‘The Chew’ debuts – but will it give viewers indigestion?

 Today marked the big debut of “The Chew,” the food-oriented chat show that ABC felt a worthy substitute for “All My Children.” Whether viewers will feel the same, well, it’s too soon to tell. But the studio audience? BIG fans. You have never heard such an EXCITED STUDIO AUDIENCE since, well, probably “Let’s Make A Deal” or some show that gives out free cars. Yes, audience members will be getting free food, but I’m wondering if someone was tossing twenties into the stands to keep the excitement level up. It’s pretty clear that the more sedate, homey feel of most Food Network shows (with the exception of equally screamy Emeril’s programs) is being eschewed in favor of big excitement! Over things like psyllium husks! And apple rings! OH MY GOD, they’re making APPLE RINGS! While I understand the need to amp up a network show that’s solely focused on food, all the screaming is putting my teeth on edge — and I’m only five minutes in. 

Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Mario Batali, Carla Hall and Daphne Oz are our hosts, which we are informed of repeatedly and at great length during the beginning of the show. We soon see all but one of our very eager, chatty food gurus seated in the on-set kitchen. Unfortunately, Mario couldn’t be bothered to show up. He was playing golf for charity. We will, however, see him cooking on a golf course later in the show. I’m not kidding. On a golf course. I’m wondering if Mario is already looking for ways to distance himself from “The Chew,” as if he sees a very flat souffle in the offing.

Our first dish is by Michael, a modern twist on pork and beans. But we won’t just be watching Michael cook mind you. That would be boring! We look at old photos of Michael. He used to have hair. Clinton talks about having a mullet. Michael tells stories about growing up. I am waiting for one of the hosts to break out the plates and start spinning them on his or her nose. Michael gives audience members samples of his meal. They, of course, love it, and Michael is so insistent on them loving it I don’t think they have a choice if they want to live.

Time for an informational break! Clinton tells us we’re spending more on food, despite the recession. Okay, that’s interesting. We’re splurging on, it seems, lots of cheesecake. Clinton makes a “Golden Girls” reference, and I now like Clinton even more than I did when he was just the guy on “What Not To Wear” (which, of course, he still is — wisely, he hasn’t given up his day job). Carla reveals that Daphne eats banana pudding after a hard day. There is a great deal of joshing and babbling over one another. It does seem that the hosts genuinely like each other, but I also feel as if they’re sitting on tasers that are wired to the control room. There’s a strong element of “Dance, monkey, DANCE!”

Daphne and Carla tell us about food they’re going to cook later in the show. And Michael tells us about something else he’s going to do later in the show. So does Clinton. An AWFUL lot of time is spent telling us about things we’re going to see… later. They might as well just get on their knees and BEG us not to go away during the commercial break. 

When we return, Daphne shows us how to make a smoothie. Is there really an idiot in the world who doesn’t know how to make a smoothie? She sends Carla to fetch ingredients from the pantry, and look! She finds Dr. Oz, Daphne’s dad! Dr. Oz reveals that Daphne was the color of a blueberry when she was born. Dr. Oz is so keyed up I’d almost think he’d eaten sugar (and we know Dr. Oz doesn’t eat white death). Daphne reveals that by drinking these smoothies for breakfast during college, she lost almost 30 pounds. My God, what was she eating for breakfast before the smoothies? Lardwiches? 

People in the audience get to sample the soothies. You eat well if you go see “The Chew.” 

Next, Michael tells us why he loves using a microplane. Which is, basically, a shredder. Annnnnd… another commercial. I think there’s about 15 minutes of actual programming on this show. 

Carla is making fried apple pancake rings. Drop apple rings into batter using a toothpick! You don’t get your hands dirty! If I ever choose to deep fry something, alright! Carla’s mom is in the audience. She looks dazed, but maybe the waves of panic and hysteria emanating from the stage are making her dizzy. The audience gets to eat this, too. Carla gives Clinton a recipe box. The audience ERUPTS into applause! Yay! 

Now it’s Clinton’s turn. He likes to shrink meals down to cocktail party food. Cut up a steak and put it on a crostini! It’s an appetizer! Wow, if you cut up food into smaller pieces, you have party food! This is not brain surgery! And yet, it’s going to be a regular segment! 

I think Daphne is secretly judging her fellow guests for making unhealthy food. Food is MEDICINE, dammit! 

We finish the show with Mario cooking… remotely. He says good pizza dough should not be tossed in the air. Mario is the only person on the show who seems the least bit relaxed. He gets a wood burning pizza oven ONTO the golf course. Everyone in the audience gets pizza! Hysterical SCREAMING! Yay! 

I’m exhausted after watching “The Chew,” and I’m hoping that our fearful five (or really, four) calm down as the show continues. I’m also hopeful that the show will get off the set and stop forcing our hosts to make merry with one another and the audience like nervous party hosts. On their own, I think each of these players has something to offer (though the producers need to find something else for Clinton to offer, and fast), and maybe a little more faith needs to be put into the star of the show — the food. Otherwise, people will be reaching for their antacids — and the remote.

What did you think of “The Chew”?