So, let's just stipulate: Hell's Kitchen is dreadful show. The repetitive voiceover and overwrought segment teasers. The utterly unbelievable premise, that there is a restaurant in Los Angeles where people other than unemployed actors off the Fox lot can dine. The exclusion of culinary creativity -- Hell's Kitchen chefs not only cook the same dishes week after week, but have now been cooking them for four seasons: How many bungled risottos and scallops have passed before us?
And the show's worst failure: reducing host and mentor Gordon Ramsay to a one-note Johnny rageaholic. Anybody who has seen one of Ramsay's zillion or so other shows on BBC America (or even Fox's own tepid rip-off of Kitchen Nightmares) knows the chef-turned-celebrity-chef-turned-celebrity has a variety of entertaining moods. He's quick-witted, amusingly profane, and variously gob-smacked, stunned, shocked, knackered, frustrated, perplexed and so on. He's also helpful and hands-on when schoolin' the know-nothings of British kitchens.
Yes, he also yells and groans and (my favorite) buries his massive expressive face in his hands. (Ramsay's mugging is the stuff of silent-movie comedies.) But, as much as any TV personality can be, he seems like a rounded guy, someone who is probably a royal pain to work for, but a blast to drinking with.
But in Hell's Kitchen, his stage directions are simple: scream, throw things, hurl bleeped profanity and mystify more seasoned viewers such as myself. But, at Fox, you don't get subtle; you get scripted, heightened "reality."
And cheap laughs. It's why I watch.
Seriously, what other cooking show has to start with the disclaimer "Viewer discretion advised," before blathering on about "reawakening the beast" and the "Dark Lord" of Hell's Kitchen?
Or the low-rent gimmick of disguising Ramsay with a hippie wig and rubber nose so he could mingle incognito with the 15 aspiring chef contestants?
And speaking of the wannabe cooks, who shows up for kitchen work wearing high heels and a boob-overflowing summer dress? Though contestant Craig, who turned up in the world's tallest toque, was ridiculed by Ramsay, and forbidden to ever wear it. Too right.
And speaking of headwear, was stay-at-home-dad Domenic wearing a wig? And still more faux-hawks! What's with chefs and these bad 'dos? Ramsay had it right when he said the hawked Louross was "running around like a toilet brush."
Well, in the first episode, there wasn't much "cooking" -- and why would there be when the men's team didn't even read the recipes? Its plot gimmicks like that that blatantly show how phony this whole enterprise is. Newbies might have also flagged Ramsay's vomiting during the signature-dish portion of the competition as gratuitous overplaying, but I have seen him puke on some of his more restrained U.K. shows. Jury's out.
And so is poor Domenic. Once again, the hands-down funniest loser is sent home first. Bah. Those shots of Domenic in near-tears, inexplicably holding a half-dozen raw scallops in his hand while kitchen chaos reigned around him ... Table for two at Hell's Kitchen, please.