Gordon Ramsay was translating it into his television oeuvre. The basic premise of the show, taking “amateur” chefs and turning them into culinary professionals, is not without its merit, and it puts Ramsay in his only tolerable mode for me personally. I loathe Hell’s Kitchen because Ramsay’s antagonism is an end in itself: he yells and screams and swears to manufactured a hyper-competitive environment, and his personality overpowers the show’s potential as a cooking competition (which is underdeveloped, since that’s clearly not why people are watching). However, I find Kitchen Nightmares to be quite watchable because Ramsay’s yelling and swearing, while certainly heightened for the American version, eventually gives way to his effort to actually help people, and work towards some sort of meaningful conclusion.
Masterchef is unquestionably that more meaningful Ramsay, but unfortunately I have to say that the series is thus far a pretty big waste of time. I think there’s probably a show in here somewhere, but this opening episode was so poorly designed that I don’t know if I can tough it out for any amount of time. I actually like many of the elements of the series, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t actually get to see anyone actually cook in this week’s episode, which is so focused on personalities and yet ends up making the actual cooking process seem inert and lifeless in 99% of examples. By focusing on these auditions, to the point where they’re being stretched out over two weeks of episodes, the series kills any momentum it could possibly achieve by failing to define its own personality while trying to lay the groundwork for each of the carefully selected chefs who are being allowed into the competition.
And while I may appreciate a good cooking show, I spent more time laughing at the over-the-top production of the show than I did connecting with any of the contestants, which I would consider a bit of a reality television disaster.
Idol and Ellen Go Hollywood: Season 9
February 9th, 2010
Like many, I don’t tend to join American Idol until after the audition rounds. Sometimes this means joining at the start of the Hollywood rounds, so that we can see the talent go through the “gruelling” process that narrows down the competition to the Top 24. However, other times I wait until the Semi-Finals, because there are some times (like last season, when Kris Allen had absolutely no coverage prior to the semi-finals and won the entire competition) when these rounds don’t actually matter in the end (not that I’m suggesting the show as a whole matters in any grand scheme of things, but rather in terms of the narratives the show wants to be able to create).
This year, of course, there is reason to tune in for Hollywood, as we see what sort of role that Ellen DeGeneres, she of the sharp wit and daytime talk show, will play as the new judge. What I realized in watching tonight’s episode, though, was that the Hollywood Round is awkwardly positioned as a launching pad and a crash zone, a place where narratives from the auditions come to die and where new narratives leading into the semi-finals are formed. And, in this internet age, I almost feel as if the rounds are becoming more and more irrelevant, in that any new narratives can be followed online while avoiding the resolution to the manipulative clip package narratives the show created in the audition rounds.
Some more thoughts on this balance, and what I thought about Ellen’s judging gig, after the jump.
November 5th, 2009
I think that 30 Rock would be far funnier if it wasn’t so annoying.
This likely seems like a derogatory statement, but it’s really not: I thought “Audition Day” was the most enjoyable episode of the season yet, but yet I wouldn’t necessarily say it was that great, which reflects on both the quality of the season so far and the reality of this type of episode. It’s effectively a grab bag of comedy, as by the end of the episode you have plenty of jokes that you remember fondly, and callbacks to previous episodes that make you reminisce, and even some new jokes that really connect. However, while you’re happy with what you’ve received in those arenas, there’s also a bunch of other crap that didn’t connect comically, and that served only to promote business networking tools.
When there’s no real central premise to hold an episode like this one together, you’re left feeling like something was missing even as you gush over the genius of Brian Williams, which is pretty much where I stand with 30 Rock right now. I laughed, I commented on its cleverness, and yet still in the end I can’t help but be annoyed with elements of the episode that didn’t quite work. It’s particularly frustrating in that I actually think “Audition Day” was a pretty solid and funny episode, but there’s just something about the show that’s taking a shotgun approach to comedy that I’m just not responding well to.
At least we’ll always have Moonvest.