The theme of this week’s episode of Food Network Star was Improv, and what a theme it was. For my money, the only thing more crowd pleasing than watching improv is watching people who’ve never done improv before forced to attempt improv. Then have it filmed, and edited to make it look as disastrous as possible. I rib these Food Network Star contestants, but kudos to them because that is basically my nightmare. The judges should’ve had to attempt improv. I give Giada two minutes of flailing around for laughs before she starts ranting about illegal immigrants. That’s probably what happened to Paula Deen.
Okay, so it wasn’t pure improv, exactly, just the Food Network equivalent of it. First, the contestants got a jumble of categories – type of protein, unusual ingredient, time of day, and color. Such as: chicken liver, caramel squares, dinner, blue. Which the contestant (Alex, in this case) would then attempt to turn into a dish that satisfied all categories. Chopped, essentially, but without any teary stories about surviving cancer, or growing up with a club foot.
The contestants then had to do another improv for their presentation, where they had to tell a story (about the best day of your life, about a fellow finalist…) and give an expert food tip (about proper seasoning, about maximizing flavor)… The guest host for this week’s episode was David Alan Grier, who added a hipness and watchability to the show that was immediately undone by the presence of celebrity Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, easily the two blandest, least cool people on Earth.
This Week’s Thing That Makes Me Embarrassed To Be Watching The Food Network
Tuschman and Fogelson. I always wonder what the goal was in putting these two on TV. Was it to humanize the Food Network‘s visionary leadership? Because these two are like the nipple on top of the bell curve. I can’t imagine them doing anything more innovative than gathering another focus group. Was it to depict them as average Food Network fans just like us? Another fail, because they seem like they were raised in a make-up room by local news anchors. They make me feel like if I ever did anything edgier than Ryan Seacrest they’d immediately look at me like this:
I imagine you have to be a lot like these two in order to slowly make your way up the ranks and into management at an entertainment company. Kiss a lot of ass and never say or do anything too out there. Just sort of hide in the middle of the pack, smile and frown at the right times, and wait for the others to get picked off.
1. Eddie (+1)
I like to imagine there’s a right-wing Food Network Star recap blog out there somewhere, up in arms about all the special treatment Eddie got from David Alan Grier for being the only black guy. I thought it was pretty weird when Eddie referred to his own muscles during the presentation, but he won the preliminary challenge with a dessert pizza, then charmed the audience during the presentation, and cooked a salt-and-vinegar crusted fried quail that was so good Bobby Flay said he’d put it on his own menu (with an ancho chile coulis, probably). Yes, Eddie’s challenge was extremely easy – quail, salt and vinegar chips, dinner, red – but he actually made something that I wanted to eat. Salt and vinegar crust on fried stuff? Oh hell yes.
2. Jay (-1)
“Fat guy making fried food” is a shtick that’s never going to get old. Jay made calamari over black rice with a pink lemonade sauce and was his usual, likable self during the presentation. He was clearly lagging behind Eddie this week, but for some reason I can see him being a Food Network host more easily than I can Eddie. “Buff chef” has historically only worked for angry British men (Robert Irvine, Gordon Ramsay). Whereas Jolly Fat Guy is universal. More gumbo, dancing bear!
3. Arnold (+2)
If anyone should know how to improvise and work a crowd it’s the drag queen, which I imagine is sort of a cross between pro wrestler and stand-up comic. By the way, has anyone noticed that neither Arnold nor the judges has mentioned him being a drag queen for like three episodes? I can’t tell if that was the producers’ decision or if Arnold is just trying not to scare off Bob and Susie. I wouldn’t blame him, by the way, Bob and Susie seem like they’d be scared of patterned socks.
Anyway, Arnold made the crowd taste his umeboshi – his pickled Japanese plums – working them like a pro, until he got to the challenge about telling a story about a family member. Arnold’s story: “my cousin, she called me to ask, how do I hard boil an egg?”
Hmm, Arnold, is your cousin six? If so, that’s something you should mention. If not, you should probably hang up and dial an assisted care facility. Anyway, Arnold desperately needs another challenge that involves plating and/or decorating.
