Tonight’s premiere of The Naughty Kitchen is notable not because it’s another so-called reality show nominally concerned with the preparation and consumption of food. It’s instead worth mentioning only because it will be remembered as the exact moment when food-based reality TV managed to jump the shark, beat a dead horse, and screw the pooch in one sordid, fell swoop.
The Naughty Kitchen is about food the same way that a strip club is about dancing, which is to say it isn’t. Created by the Oxygen Network in an apparent fit of misanthropic pique, it follows the achingly mundane travails of Blythe Beck, the “young and sassy” chef of a Dallas hotel restaurant. Beck’s schtick is making “naughty” food, though it’s unclear exactly what that means, unless serving people deep-fried, cream-drenched food can be considered the potentially edible equivalent of not wearing underwear to church. In the premiere, we see two customers tell Beck that her creamed corn “made us cream,” but that’s less naughty than flat-out, roll-in-the-gutter gnarly.
The premiere concerns Beck’s attempts to deal with the news of a review from The Dallas Morning News, but watching it, what registered more was the dawning realization that we’ve finally been given the cooking show John Waters always wanted to make but never did. From Beck’s eerie resemblance, both physically and vocally, to Divine, to the slow-witted hijinks of the self-described “door whores” who work the reception desk, to the gross-out imagery of Beck’s bare feet being massaged by an immigrant spa worker, it’s hard to watch the show and not think back to Waters’s merry band of miscreants. When Beck declares, “I’m gonna be the pinkest, naughtiest chef this world has ever seen,” it’s like Pink Flamingos all over again, with Divine defending her title of Filthiest Person Alive.
Unlike a Waters movie, though, The Naughty Kitchen appears to take itself a bit too seriously, with all of the fidgety cross-cut editing that’s designed to create drama where only the quotidian lurks. While it’s true that every reality TV show, cooking or otherwise, does exactly the same thing, this one does it with such a depressing lack of flair that it makes Top Chef look like it was conceived and directed by Orson Welles. And while it’s true that plenty of other reality shows have been built around obnoxious personalities, at least Gordon Ramsay had done enough with his career to merit a time slot of his own. But Beck appears to have done little to merit anyone’s attention, aside from wearing a pink shirt with her name helpfully printed on it and telling an uppity wine-tasting panel that a particular glass “smells like pig shit.” In other words, there is no reason for this show to exist, aside from, of course, to make the Oxygen Network money and to distract its viewers from the unedited reality of their own lives.
Beck said in a recent interview that “[i]n my world, I’d be on TV for the rest of my life. That’s my goal, that’s my plan.” And that pretty much sums up the hell that the Food Network and its ilk have wrought: we’ve reached a point where chefs become chefs seemingly for the sole purpose of seeing themselves in HD. That’s not particularly naughty, but it does leave a pretty rancid aftertaste.