Just forget the words and sing along

Friday, January 02, 2009

That's Good Eats!

I've always been amazed at how something in one culture gets re-interpreted into another culture. The past few days, I've been immersed in it.

I've been watching two shows by Gordon Ramsay. Well, actually, the same show, just one produced in the UK and one produced in the USA.

For those who don't know, Ramsay is one of the top professional chefs in the world. He's most famous for his reality TV show Hell's Kitchen, in which chefs compete for a job in one of his restaurants. But I've been immersed in his other show, Kitchen Nightmares. In this one, Ramsay heads to a restaurant that's in dire straights...on the verge of closing down for good. Ramsay then gives himself one week to diagnose the restaurant's problems and then solve them. On New Years Eve, BBC Canada was having a marathon of the original British version, and on New Years Day, the Food Network was having a marathon of the American version. I tend to avoid reality TV, but this 2-day marathon got me hooked.

I found the original British version to be more low-key. It's done more in a documentary style, and there's more focus on the restaurants themselves and what Ramsay has to go through to turn things around.

However, on the American version, all the cliches that we've come to associate with reality TV are in full swing. The dramatic music that's been recycled since Who Wants to be a Millionaire...talking-to-the-camera confessionals...extremely heavy editing to play up the drama. And the focus isn't so much on the restaurant as it is on squabbling owners and bickering staff members.

I will admit, the original British version does have something neat that the American verison lacks. And that is, in the original British version, each one has an epilogue where Ramsay pays a surprise visit to the restaurant about a month after his makeover to see if they've been able to follow his advice and turn things around.

But yeah. I do have to agree with the critics. Part of the appeal is that, in most reality TV shows, the host is the same, uncaring, variation on a game show host. But in Ramsay's shows, he seems to genuinely care about turning these restaurants around, making them successful and helping these people.

Reminds me of another example. American reality TV shows really live by the addage that "conflict is at the heart of great drama," and that they always try to amp up the agression.

Another reality TV show I was hooked on 7 years ago or so was Junkyard Wars, but all the true geeks refer to it by its original British name, Scrapheap Challenge. The contest: two teams have from sun-up to sundown to build a machine of some sort, and all the parts are scavanged from a specially-stocked junkyard. The next day, their machine has to accomplish a set list of goals. If their machine actually accomplishes the goals, that team wins. Yay, team!

I remember watching the original British version. The task was to build a harvesting machine of some kind. Sitting in the junkyard was an old swather, which I'm sure you'll agree was quite a coveted piece of junk in this challenge. Team A and Team B stumbled across the swather at the same time. Team A needed Part X, and Team B needed Part Y. So the two teams joined together, helped each other grab the parts they needed, shook hands, wished each other luck, and went back to working on their machines.

A year or so later, I was watching the American version. Exact same set-up. Building a harvester...old swather in the junkyard...the two teams each needed a part off it, and discovered it at the same time. Well, Team A and Team B descended into a screaming match over who "owned" this swather. The judges had to decend into the junkyard to make sure it didn't come to blows. After hearing each team's argument, the judges ruled that Team B owned the swather. Team B got their parts, and Team A had to head back into the junkyard to find a suitable replacement.

Everything about reality TV has to be about the agression, which is kind of what turns me off.

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