19 August 2007 | liquidcelluloid-1
Put together like trash, but it's top notch guilty pleasure entertainment
Network: Fox; Genre: Reality, Game; Content Rating: TV-14 (strong language, mostly edited); Perspective: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Seasons Reviewed: Season 3
Had this been written about season one of "Hell's Kitchen" it would have been a completely different review. Still reeling from the reality series hostile takeover, I was un-amused by British tornado Chef Gordon Ramsey's blood-vessel bursting tantrums over food and sadistic treatment of his would-be chefs. A treatment that was a perfect metaphor for the way Fox was abusing it's own viewers.
But flash-forward to season 3 and Chef Gordon Ramsey and his team of inept contestants have grown on me. "Hell's Kitchen" is every bit a reality show and all that that implies. You've seen it before, but this time in a kitchen. Teams of chefs divided by gender "Apprentice"-style live in suites by night and compete in cooking tasks by day. Tasks like designing their own menu, cooking for an elementary school, turning traditional dishes into cuisine or blind taste tests of their palette. Each time a team looses, people are picked to eliminate and Ramsey picks one to be kicked off. And yes, like any reality/competition the most talented contestants are kicked off for something insignificant so that the most interesting personalities can be standing in the final rounds. No doubt, Ramsey is just as shrew about audience interest as Simon Cowell.
But there is a fiendishly entertaining bent to "Kitchen" that only Gordon Ramsey can deliver. A sadism to the high school reminiscent eliminations that is only bubbling cynically under the surface of other reality shows. When Ramsey eliminates people he tells them to "f*** off" then smacks their chef's jacket on a meat hook with a Leatherface-like zeal. It's hard to deny how entertaining it is watching Ramsey scream obscenities at the more inept contestants, shoving food in their face and putting together a string of expletives involving Risotto and Wellington so creative it demands an uncensored DVD release. The show does say a few things about the love and creativity of cooking, but that get pretty buried under it's hyper-sensory reality series excesses. Ramsey has taken this one-note act and spun it into quite a career.
This is not TV for the drive-by viewer looking for something to make them feel good after a day at work. It will be too stressful, too sweat-inducing, too claustrophobic and manipulative. Like any reality show it trusts the audience is stupid and is crammed with unnecessary narration and flashbacks of events we just saw 30 seconds ago. The cooking and elimination action is put together with the ridiculousness of an overblown Michael Bay film, and yet the "world-is-at-stake" action movie music and quick cuts to horrified faces doesn't fail to send up a giddy tickle of guilty pleasure entertainment in my belly.
I wouldn't be surprised to see "Hell's Kitchen" on a list of the worst shows of the year by the HBO-loving, "American Idol" cow-towing media. But I'll take Ramsey's hysterical wrath on inept contestants over reality shows that reach further to mean something any day. This is solid mindless entertainment of the first order.
* * * /4