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!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Apology

I seem to apologize a lot on this blog and most of the time those apologies are about my not posting on a more regular basis. This isn’t going to be any different, so I suppose I should apologize for that first.

(Hey, I’m Canadian. apologizing is in our genetic make up. Step on a Canadian’s foot and he or she will apologize for having their foot in a place where you were able to step on it.)

So I haven’t posted anything here since the piece on the first drama to be cancelled and before that postings were pretty sparse as well. Here’s what’s been going on. In addition to the usual household chores and doing the shopping for my elderly mother and myself, the months from August to the end of November were a stressful time for me as I had to cope with my dog, Chelsea, getting ill. I was quite frankly engaged in a process whereby hope was confronting reality in that I desperately hoped that she had something that her body could overcome when deep down in my guts that whatever it was was something she wasn’t going to recover from. I’m afraid that she probably suffered longer than was necessary because I simply didn’t want to acknowledge what should have been obvious, that she probably had cancer and wasn’t going to get better. At the end of November my brother and I took Chelsea to the vet to be put to sleep.

Probably no more than a week after that visit to the vet I got something that was suspiciously like the flu. It was the first time in years that I’ve vomited without inducing it myself. I thought I had overcome the illness after a few days and went back to my normal activities. I hadn’t. After one trip downtown to do some Christmas shopping I was basically out of it for the next ten days or so. It was so bad I quite literally completed my Christmas shopping as the store I was in was closing on Christmas Eve.

Of course all of this is ignoring maybe the biggest problem I’ve had in writing the blog and that is quite simply in motivating myself to do the writing in the first place. I’ll start off writing something and find that it is taking me much longer to put my thoughts in order than I had thought it would. I have several half-completed reviews of shows that are going to remain exactly that: half completed. The good news – I hope – is that I think maybe I’m about to come out of my creative funk and put some stuff together that I can be at least a little bit proud of. I’ve got a couple of ideas that will take me beyond the realm of pure review as well. Time, I guess, will tell whether or not I’m right about this. Or maybe it’s another case of hope confronting reality.