Sunday, February 8, 2015

REVIEW. Celebrity MasterChef South Africa on M-Net is an over-catered Where the Wild Things Are, filled with tears, kids, charities, and celebrity.

TV with Thinus watched a screener of the first episode of Celebrity MasterChef South Africa starting today, Sunday 8 February at 18:00 on M-Net (DStv 101) - filled to abundance with TV over-catering: heavy with tears, crying, kids and loud, show-offy celebrities.

It's all wrapped in way, way too much product placement (thank you Woolworths, Volkswagen, Nederburg, Robertsons, Tsogo Sun, Kenwood an on and on and on) and you have to wonder why the show can't be done with less, understated sponsors.

Shows like this would be better if M-Net can focus on entertainment and entertainment television first, and cross-promotion business and branding second - instead of the wrong way round.

However, as Sunday food show fare, Celebrity MasterChef South Africa on M-Net is a TV tea garden - enjoyable escapism for an hour done for smiles that the whole family can watch and enjoy.

The show is safe and recognisable. The new "spin-off" season covers familiar territory and several outcomes are predictable (at least in the first episode) where the viewer would be able to guess what's going to happen right through up to the end but which would be spoilers to mention here before the actual broadcast.

Watching the first episode, Celebrity MasterChef South Africa made me think of Maurice Sendak's children's book Where the Wild Things Are - and if you tune in this evening, you'll see why.

In Celebrity MasterChef South Africa, 10 South African celebrities - a cross-section of local famous faces so as to be known to various segments of M-Net's viewing audience - compete in the MasterChef SA kitchen at the Nederburg estate in Paarl over the course of 13 episodes for their various, chosen charities.

Celebrity MasterChef South Africa is executive produced by Harriet Gavshon and Donald Clarke, produced by Quizzical Pictures and Lucky Bean Media.

The action in the first episode of Celebrity MasterChef South Africa takes a while to start and only really starts a quarter of the way in at the 8th minute in the 44 minute long first episode when the celebricooks are tasked with recreation a memorable dish from their childhood.

There's instant put-offs and jarring, non-sensical production clashes in Celebrity MasterChef SA which irritate from the onset but luckily doesn't detract from the overall show.

Probably the biggest eye-roll moment in Celebrity MasterChef South Africa is due to bad product placement in the production.

When judge Pete Joffe-Wood for instance tell the contestants for the childhood dish challenge they have an open pantry with "the entire range of Nederburg wines at your disposal" as a TV critic I want to ask humbly: what childhood dish ever contained wine and Nederburg wine?

The first part up to the 8th minute is the various introductions to the celebritestants and their various charities. Also be forewarned: These people are not your ordinary garden-variety contestants: They're talkers, and everybody wants to talk. And they're loud.

Their strong personas are luckily offset by the introduction (cue the cute factor) of little "mini-me's": tweens selected to be replicas of the contestants (the poor producers: working with celebrities and children!)

Like contestant Terence Bridgett says of his late mom's lasagna in the first episode - Celebrity MasterChef South Africa is "an over-caterer".

The show's debut episode has deliberately been constructed to be heavy on TV's version of sugar: tears, cute kids and charities (with more kids).

The MasterChef and MasterChef SA comfort food is still there: contestants battling against the clock and limited time to create concoctions critiqued by celebrity chefs who keep hovering during challenges to up the stress levels.

Celebrities who have kids themselves come across as calmer and more grounded, and the interaction moments with the kids are all adorable (although in the back of your mind you know you're being mercilessly manipulated).

It will be interesting to see whether Celebrity MasterChef South Africa can maintain the emotion in the kitchen during further episodes without this ingredient (look out for multiple in-jokes like a kid literally stirring the pot).

At the end of the first episode judge Pete Joffe-Wood says "the time for kindergarden cooking is over".

For Celebrity MasterChef SA on M-Net, as the saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding.