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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Hell’s Kitchen, ITV1

Did we like it?
Man shouts at people.

What was good about it?
• The enigma of Marco Pierre White, or rather that he would seem to savour that people regard him as an enigma rather than some bloke who just prepares food for other people to stuff in their mouths, ultimately leaving an impression only slightly less ruinous than the Mongol Hordes on the Middle Ages.
• On the one hand, he cultivates a persona of someone whose teeth are stained with the flesh of virgins, while his hair tailspins from his scalp like the gallows executions of a thousand and one treasonous nobles. And from this feral visage, he floods the screen with sallow menace.
• This threat is exacerbated by his peculiar vernacular, in which words are often separated by such chasms they make Pinter sound like Vicky Pollard. And it’s into this space that the celebrity competitor often throws themselves in act of futile immolation to quench what they intimate will be the infernal rage of Marco’s fury.
• As he judged the candidates’ sandwiches, he preached: “A sandwich will give me an insight into who you are!” Based on the tremulous premise that someone preparing an ornate sandwich is complicated and someone slapping together a basic sandwich is simple.
• This of course, bypasses much of the cerebral reasoning of ordinary people, but Marco induces such terror in the candidates that they are reduced to shades of black and white, their personalities stripped away with all the ferocity as if their flesh was torn from their bones as their bodies were being grilled in the deepest furnaces of Lucifer’s boudoir.
• Assessing the sandwiches, for example, Linda Evans seemed petrified that she’d walked up to Marco without being called. And he also interrogates with all the compassion of Tomas De Torquemada; he asks questions in such a way that the victim must simply agree with him, no matter that when they made a rational decision on their sandwich Marco’s suggestion was something they ignored or discounted. And only through that compliance can they hope for redemption, while the rest will burn at the stove.
• “This isn’t necessary, is it?” he asked Linda about her varnish, and “It’s the wrong bread, isn’t it?” to Adrian Edmondson, neither suggesting an alternative nor enquiring Adrian to offer an alternative.
• In between his terror tactics, Marco spouts aphorisms with all the dexterity and profundity of premature ejaculation; “Here’s a bit of real advice,” he confided. “If you let your nerves overcome you, push on through the pain barrier!” Or: “The less you know the less you fear. The more you know the more you fear.”
• All of his glowering and wisdom has the secondary effect of neutering dissent among the candidates. Only Ms Dynamite, Niomi, showed any defiance, the rest slinked away their spirits broken, gleefully waving the white flag of appeasement with Marco’s apparent approval or tolerance heralded as the same kind of triumph Neville Chamberlain waved around after his 1939 summit with the Fuhrer.
• But for all of Marco’s repellence, we imagine that, for want of a better phrase, he just taking the piss. There’s a semblance of unspoken collusion between Marco and the audience, through which he’s saying, “You want to see these people suffer? I’ll make them suffer!” But all the while offering the glimmer of atonement for these celebrities wallowing in the perceived purgatory of, “Oh it’s him off Shameless” (Jody Latham), “Didn’t you used to be funny” (the lovely Adrian, who is still funny), or “So what have you been doing for the past seven years?” (Miss Dynamite).
• Nobody could be so self-consciously absurd as Marco, especially in such a cultural wasteland as cooking, and so the show is all about Marco the slavedriver, and very little about actual food – which is a blessed relief in this era of bellowing Masterchefs prowling like obese grizzly bears with faces so wide you could land a helicopter on them, or that human wallpaper that takes pride in being known as ‘foodies' a more abasing appellation than ‘tramp’ or ‘slut’.
• Radiohead’s National Anthem and Bloc Party’s Banquet.

What was bad about it?
• The contrived sub-plot of Anthea Turner and Grant Bovey. Each relishing the chance to boast of how competitive they are, but all the while their banal interjections are as welcome as a plague of rats, although we guess that rats can smile with more sincerity.
• Claudia Winkleman as presenter is the wrong choice. She’s good at Strictly Come Dancing, when the bias is towards praising the celebrities, but here is bereft of the simmering scorn that made Angus Deayton such a cool counterweight to the fiery froth of Marco or Gordon Ramsay (we’ll forget about the Gary Rhodes/ Jean Christophe Novelli abortion). Claudia gets excited at the presence of Heather Small, who as part of M People made the auditory equivalent of the pre-emptive sedative of doctors’ waiting room magazines.

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