Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dead by comparison: Chopping Block vs. Hell's Kitchen


A few weeks back the show The Chopping Block debuted on NBC, and as I'm not a real TV-o-phile unless I know a show I like is flagging, I just assumed that it was doing okay. The big tagline surrounding the show was that Marco Pierre White had made Chef Gordon Ramsay cry when he was training him or whatever. I got sucked into the hype a little bit. I was also enthused by the first ep because the people that were on here seemed to not be so "organic" as was the case in a lot of contestants on Hell's Kitchen. So after seeing the first episode I told a friend just that. I think it went something like: "This Chopping Block show is good, it doesn't have that white trashy element that a lot of the Hell's Kitchen groups have had so far."

But after the "new" wore off, it was exactly that that was the problem. All of those people in the first episode that were "new and refreshing", were now just the opposite, boring and cardboard. The show played out like something you'd see on Food Network or Home & Garden -- this was primetime, not cable showing you how to make a souflee. Not even this supposedly merciless Marco was being pushy, let alone showing this mysterious fierceness that put Ramsay on his ass or whatever. Honestly it wasn't even like Marco was in charge, it was more like he was an observer or something, he always seemed very disaffected or disinterested and like he was there in a narrative capacity more than a chef.

The contestants weren't much better. Hell's Kitchen makes you feel like -- for better or worse -- the people vying for the title they're driving at really need that job. (Which couldn't be further from the truth, apparently, if you read the Wiki about what the winners of each season are doing now. One even turned down the initial job immediately after they won it.) The people on The Chopping Block all seem to range from "Weeeeell me and my friend thought this might make a neat weekend project!" to, "Well we already have a diversified portfolio and a chain of restaurants back home but we're looking to expand." Thus making you not really give a shit about them. Individually, the people don't seem that interesting, in fact I can't remember a single person's name or what their backstory is from TCB. Aaaaaand apparently I wasn't the only one. The Chopping Block failed hardcore, being replaced after only 3 episodes (With episodes of fucking law and order no less. No show deserves that fate.).

So I ate my initial words. Everyone knows I'm not a reality fan at all, so it's a miracle that I like either of these shows. And I think I do like them because they are reality. The situations may be set up for the purpose of sifting through the garbage so to speak, but this will be an actual job opportunity for someone. It isn't B-list celebs and fucking Steve-O and other retards dancing around with bimbos, or some mental-defective, deranged idiot or rich little snot trying to caterwaul for some drugged up bitch and self-aggrandizing English egomaniac. I respect Ramsay, he didn't bullshit his way into the limelight, he doesn't pretend to be anything he's not.

The one thing these two shows do have in common is the fact that for any reality show to work, you need your dramatic idiot types with weak character and little to no skills and then you need your "the drama's in there but you have to work to draw it out of me" with skills-balanced type. Of course there are varying degrees of these two extremes, but I guess what I'm trying to say is you need drama to make it work. You need people that are going to react. If you just throw in a bunch of professionals that are going to do everything right into the kitchen together, no one's going to tune in. If you throw a bunch of people that know how to cradle themselves and cry and fight and piss and moan at each other but have no skills -- well then you really don't have a show, at least not one with a goal. Hell's Kitchen normally has a cast that has this catalyst in a mixture where the results are entertaining. You may or may not give a crap about them as people, or about who wins, but the rotating HK cast is most certainly entertaining more often than not.

The Chopping Block had that drama, but not in the right mixture. There were people that butted heads, but not really in an entertaining way. You need to set it up so there is a dominant type and another dominant type going head-to-head, maybe more than a few in some instances. TBC had a few people that were bitchy and bullied others, but the other side either blew them off or relented, and that just isn't interesting television. By comparison, Hell's Kitchen this season had a cast where I did not find myself rooting for anyone but that's okay because I did want people off of there, which is equally as good a catalyst for continued-watching. I thought pretty much everyone on HK this season was obnoxious. If I was really hard-pressed to pick someone that I wanted to win, it'd be Andrea. I'm convinced there's a "fodder" catergory that they use to pick applicants that are for sure not going to make it to the end, how else would you explain Lacey -- the bitchiest lardass that ever existed's presence? I'm really glad that HK is returning for its 6th and 7th seasons, the 6th being broadcast in July (yay!), and hopefully the cast will remain as reactionary and pushy as ever.

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