Each week we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with televised cooking. This week: Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off, a one-hour show about the debt ceiling, Sundays at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.
There used to be only A and B-list celebrities, divided by movies and television. Then television got worse, and Calista Flockhart (B) or someone sought inoculation from Richard Hatch (below B). Then television got horrendous, just flat-out murderous, and everybody called the new people "shitheads" until a script editor from Frasier remembered they were in the business of grading people and suggested "D-list."
Then there are the worst of the Ds, your competitors on Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off.
Well, not entirely. Cheech Marin is M-list, for marijuana, specifically the kind that can be rolled into a van (Up in Smoke). Actually, he's Beyond-list, since upon his death he'll get an obit in the Times, print edition, for his body of work 35 years ago, with pot.
But Alyssa Campanella, Summer Sanders, Aaron Carter, Joey Fatone, Taylor Dayne, Coolio, and Lou Diamond Phillips? Who the hell are two-thirds of these celebrities!
Coolio: "Cooking is therapy for me."
Taylor: "I can't believe I'm still here."
Summer: "I want to chef it up."
Lou: "The one weak point in my culinary arsenal is desserts."
Wrong, Lou! Your weak point is Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off.
It's surprising that the Food Network finally got into the D-list game after so many years of muddling along with people who cared deeply about food. Why? Asked to comment, the Food Network released a statement that read, in part, "Do we amuse you? Who the fuck are you? Go home and get your SHINE BOX." That never happened.
Coolio: "I would love to have a show on the Food Network."
Lou: "It just keeps getting worse."
Coolio: "You gotta understand, I'm kinda old to be rapping."
Lou: "I would rather arm wrestle Robert Irvine than do this challenge."
Shut up, Lou! In part, the show works because nobody seems to know what the fuck they are doing. I watched the second episode, the dessert episode, and Taylor Dayne had an idea for dessert, which was, in its entirety, "Strawberries!!!" Coolio made a cake and the camera caught him opening a package ... of cake mix? And who made that scoop of ice cream that curiously appeared on Cheech's plate after he made brownies the whole time?
Joey: "I'm calm, I'm cool, I'm confident -- I'm freaking!"
Summer: "I'm going to make bacon chili fudge. And I'm going to come up with a cool name."
Cheech: "I've never made a brownie, ever. Well, a legal brownie."
YOU STILL GOT THE STUFF, CHEECH! Production-wise, the show takes its cues from Top Chef. It looks good, with nice appliances and lighting. You might even think that it is Top Chef if you don't have a TV or you just got back from the hospital. Only here, the hosts come in and tell everybody what to make and basically how they should cook it.
Coolio: "You never see anybody bake a cake at 500 degrees?"
Lou: "I'm calling my dish 'Pucker Up, Yvonne.' I named it after my wife."
Summer: "Cheech keeps asking me questions about the brownies."
As for the hosts, I used to watch Rachel Ray when she was poor and sad with just one half-hour TV show to her name, and the thing I found endearing was how she would gather everything she needed from the fridge in one giant wobbly load, balancing all these jars and packages and containers like she was getting photo albums out of a burning refrigerator. It was sweet. It was weird. I don't get what anyone sees in her besides that.
Guy Fieri was hired just to piss me off. "I argued with you about the beans, but you slam dunked it," he tells Coolio. "If you can rock it, you'll kill them with it." Doesn't that piss you off? You don't talk to Coolio like that. How about this: "I like when I feel it in the jowls." I passed out a little when I heard that.
These are the right judges for the job, of course. Non-threatening, easy to cook for, full of shouty affirmatives and forgiving, busted-up palates. Few can handle cooking for someone like Tom Colicchio, but who wouldn't make a cheese sandwich for Fieri? I'd put yellow mustard on that thing and be steady as a surgeon serving it to him. They're D-listers themselves, if you want to be assholish about it. And the competitors need all the help they can get.
Summer: "I know you're thinking about ten thousand things, but I have no idea what I'm doing."
Lou: "Why is this oven off? OH MY GOD!"
Coolio: "I'm panicking bro. I want him to get the hell away from me."
Lou: "I don't know what the hell I'm going to put this lemon curd on. HOLY CANNOLI!"
It's easy to call Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off awful, but they were going for awful. It's a D-list celebrity show. That's all there is. Perhaps it is a more refined awful? OK.
Alyssa (Miss USA): "Coolio is the most confident man I have ever come across in my life."
Previously, Michael Leaverton watched:
Bama Glama, the show all Alabama loves to fight over in comment threads