Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hell’s Kitchen: Hella Bad TV

Hell’s Kitchen, a new reality television program on Fox, aims to deliver a potent combination of The Restaurant and The Apprentice to heat up those summertime TV doldrums.

However, the result is a contrived platter of over-scripted nonsense: cold and clammy to the touch.

We’re told early on that “celebrity chef” Gordon Ramsay is a culinary God among mortals. He’s got a bunch of restaurants and awards in the UK, and now he’s set to take America by storm. This setup of On High greatness, we quickly learn, gives Ramsay the authority to berate his underlings as though he were a drill sergeant browbeating his half-wit recruits.

The premise of the show is that a bunch of “unknown” chefs with varying levels of experience will compete for a shot at running a restaurant. Ramsay and crew, of course, will oversee the operation and put the contestants through the ordinary reality show paces.

Hell’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Hollywood, is the setting for most of the action. Two full kitchens in the restaurant allow two teams (Red and Blue) to operate simultaneously. Therefore, the first episode featured a competition to see who could serve the customers best.

However, before that segment transpired, things were already getting silly. During the first “tension-filled” sequence (with creepy music and hushed voiceovers to aid the action) each contestant cooked their “signature dish.” Ramsay then sampled the results, and took the opportunity to express profound disgust at every turn, insulting most of the dishes – as well as the intelligence of the audience – with references to dog droppings, cow colon, and a slew of cussing caught under the merciful bleep.

I got the impression that a Fox executive, salivating over the prospect of a Simon Cowell derivative added to the network, green lighted this project in the hope of bringing the next American Idol (with your host, the Food Nazi) to life.

As Team Red and Team Blue faced off, it was obvious that the show was a thinly veiled excuse to watch Ramsay tee off on anyone who looked at him wrong. Or, say, cooked. Or breathed. You get the idea.

Customers even caught the brunt of it. During the first team challenge – a hastily opened Hell’s Kitchen that caused both teams to scramble (and stumble) into action – several women walked into the kitchen area to complain about how long they were had been waiting for their meals. Cowell, er, Ramsay sent them away with shouts of “bimbo” and “go back to your plastic surgeon.”

Nice. And professional.

However, the set-up of the newly-opened restaurant was what really set my reality TV red flags aflutter. It was entirely obvious that the guests of Hell’s Kitchen were not ordinary paying customers. Either they’re paid actors, extras, or heavily coached people off the street. The fact that the audience isn’t let in on the true nature of the production is a major strike against an already banal, refried production.

What’s more, the contestants themselves came off as dopey, sleepy, or generally uninteresting. Not a good foundation from which human drama may build.

DB Upshot: I’d rather eat paste than sit through another episode of Hell’s Kitchen.


The Sore Loser said...

Was it anything like the boot camp scene in Full Metal Jacket? If so, I think I can appreciate obnoxious and derogatory screaming.

Eric Berlin said...

I suppose, but less entertaining. A typical scene featured Ramsay screaming, "When I say get in the kitchen get in the BLEEP kitchen!" or his signature move of dumping plates of food on the chefs-in-training when it wasn't "perfect."

Apparently this is the dude's real personality and why his restaurants are so successful but it just comes off as boorish and not very entertaining to sit through for more than five minutes.

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