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Review: Dinner: Impossible
Wednesday, January 24, 2007 | posted by Mike

Robert IrvineReality and competition shows are funny things. They can be enjoyable on one of two levels. They really only work as either a guilty pleasure or a truly interesting and involving narrative. That point was reinforced on Wednesday evening as I switched over from the American Idol selection show (i.e. the one with the horrible singers) to Dinner: Impossible.

In everything that we've been hearing about Dinner: Impossible, the key point that keeps coming up over and over again is how "real" it is. Now, in this day and age, it's easy to be suspicious when someone tells you that a reality program is "real." However, once you accept the contrived situation in which the producers place Robert Irvine, it's easy to buy into the authenticity of the action itself.

The show obviously borrows heavily from the Mission: Impossible idea, complete with a "your mission, should you choose to accept it" intro and the countdown timer. On one hand, the graphics that accompany much of the onscreen action can be helpful at sorting out what has been finished, what still needs to be done and how much time Irvine has before his deadline. On the other hand, the ubiquity of the graphics and the beeping of the countdown (a la 24) can be a bit overwhelming at times, so they would do well to dial it back a little bit.

The main attraction of the show is, of course, Robert Irvine. For someone with limited on-screen experience, he does a very good job. It's fun to watch him work in the kitchen and he seamlessly moves between work and addressing the camera with interesting and helpful hints. You'll learn more about cooking from Dinner: Impossible than you will from most challenge or reality shows.

When the first episode (the wedding) began, I had one immediate thought: I know where that church is in Princeton! The second thought I had was: There's a really good bar right down the street from there.

The episode challenged Irvine and his two assistants (both named George) to cater a wedding on little notice and with extremely limited personnel resources. He quickly demonstrated his executive chef credentials by whipping the reception site's staff into a fully functional kitchen. In doing so, he highlighted the difference between himself and Gordon Ramsay, perhaps the most logical point of comparison on television right now.

While you know that Ramsay has the long-term success of his students in mind when he criticizes, it can sometimes be hard to tell by his actions. Irvine, though brusque with his staff at times, always comes across as a stern teacher rather than a tyrant.

About the Georges...I can't tell them apart yet. I'm not sure how many episodes it will take before I can. But, frankly, I'm not certain that it's important that I ever get there. Of course, with the success of the supporting cast on Ace of Cakes, it will be interesting to see if their "characters" are explored more in the future.

The wedding episode did a good job of outlining the process and format of the show, but the topic is nothing that we haven't seen as a challenge on Top Chef. The second episode of the evening, however, illustrated the potential for the show to be something more intriguing.

Now, I will admit that he could have cooked ramen noodles and I probably would have enjoyed the episode simply because he was at a Philadelphia Eagles game and had to cook for the GREATEST FANS ON EARTH! (Full disclosure, when I tailgate at the Linc, I'm usually down and around the corner from where they were.) But putting Irvine into a fun and unique situation and giving him complications like depriving him of food and the means to cook it gave the show an interesting hook that the first scenario lacked. A preview commercial that ran during the episodes that showed him having to cook a period meal promises that there is more in store when it comes to the interesting challenges.

The key to the ongoing success will be coming up with intriguing challenges that show off Irvine's skills (both culinary and entertainment) in future shows.

Also, Irvine will obviously need to do a better job in the future of assessing his surroundings then he did during the Eagles episode. At one point, he asks a crowd of tailgating onlookers, "Who's got beer?!?!" Silly Robert...I don't think there was anyone within earshot who didn't have beer on them. And, yes, I am aware that they were taping this at 10:00 AM.



Hi, I'm Mike and I created TVFoodFan.com as a place where you can come to get the latest news and views about what’s going on in the world of culinary television.

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