4. Alex (-1)
Alex freaked out both the judges and the presentation audience this week, or so the editing and music would have us believe, by using potty-mouth phrases like “cooking pays dick” and “you end up cooking with some weird sh*t from time to time.”
Now, personally, I have to wonder who’s more immature, the guy who casually drops the occasional “curse” word like “dick” or “sh*t” (is dick even a curse word? it doesn’t necessarily mean penis in that context) or the network who opts to censor said “vulgarity” with exaggerated SPROING sound effects.
After Alex’s presentation, Bobby Flay quipped “If you’re going to use a curse word, don’t just throw it out there. Especially for the Food Network. It’s a pretty feel good network.”
“Families,” ventriloquist’s puppet Bob Tuschman added sagely.
Okay, so Alex cursed and went over time and didn’t tell the story he was supposed to, but is no one going to point out that the guy made a dish so good it prompted Giada DiLaurentiis to quip “Alex can cook,” when the mandate he was given was chicken liver, caramel squares, dinner, and the color blue? I don’t find him the most charming dude either, but making an edible dish under those constraints isn’t just good cooking, it’s sorcery.
5. Dom (+1)
I think a fun spinoff show would be Dom going to a hypnotist to cure his stage fright. What a surprise that the show’s shy guy wouldn’t have his best week during the filmed improv challenge in front of Bob and Susie (can you think of two less “yes and”-inclined people on Earth?). Dom once again rushed through his presentation early and then stood there awkwardly chewing. “How much time I got left?” (three minutes) “Awesome.” (*takes slow drink from his water bottle a la Marco Rubio*).
My favorite line? “In Staten Island we don’t have too much ducks either. We have a big dump.” That should be Dom’s epitaph.
Too bad, his food looked pretty good, as per usual.
6. Michelle (+1)
Whereas Dom gives you tantalizing glimpses into what he could be like if he was more comfortable around people, Michelle opens up right away and you think “Hmm, is this all there is?”
This week, she worked the required story and tip seamlessly into her presentation like a total pro and made a guanciale omelette and fruit salad everyone seemed to love, but bored everyone to tears with more bland stories about taking her family on a cruise (is there more boring vacation story than going on a cruise?).
Anyway, Michelle’s down now, but I’m telling you, one phony tearjerker story about dead family members or a neighbor with bursitis and the judges will be putty in her hands.
Bland mom? Non-starter. Bland mom dedicating her victory to a diabetic uncle? That’s a winner. If I were Michelle, I’d just watch a few episodes of Chopped and copy someone’s backstory. Like the woman who cured her Lyme Disease with camel milk, say.
7. Emilia (-3) ((Eliminated))
Tasked with telling a story about watching Food Network this week, Emilia apparently decided she was Don Rickles and attempted to roast everyone on the show. She started with Arnold, saying “Hi, guys, I’m a drag queen,” along with an exaggeratedly effeminate hand flip. “I’m gonna make everything beautiful, and take so much time plating I forget to cook my food.”
Zing Town, population: Arnold!
Aside from this being a regrettable course of action in many ways, I don’t think Arnold had ever told the crowd that he was a drag queen at that point. So when Emilia came out and said “Hi, guys, I’m a drag queen,” I’m not sure if they knew she was talking about an actual drag queen, or if they thought this evil grown-up sorority girl was just going full Regina George on some guy she thought seemed effeminate. “Ha, what a f*ckin’ drag queen, am I right guys? Oh, also he sells drugs and can’t read good.”
It reminds me of my friend OJ Patterson, who is a comedian with a very distinctive laugh. I’ve seen it happen at comedy shows where the comic onstage doesn’t hear anyone laughing at a joke except OJ, and says “thanks, OJ.” Only the crowd hasn’t seen OJ onstage yet and doesn’t realize they know each other. And so a few of them just end up wondering if the guy onstage just refers to all random black guys he sees in the audience “OJ.” That’s a set killer right there.
Aaanyway. I think we all saw this elimination coming. So it’s finally curtains for the Harissa Bot 5000. It’s a shame we’ll never get to have exotic spices explained to us by the Georgetown grad whose family owns horses. (I don’t know if that’s true, but it very well may be).
Until next week.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.