Monday, July 25, 2016

Becoming an addict, or, Masterchef Australia


It’s silly to say ‘I don’t watch television’ as if that were something to be proud of. I’ve been guilty of saying it, in the past. But, nowadays, I watch my share. When I’m in New Zealand, I watch some sport and the races, the very, very occasional bit of fiction (Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple), some of the travel and cooking shows (Rick Stein is my favourite) and some of the other programmes that Wendy likes, and which play between 5.30 and 8.30 pm … 

Here, in Australia, I am inclined to listen to the races on Trackside computer, as I don’t have Foxtel, and of the two TVs supplied with my flat, one hasn’t yet been turned on yet (3 months) and the other is keyed to the one programme that I watch without fail. I don’t shift it off that setting for fear I can’t find my way back! After our last power failure, it took me ages.

Oh, my unmissable show is, of course. Australian Masterchef. No, I don’t care for the uncharismatic English equivalent or any of the other like-style ripoffs. Just this one. Why? I’ve no idea. But the first year we watched, I got hooked by one contestant … she (she was Italian, and I think called Luisa) came second, I was indignant and shocked … but I had got hooked by the style of the show, and the people involved, and I just returned and returned and simply got addicted. Even though there are things that really irritate me … I can’t stop myself. I, a professional showbiz critic of some 30, oh Lord is it 40?, years standing, and a sometime food writer, go back nightly, in season, for more.

So why am I commenting on this? I couldn’t cook one dish that is displayed on the programme, I am amazed how these youngsters have acquired such knowledge … but, then again, I couldn’t sing Pamina or Rosina or Scarpia, and I’ve been telling people how to do so, for half my life. So here goes!

I can’t rightly explain what gets me. The presenters-judges are a good combination and good fun – unpretentious, normal and pretty darned credible – anyway, kilometres above the types who ‘judge’ all those singing Talent Quests. The competitors actually have skill (unlike most of the Talent Questers) and we see them displaying it. There are no camp Cowell-esque pauses before announcing the winners. There are very few fake errors and breakdowns and dramas. We are allowed to explore these young folks’ talent unshowbizzed … 

So carried away was I with the show in that first year, that the wrinkles didn’t start to show till year two or three … and then the joins … and then ... other things.

I don’t know when it came to me that, as well as being cooks, the people involved aren’t bad actors, either. But the first thing that dawned on me was … the ‘judges’ taste, before the cameras and us, cold food. It is not possible for every dish to retain its heat through fifteen, twenty minutes. And once you see through the first bit of fakery, you look for others. And either I’m getting cannier or they’re getting careless, but this year the ‘joins’, the huge amount of editing that goes to making up the finished programme, has been more and more obvious. I suppose it has to be, but it is disappointing when you realise that what is supposed to be spontaneity is nothing of the sort. I’ve only done continuity on a film once, and it’s a stinker of a job … but it matters. Never mind. I try to ignore it.

So when I rule the world, what would I change about the show? Very little. But. First the opening of the programme. Far too much of the content is shown as a taster. I sometimes feel I don’t need to watch the show proper. Second, the opening titles, with the eliminated contestants greeting you every week. Update them.

The format of the contest? To me, it is almost perfect. Mystery Box/Invention Test ..  Team Challenges … Masterchef kitchen, on location … However, there are getting to be, I feel, too many ‘immunities’ and ‘powers’. I would cut the cook-off against the professional who has been previously asked if he would be willing to lose. These folk are competing against EACH OTHER. Not against the outside world. Yet.

The guest chefs. Yes, fine, great for recognition factor. Some are good value, some less. Some are more credible than others. Lovely Nigella was really there for her face. Then there is Marco Pierre Whites’s faux-fierce act with its ghastly crying of ‘yes, Marco’ which has me reaching for the mute button. That’s a nono. When he is normal, instead of acting, he is most enjoyably cuddly. Heston Blumenthal was my least favourite: until this year, when he put on a dazzlingly fun show and rose to Undisputed Number One on my hit-parade. His week of pop-up restaurants was, for me, the best week ever on Masterchef.

The contestants? The ’lingo’ bothers me. How come they all learned the same modern kitchenspeak, at home, in Cairns, Adelaide and Towoomba. Caramelised? You mean ‘browned’? Blast-chiller? Every country kitchen has one. Do they all, perhaps, go to Masterchef pre-school? And one really maddening thing, kids (and judges). Kill the pre-commercial break standard: ‘and if my parfait doesn’t set (gasp) I’m GOING HOME’. It’s become a bad giggle.

But in the end, it all comes down to the three anchor men, who make the show run on spiced olive-oiled wheels. I have to pause to recall their names, because unlike their vainer colleagues of the Talent Quests they don’t paste themselves in spangles and tinsel over the titles. Gary, little George, and the grand and glorious funny one. Matt. They just work together perfectly, like poached peaches and clotted cream and some divine liqueur, to drive along a splendid programme. If they are also responsible for the concept and the layout, I hope they are making (more) fame and (more) fortune than ever ..

One request chaps. When your editor is sticking the voice-overs and things together, DO stop the writers from making a contestant say ‘Oh dear, I think I put one drop too much rose water in my soup’ only to have the judges come out later on and say ‘very nice, but there’s one drop too much rose water in that soup’. Giggle. See what I mean about the joins showing?

OK. I’ve got to go. Its 7.32. The teaser and the credits will be over. Time to put the TV on. Last three tonight. Sound still on MUTE, because the three are doing some too repetitive heartfelt chat. Open some Aussie bubbly. I’ll switch on the sound when the action starts. My favourite is still there. She’s the best. But can she outglam the pretty boys …

Let’s see. Gooo Elena!

1 comment:

Allister Hardiman said...

Good thoughts. It is at its base, a show that loves food and shares its passion with the contestants and between the judges. It is skilled, good natured and open. It is not gladiatorial like Channel sevens "My Restaurant Rules" which cares less about food and more about savagery and spite. Masterchef is very humanitarian, and much preferred.