Monday, June 20, 2011

Pilot Review: Rocco's Dinner Party

Rocco's Dinner Party (Wednesdays at 10:00 on Bravo)

I'm trying to sublimate my anger with last night's season (and, as far as I'm concerned since I won't be watching anymore, series) finale of The Killing by thinking about fun, positive things. So I've decided to review Bravo's newest competition show, Rocco's Dinner Party.

So we're all familiar with Rocco DiSpirito, the very handsome chef who now seems to be popping up everywhere: judging Miss USA, writing cookbooks, starring in his own reality show on NBC, guest starring on sitcoms, filming commercials, and appearing in some capacity on nearly every cooking and/or dieting reality series on television. Apparently we do not have enough Rocco in our lives, however, because now Bravo has given him yet another reality show here. I have never been a fan of Rocco; I've only seen him outside of the kitchen, as a guest judge on Top Chef and the like. But he has always come off as a condescending douchebag, which is a given considering his status as a celebrity chef and reality TV star. So it was an incredible revelation for me when I sat down to watch Rocco's Dinner Party with every intention of hating it and digging into its host with glee, I actually ended up liking the show as a whole.

The premise is a cross between Top Chef and something off of HGTV. Three chefs are chosen to compete for the chance to cook and plan a dinner party for Rocco and his celebrity friends. Immediately they are tasked with making their signature dish for Rocco, who promptly proceeds to knock each of them down a peg (or ten). From those dishes, Rocco eliminates one and the remaining two must decorate a room and create a menu around Rocco's theme (which was "Speakeasy" in the premiere). After meeting with an interior designer to discuss plans for their rooms, the chefs begin preparing elaborate meals; but in true Bravo fashion, they are thrown a curveball as they are cooking: one guest does not eat meat, and one does not consume alcohol. So the chefs must now prepare two riffs on their original dishes in each course for these guests, all the while competing for a $20,000 prize at the end of the night.

The concept is not all that original, obviously. It's merely combining a couple already-existing competitions into one smaller-scale one, but the proceedings manage to be highly entertaining. From Rocco's bitter snap judgments of the contestants to the celebrity guests, I found myself enjoying this show much more than I had anticipated. Rocco's friends are an illustrious and interesting group of people. In this episode alone the guests include two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole; author and actor Bryan Batt (Mad Men); actor Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire); TV personality Kelly Choi (original host of Top Chef Masters); celebrated chef Marcus Samuelsson (Top Chef Masters winner); and media critic Bill McCuddy (Forbes magazine). They're a varied and lively lot, and it's fun to just see celebrities interacting of a very base level. To hear them talk over dinner, there are a few nice moments of, "Wow... they're just like us." For a show based around dinner parties on a network whose most infamous ones include table flipping, fist fights, and startling revelations, this is a very tame hour of television.

The competition itself is fairly light. Sure it's fun to see how these chefs, in the case of the pilot both men, cope with having to conceive and decorate a room around the theme of the evening (the results are expectedly masculine rooms) while also attempting not to crumble under the pressure of cooking for so many celebrities, including two top-tier chefs. But the stress of the competition and the stakes are toned down in favor of the intimacy of Rocco's dinner party. There aren't people running around, dumping food on the floor, screaming at each other, etc. The stakes are small and the personalities tame compared to Top Chef and most of the similar Food Network shows like Chopped and Private Chefs of Beverly Hills. All in all, it's not at a level of guilty pleasure trash like The Real Housewives franchise, nor is at the level of greatness of Top Chef. It's just a light, fun hour of television, which sometimes turn out to be my favorites.

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