This post originally appeared on March 8, 2019, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.
Welcome back to Friday afternoon. I’ve got some TV recommendations and a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news, as well as a WORD OF WARNING about a food show that is alluring on the surface, but completely skippable. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
The ‘Big Family’ letdown
As Netflix continues expanding its already-impressive food TV catalog, the streaming titan is scooping up shows that were previously big hits in other markets. And while many of these imports are delightful additions to the library (hello Flavorful Origins and Chef & My Fridge!), the culinary competition the Big Family Cooking Showdown is not one of them. The one thing this series does really well is make you want to watch its obvious inspiration, the Great British Baking Show.
The similarities between the two programs are not coincidental: When theGreat British Bake Off (as it’s called in the U.K.) left the BBC for rival network Channel 4, Big Family was created to fill its place. The first season of the show was co-hosted by previous Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain as well as TV/radio personality Zoe Ball. Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli was cast in the Paul Hollywood role, and cooking school administrator Rosemary Shrager filled the Mary Berry seat. Most of the challenges in Season 1 took place in a massive barn that had a similarly fantastical vibe to the big white tent. Although it was an obvious copycat, I liked the chemistry between the hosting crew, the personalities of the home chefs, and the generally jovial vibe of the first season.
Unfortunately, in the lead-up to Season 2, the producers made a series of changes that somehow drained the show of its lifeblood. The charming quartet of hosts and judges has been replaced by Celebrity MasterChef winner Angellica Bell and Great British Menu contestant Tommy Banks, who have absolutely no chemistry together. That big fancy barn has been replaced by a space that looks like the kitchen of a condo timeshare. And instead of two families squaring off against each other, there are four clans duking it out at the start of each new round, making it a frenzied affair.
Another big issue with the show, at least for me, is that a lot of the food just doesn’t look very good. The nature of the challenge — home cooks with no professional experience making hearty recipes, often with frozen ingredients — lends itself to gloppy, monochromatic plates of food, and some of the mashups that come out of the kitchen seem like obvious conceptual misfires. “Coconut pancakes topped with salmon two ways and a strawberry-balsamic salsa” might taste good IRL, but it sure doesn’t look good on screen.
The silver lining here is that the families are as charming as ever, and it is nice to see them working as teams together. But unlike its predecessor, there’s hardly any drama in the Family Showdown because the program just isn’t structured in a way that allows for suspense to build. The result is yet another Baking Show clone that pales in comparison to the original.
All 14 (!) hour-long episodes of the Big Family Cooking Showdown Season 2 are now available to stream on Netflix. But if you’re seriously jonesing to watch a culinary competition, you’re probably better off watching the original Baking Show, the Final Table, or Top Chef.
Streaming recommendations du jour
Watch it on: Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play
The gist: Some of the best moments in this ambitious comedy/drama feature references to gourmet food as a harbinger of gentrification in Oakland, California.
The film begins with parolee protagonist Collin (played by Daveed Diggs) and his pal Miles (Rafael Casal) eating take-out from their favorite old-school burger stand, which, much to their surprise, was just renovated and now serves vegan food by default. On the way to work the next morning, Collin surprises his friend by purchasing a $10 green juice from their local liquor store, establishing a running joke about the changing culture of the neighborhood. And one of the movie’s biggest surprises involves a yuppie doofus ordering a flaming scorpion bowl at a local dive where Collin used to work.
Longtime friends (and occasional musical collaborators) Diggs and Casal wrote the movie together over the last decade and you can tell it’s a labor of love. While some of the ideas don’t totally gel, I really hope the duo and director Carlos López Estrada keep working together and developing the heady style that they’ve established here.
Documentary Now!, “Waiting for the Artist”
Watch it on: Amazon Video, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play
The gist: You don’t have to be a fan of performance artist Marina Abramovic to enjoy this parody of the 2012 documentary about her work, The Artist Is Present.
Cate Blanchett’s performance as the aloof art world legend Izabella Barta is reason enough to watch this Documentary Now! episode — she completely owns this character. One of her works, “Late for Dinner,” features her partner, Dima (played by Fred Armisen), eating at a table for two as Barta is tethered to a wall by a giant spring. And her grand masterpiece, “Ein Tag Ein Frankfurter,” involves the artist eating a hot dog all day, every day for a year.
Like all the best Documentary Now! episodes, “Waiting for the Artist” is a sublime mash-up of highbrow cinema and low-brow comedy.
In other entertainment news…
Have a great weekend, and if you’re looking for something vegetable-forward but not particularly health food-esque to make, consider peeping Hugh Acheson’s recipe for creamed kimchi collards.