Thursday, January 24, 2013

Imitation Cheese

The_TasteThere are some shows where you can just picture the “elevator pitch” made to the network. Take the new ABC reality competition series The Taste for example. I imagine the elevator pitch went something like this:

Producer type: I’ve got a great idea for a new reality-competition series.
Programming Executive type: Give me the elevator pitch and remember my office is on the third floor.
Producer type: It’s exactly like The Voice except – and this is going to blow you away – instead of singers judging and mentoring singers we get chefs to judge and mentor cooks.
Programming Executive type: My God that is BRILLIANT!!!! Come to my office immediately and I will throw huge amounts of money at you to make it and then we’ll work out the details.

I’m pretty sure it went like that because The Taste is exactly that, a blatant rip-off of The Voice where four professionals in the food industry – Chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain, Chef Ludo Lefebvre, TV food goddess Nigella Lawson, and Chef and restaurateur Brian Malarkey – do blind tastings of a spoon-sized portion of a cook’s food.

The premiere of the show, which aired Tuesday January 22nd, was one of two audition shows that are being done for the series, but the principle behind it becomes very clear very fast. Each of the four judges will pick four of the cooks who auditioned for the show (and presumably made it past some sort of screening process). They will then mentor and advise their team of four in how to prepare food, probably involving a different ingredient or style each week. Then, after the training sessions the contestants will cook their food which will be presented to the judge/mentors in random order. They’ll then decide which one or ones they like the least and eliminate them. They make a big point of the notion that because this is a blind tasting it is possible that they could vote to eliminate one of their own team members.

So far I’ve only seen the first, two hour, audition episode of this show. It gave us the usual assortment of characters; arrogant professionals, people looking to step up their reputations to a higher level by appearing on TV, home cooks with varying levels of skills, the plucky underdog who cooks like a dream, and of course the idiots who inform us that, “I quit my job to do this…” which in most cases on this show and just about every other show of this type is a kiss of death because you ain’t going to go any further than the audition. Everyone has a story, like the guy who works in a sewage treatment plant (he didn’t get on the show), the self-described tattooed Asian lesbian who is the personal chef to Charlie Sheen and who actually said when she was picked to be one of the final 16, “Winning!” Two of my favourites – for entirely different reasons (and in the case of this show, favourite is a relative term for reasons that will become obvious if they haven’t already) – who went through to the mentoring period are an arrogant and prickly older woman who took offense to one of the other contestants asking her a question about what she was doing (she was picked by Bourdain), and a young home cook from Mississippi who is the very definition of “plucky underdog. She lives in a mobile home with a stove that consistently sets off the smoke detector but somehow managed to produce a flourless chocolate cake and a pistachio brittle that blew all four judges away although only Nigella decided to pick her for her team. I can already picture both of them in the final episode.

The Taste isn’t good TV. It’s a lazy concept model based on the popularity of TV cooking competitions on channels like The Food Network or like Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef, and of course the blind judging element of The Voice. They seem to be missing the point however. The shows on The Food Network are on a specialty network and the competitions have their own dynamic suited to the channel. Hell’s Kitchen survives not because of the cooking but because of the combative nature of the show’s contestants as well as it’s charismatic host and judge, Gordon Ramsay. Masterchef has some of those qualities – in smaller doses – but also has the personalities of the contestants. So far at least The Taste has none of the qualities that elevates those other shows. Even the raves and the snarky remarks by the judges fail to give this show a zip or a personality.

From my perspective The Taste is both a pale imitation of a fairly original concept and more than a bit cheesy in it’s execution. And I might have described it as the worst reality show to debut in the second half of the 2012-13 TV season except for one thing: the series that will follow The Taste is Celebrity Diving. Shoot me now!


Roger Owen Green said...

Fortunately, you watched it, so I DON'T HAVE TO!

Brent McKee said...

True, but you're on your own when Celebrity Diving debuts.