Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, 3 Days to Open, a one-hour show about empires crumbling to dust, Fridays at 10 p.m. on the Food Network.
In the past few years the Food Network's programming moved from the time-honored strategy of having people cook and eat food to whatever the fuck.
"We're doing show about ice sculpting," some FN executive once said, staring out the window as he signed off on Ice Brigade, to a room full of interns. "I don't even know anymore. I'll be in the bathroom the rest of the day."
But recently a tributary in that river of whatever the fuck developed, and now it is unstoppable: The new thing is fixing bad restaurants. Everybody has some goddamn bad restaurant to fix. It seemed for a while like Gordon Ramsay could handle all the bad restaurants that needed fixing, but the tide overtook him swiftly, and he has insisted, despite the suitcases of money, on hosting no more than 15 shows at a time.
They've called in Bobby Flay. The indomitable Bobby Flay. Impregnable, unassailable, sort-of-boring Bobby Flay. True, the bad restaurants he's fixing in 3 Days to Open aren't even open yet, but they're bad. And he's agreed to fix them. It's sort of sad. It's not as sad as if Mario Batali were doing it, but it's pretty close.
We watched the premiere, in which Bobby fixed a place that made chicken wings, of all the stupid things to fix. To his credit, Bobby barely shows up. Bobby Flay doesn't need this show. Bobby Flay doesn't need this show because Bobby Flay already has Hot Off the Grill with Bobby Flay, Grillin' & Chillin', FoodNation, Boy Meets Grill, BBQ with Bobby Flay, Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, Grill It! with Bobby Flay, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Brunch at Bobby's, Worst Cooks in America, The Main Ingredient with Bobby Flay, America's Next Great Restaurant, Main Ingredients with Bobby Flay, Wickedly Perfect, The Next Food Network Star, The Next Iron Chef, Iron Chef America, Bobby's Vegas Gamble, Restaurant Revamp, Chefography: Bobby Flay, Tasting Ireland, Food Network Awards, All-Star Grill Fest: South Beach, Entourage, Law & Order, the Early Show, the 2008 Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game (?), Bobby Flay Radio (??), not only a Jeopardy answer but also Jeopardy category ("Who cooks hell-bent and righteous on the bar-b-que?"); don't forget the awards -- Gael Greene's Restaurant of the Year (1992), James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year (1993), French Culinary Institute Outstanding Graduate Award (1993), International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for Design (1995), Emmy Award nominee for Outstanding Service Show (2000), Emmy Award nominee for Outstanding Service Show Host (2004), Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Service Show Host (2005), Emmy Award winner for Best Culinary Program (2009), James Beard Foundation's National Television Food Show Award (2005), James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America (2007) -- and finally the books: Bobby Flay's Bold American Food, Bobby Flay's From My Kitchen to Your Table, Bobby Flay's Boy Meets Grill, Bobby Flay Cooks American, Bobby Flay's Boy Gets Grill, Bobby Flay's Grilling For Life, Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook, Bobby Flay's Grill It!, Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes, Bobby Flay's Throwdown. And he has a horse! Bobby Flay has a motherfucking racehorse! More than one!
Don't think of Bobby Flay as hosting 3 Days to Open, think of 3 Days to Open as auditioning for Bobby Flay. (Also, whoever edited Wikipedia's Bobby Flay entry had better be right, but the less said about that the better.)
Unfortunately, 3 Days to Open fails the audition to be the show that Bobby Flay is hosting. The show not not prove to the host of the show that there should be a show for the host to host.
The single greatest piece of evidence that Bobby Flay doesn't need to do this? In the premiere, he decided to help out a walk-up place that wants to sell three types of chicken wings by opening day. They have three days. For three types of chicken wings. The suspense is intense. No, it's not. The suspense is terrible. Who cares about three types of chicken wings?
There are some weird things: After Bobby Flay invites food writers from Men's Health, Serious Eats, and Time to cover a promotional thing the chicken wing people have, in which they squirt sauce on models frolicking on the streets of NYC -- don't worry about it -- Bobby Flay tells the chicken wing people that he can make the bad press go away. He says it like he makes bad press go away all the time. Poof. I work in the press (ha!) and he can do that? That guy is balls. I hope to get a call. Still, it's weird to just say that to America.
Also, Bobby Flay's mild and tempered personality forgets to scream and rage at the owner of the chicken wing place for needing Bobby Flay's help. It should have. The owner needed to be screamed at, with all his over-talking and over-thinking and not-listening-to-Bobby-Flay. Chef Ramsay would have observed the odd, hyperactive fellow, measured him up, realized that he was about to make some of the best television of his career, and then fileted him raw on the sidewalk, cutting him psychologically back to the womb and reducing him, as if he were a balsamic, into a sticky blob of tears and sweat.
But by far the greatest miscue is that Bobby Flay does not shower riches upon the hapless owners. How could they screw this up? WE LIKE THE PARTS WHEN YOU BESTOW RICHES. As viewers, we love the big reveal. We like going, "Oh, yellow walls!" and, "Wow, a new fryer!" OUR LIVES ARE TERRIBLE. We need the fantasy of someone coming in and giving us new stuff, even if the new stuff is going to a guy who makes chicken wings.
But Bobby Flay doesn't do any of that. He seems like he's about to, when he stands back and looks at the place -- which could use a remodel, tremendously. Bobby Flay says, "This kitchen is organized totally wrong." MAYBE IT NEEDS A KENMORE REFRIGERATOR? Bobby Flay touches two pieces of equipment. "We need to move this, or we need to move this."
And then Bobby Flay moves one piece of equipment a few feet. And it is perfect.
(No, it's not.)
Michael Leaverton has watched and made fun of a whole host of food TV shows. We used to list them all right here, but that list grew too goddamn long. Click here to check 'em out.