Sunday, October 19, 2008

Not In the Kitchen with Gwyneth and Mario

There are carrots and potatoes and maybe a head or two of garlic roasting in the oven. I've tossed them with olive oil and lightly sprinkled them with sea salt and ground pepper, the four variety kind. To what end, you ask? I'm not sure. They were what was in the refrigerator--you may remember them left over from my last culinary adventure--when I got VERY HUNGRY watching Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow in On The Road Again in Spain.

This is an odd program. The premise seems to be that chef Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow are on a culinary road trip through Spain. The purpose? Well, there is a lovely cookbook that they're flogging at the end of the show, written by Mario with assistance from Gwyneth. I don't think of her as being a particular expert on any cuisine, let alone Spanish. Doesn't she exist on a macrobiotic diet? Or love alone? But, no, Mario has told Oprah; Gwyneth has a healthy appetite. Is that sufficient expertise? What do you think?

They are, at least in the episode I watched, accompanied by a middle-aged man who seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place him, and a lovely young brunette, whose sole purpose seemed to be to offer a visual contrast to Gwyneth. The foursome drove for a while and then dined for a while. Driving and eating, this is the stuff of great drama.

Actually, it is unscripted television at its most banal, and I'm someone who loves reality shows. But the ones I watch are produced by people who understand arcane dramatic concepts such as story arc and dialogue. The successful reality show are cast so there there is a variety of personality types and edited so there is a narrative line throughout. But the characters in On The Road Again are, with the exception of Battali, bland, insipid, a bit like rice pudding without the raisins. Further, there is no story and the dialogue--well, think of the talk at your dinner table when everyone's mouth is full. All the four can offer is a variation on the theme of "Mmmmmmmmmm."

So in some way this is a gentle form of porn, watching Gwyneth Paltrow put things in her mouth and lick her lips and moan appreciatively. Perhaps that is its purpose after all. But on PBS--isn't that too cheap a thrill?

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So--whaddaya think?