DAVID BIANCULLI

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NBC's "Chopping Block": Off With Its Head
March 11, 2009  | By David Bianculli
 
Any show that replaces Knight Rider on the NBC schedule has to be an improvement. But why, and how, did tonight's new Chopping Block series (8 p.m. ET) make it so marginally close?

As TV cooking-competition reality shows go, Chopping Block deserves an immediate beheading...

Don't get me wrong. I love reality-TV cooking shows, when they're done right. I was a very early proponent of Iron Chef (for proof, go to the FRESH AIR FAVES part of this website, scroll down, and listen to my 1988 Fresh Air review), and an instant, constant booster of both Top Chef and Gordon Ramsay's best series, Hell's Kitchen.

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But Marco Pierre White, who once helped train Ramsay, does himself and the genre no favors with Chopping Block. One of his constant mantras is that small details matter, and another is that freshness counts. Well, there's absolutely nothing fresh about Chopping Block -- and almost every detail rings false.

The premise is similar to Hell's Kitchen, in which two teams of apprentice chefs are pitted against one another in a competition to provide the better dining experience. (Instead of Red and Blue teams, White's crews are Red and Black. Viva originality!)

The twist, such as it is, is that the chefs arrive in teams, as on Amazing Race -- mother-daughter, brothers, married couples -- and compete and are eliminated accordingly.

And there's a guest judge each week, as on Top Chef -- except that on Chopping Block, it's a restaurant critic who's slipped in anonymously to both dinner services, and asked to render verdicts on both. What this does, in essence, is neuter the show's purported star. All White does, as the guest critic renders a verdict, is sit and nod.

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Nor does he interact that much with the chefs under his tutelage, other than to offer quick cooking lessons as the day's menu is prepared. Ramsay, on his shows, never strays far from the trenches. White, for most of Chopping Block, is above or beyond it all, speaking to the TV audience directly and spouting more one-line platitudes than Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanack.

Worst of all, in the first two shows, is that the menus are uninspired and uninspiring, and the same can be said for most of the contestants. In both of these first shows, when the going gets tough, the chefs are eager to get going. They're not so much eliminated as volunteering for execution -- which, once again, takes White out of the equation of his own show.

The executive producers, David Barbour and Julian Cress, previously teamed for the 2005 Australian version of Celebrity Circus, and that's about it. In selecting the behind-the-scenes chefs for his own TV kitchen, Marco Pierre White settled for amateurs... and the cooks, on and behind the camera, combine to spoil his reality-TV broth.

 
 
 
 
 
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