Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen is one of the most popular reality TV shows on television, even amongst people that don’t normally watch reality TV shows (Comedy Examiner included). Is there a secret to the show’s success, something that it does that, say, Survivor doesn’t that earns it a “pass”? Could it be that the people who don’t normally enjoy reality TV shows enjoy Hell’s Kitchen because the show’s host treats his contestants in a way that we wish all reality TV contestants were treated? Read on for the commentary, my gentle Examiner readers…
We don’t get the opportunity to talk about reality television nearly enough here at Comedy Examiner HQ, because– on the surface– reality TV doesn’t seem to fit into the comedy genre. But the case could be made that seeing a group of people behaving as badly as human beings can possibly behave (stabbing one another in the back, gleefully throwing one another under the bus to win a few extra bucks or some insignificant prize, forming alliances only to shatter them while boasting about the fact that they “didn’t come here to make friends”) while portraying themselves as endlessly noble is, let’s face it, irony at its finest. This is the darkest kind of comedy, which just so happens to be our prefered variety of comedy here at HQ. But at the end of the day, I find most reality TV shows to be simply depressing.
Jersey Shore will actually give you an STD if you watch it for more than a few weeks at a time. The Bachelorette will destroy your interest in ever getting married. Keep watching The Apprentice and see if you trust anyone in the office come Friday morning. All of these shows– and the ones that came before, and all the reality shows that will follow– showcase humanity at its absolute worst, and even though the networks were supposed to be done with their glut of reality TV programming after the writer’s strike ended a few years back, reality TV has never been more popular…and there’s no sign it’s going anywhere.
Is there a single reality show that we can watch without feeling the need for a shower afterwards?
Yes, there is, and it features a shrieking, furious, profane British chef who’s just as happy pounding an iron fist into a plate of undercooked salmon as he is berating his contestants when they look at him the wrong way: Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen. Among the many reality TV offerings currently on the air, Hell’s Kitchen gets a pass here at Comedy Examiner’s HQ, but closer examination only makes the reasons why more muddled. Isn’t this show just as guilty as every other reality TV show– if not moreso– of giving us week after week of inhumane, back-stabbing, lowest-common-denominator contestants behaving terribly? Is it any less abrasive than any other reality TV show? Couldn’t the case be made that Hell’s Kitchen is, in fact, the most caustic reality TV show? It could, but I think I know why we forgive it.
It seems like anyone that’s ever had experience in the food service industry is partial to Fox’s enormously popular show, but surely its huge ratings can’t be entirely attributed to former bartenders, waiters, and restaurant managers (your friendly, neighborhood Comedy Examiner’s all three). What makes Hell’s Kitchen one of the most popular, enduring reality TV shows, and what makes people that normally despise the reality TV genre give the show a pass? I think we’ve gotta give most of the credit to its hilariously profane, violently-tempered center, Gordon Ramsay.
Over the years, Ramsay’s gotten ever more clever with his taunts and insults, all of which he lovingly screams at anyone that hoves into his field of vision when dinner’s in service at his L.A.-based eatery. Forgot to put that steak on the grill? You’re a “(bleeping) donkey”. Misheard the chef, fired up a lamb chop instead of a Wellington? Well, you’re a ” stupid (bleeping) cow”. Didn’t cook the pasta long enough? Ramsay thinks it looks like a “leftover (condom) from a trip to Las Vegas” (one of his more creative insults, to be sure, and one that didn’t make a whole lot of sense). Trying to guess what sorta verbal assaults Ramsay will deal out to Hell’s Kitchen’s contestants is easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s what makes Hell’s Kitchen such a pleasure to watch. When’s the last time you watched a reality TV show where you actually liked the contestants? Although we’re the ones giving these shows their enormous, absurdly high ratings, we laugh at people that dare to go on reality TV shows, mock their eagerness to kiss the host’s ass and humiliate themselves for our entertainment. We snicker at their mistakes, debate who’s worse in online forums, ridicule their post-show attempts at a “career”. When you get right down to it, we don’t like the people on reality TV. And how many reality TV shows openly abuse their contestants?
Watch Survivor, and all the bad behavior– all the back-stabbing, yelling, in-fighting, and ass-kissing– goes relatively unpunished. Jeff Probst (he’s still hosting that show, right? And…Survivor‘s still on, right?) isn’t shrieking at the players, calling them names, making them feel terrible about their mistakes. Ditto Jersey Shore, or The Amazing Race, or The Apprentice. Actually, Donald Trump does get a little hostile in the boardroom from time to time (I’ll admit it: The Apprentice is another guilty pleasure here at Comedy Examiner HQ), and pretty much every fan of the series will tell you that those moments are some of the most entertaining the show has to offer. So doesn’t it stand to reason that Hell’s Kitchen is as popular as it is– and gets the “pass” that we’re giving it– because it so merrily rips apart its deplorable stars?
When you think about Hell’s Kitchen‘s success in those terms– that it’s endured almost entirely because it doesn’t just give us people behaving badly, but people being screamed at and humiliated for that behavior– it’s kind of a wonder that more shows don’t follow suit. Is there any reality show that couldn’t be improve by a healthy dose of punishment for its stars? Think about how much better Jersey Shore would be if, at the end of every episode, a really angry, incredibly angry pyschologist wandered on-set to berate the housemates. Consider the possibilities with Celebrity Rehab if Dr. Drew tried counseling his patients while working through a serious case of anger management issues: it’d be awesome, and it might actually be enough to get Tom Sizemore to O.D. once and for all.
So, what have we discovered here today? That Hell’s Kitchen is as successful as it is– and avoids being lumped in with the other empty-headed, soulless reality shows we don’t watch here at Comedy Examiner HQ– because it heaps abuse upon its contestants. It’s entirely possible that I’m jumping to conclusions here, that the show succeeds because people are drawn to its many cooking demonstrations, or its annual “palate test”, or the snooty maitre’d that acts as Ramsay’s sidekick. But I don’t think so. I think Hell’s Kitchen rules because Gordon Ramsay is doing what we’ve always wanted to do to reality TV contestants: yell at them, loudly, and insult them until they flee the set in tears.
Stay tuned for more funny videos, news, reviews, commentaries, interviews, and more from Comedy Examiner HQ in the near future, folks. We’ve got all manner of nonsense to keep you entertained and informed during the week, so hit the ‘Subscribe’ button up top to get all Comedy Examiner articles delivered straight to your inbox, free of charge, the moment they’re published.