Thursday, February 17, 2011

The half-baked return of Masterchef



Masterchef, the food porn inspiration-fest, is back with a new series on BBC One this week.

Despite previously complaining on this blog about the over-saturation of cooking themed shows on TV at the moment, I still have a soft spot for Masterchef.

Since its resurrection six years ago, the programme has gone from strength to strength, but now the BBC has decided that the format needs a further upgrade.

The result of this is a bigger, flasher new studio with all sorts of bells and nobs on. This looks a bit like a giant, cold kitchen-themed night club – which is quite fitting considering the heavy use of dance-style music over the credits and some of the cooking segments – although lacks a lot of the charm and familiarity of the old set, despite the fact that that too looked like a giant cold kitchen-themed night club.

Now instead of a claustrophobic backroom scene where judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace shovel ready-made food into their slobbering jaws, the contestants are now forced to plate up and prepare their dishes in front of the waiting judges as if they are on the bloody X-Factor (or ‘Eggs-Factor’ in this case). This results in the poor sod contestant putting together his/her disassembled bangers and mash, or whatever it is he/she’s cooking, whilst Torode and Wallace sit awkwardly on bar-stool-like seats, pulling odd contorted faces, before shoveling obnoxiously large mouthfuls of food into their mouths and making their judgement.

What I dislike about the new format in this sense – and that isn’t to say it didn’t happen before – is the mock tension that’s inserted into the cooking scenes. Sure, before Gregg and John would hover awkwardly around watching people cook, which is undoubtably stressful, but now the series is treading into the realms of nightmares as the contestants are forced to effectively cook whilst on stage, like some kind of hideous Cirque-de-SoufflĂ©. It’s no surprise that one contestant admitted that she had had nightmares about Gregg and John judging her food. Furthermore the hosts have also started delivering Chris Tarrant-grade tension fillers, like saying "wait a minute. I still need to say yes" after one of the judges has approved the food.

Despite the complaints, Gregg Wallace as ever is a joy. Love him or hate him he is an indispensible part of the show. Whether he is bumbling around pulling faces as the contestants whip up delicious treats that he can later shovel into his oddly large mouth, or heaping huge portions of custard soaked sponge cake into his gob; this smiling, bespectacled, bald headed judge is a delight to watch.

He isn’t even a real chef; instead he is just a wholesale food seller – or ‘ingredients experts’ as the branding experts at the BBC have named him - with a large appetite and a childish love of desserts but it is now impossible to imagine Masterchef without him.

Unfortunately, despite the attempts to breathe life into the series whilst maintaining the best of the status quo of keeping “a bald bloke and an Aussie chef and fantastic food”, the series feels like it has lost that magic it once had; much like an element of it’s personality and simplicity has been lost. Yes, I know those words sound mighty pretentious, when really we’re talking about what is simply another reality show. However, in the words of His Greggness who wonderfully burbled “let’s get fatter” in the first episode, seems to sum up the new ethos for the change in format and in turn the biggest problem with the new Masterchef.

The programme has become bloated, and perhaps the best thing would be to put the show on a diet and slim it down to its former glory. Then again maybe it’s just time catching up with the show. After all, nothing lasts forever.

Personally I’m all for seeing a form of Masterchef that incorporates gladiatorial combat into the cooking process, whilst Gregg and John pull idiotic faces and criticize the contestants on the lack of seasoning on their upside down shepherd’s pie and their poor technique with a scimitar.

Still, we’re one episode in and the new format may yet come into its own.


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