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Review: "The Next Food Network Star"
Monday, June 04, 2007 | posted by Mike

First things first: It's pronounced "Bruce-ketta."

Now that that's out of the way, the new season of The Next Food Network Star represents a significant change in tone from the previous seasons. They promotions claimed that they were raising the stakes and offering the biggest prize in television, and the attitude of the contestants has changed accordingly. Gone is a lot of the lightheartedness and innocence seen in previous seasons, replaced with a greater awareness that they only get to stay if someone else leaves. And if that means watching as the opponents put chicken broth in a supposedly vegetarian polenta, then so be it.

Having the contestants live together obviously increases the emotional impact of the relationships, setting up the possibility for some real personality conflicts. And the personalities do make for some fun viewing. Even the folks set up as the heels have some appealing characteristics, a point that the judges make when they offer their criticism to JAG.

The judges return from previous seasons, and both Susie Fogelson and TVFF's Favorite FN Exec® Bob Tuschman do a good job of alternatively playing Good Cop and Bad Cop, offering encouragement and constructive criticism. The appearances by Food Network guest stars in the premiere episode are a mixed bag. Duff Goldman, who shows up to run them through a cake decorating challenge, is not quite the insider that other celebs would be, perhaps thanks to his his geographic and temperamental differences from the prototypical FN chef. But, here, he's also not quite the "buddy" to the contestants that you might expect from the puckish baker. Seeing him away from his friends and coworkers, he just seems different, a point he would probably concede.

Robert Irvine shows up and has some fun playing drill sergeant to the nervous prospective chefs. After doing his thing and offering some commentary on the proceedings, he kind of disappears. This is especially unfortunate since I would have liked to hear his take on how Vivien's salad came out. Bobby Flay comes off friendly, and graciously excuses the "cobbler-tini" that gets dumped on his "Calvin" suit. Between appearances like this and the more humble version of Bobby we've seen on Throwdown, he and the Network have done quite a bit lately to get rid of the perception of Flay as "smug" or "aloof."

Although the Food Network personalities supply the star wattage on The Next Food Network Star, viewers tune in to see someone who looks a little like them have a shot at something many of us dream about. And it has, until now, presented this in a way that sugercoated the internal competition that goes on among the contestants. Unlike other similar shows (Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef), Star was more about who was the best man or woman for the job. There was something more "friendly" about that.

The lack of host Marc Summers in this season also contributes heavily to the new tone. He was a cheerleader (in a good way) for all of the contestants and served as a bridge between them and the judges and celebrities. Now, it feels a little more like they're on their own. Either Summers or perhaps George Duran would have played a nice role in making the contestants and, indeed, the viewer feel more comfortable.

But that's not what this season is about. The new dynamic takes both them and us out of our comfort zone in relation to previous seasons. It makes for higher drama, and that's a good thing for a show that was too often devoid of a true rooting interest in the past. It gives the show a punch, although it does it at the expense of some of the innocence of previous seasons.

(Note: I almost said that, with the higher stakes and backstage intrigues, Star was starting to move into Hell's Kitchen territory. And then I saw the season premiere of HK, which managed to go completely off the deep end. It made the new Star look like the old Star. Check back tomorrow for a review of HK.)



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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