The Restaurant

Thursday, September 6, 2007 by

Gripping reality television is all about hubris. That’s not a startling observation, but it is one that feels particularly appropriate when watching the aspirational brand. A lot of the fun is in witnessing the arrogance and self-confidence of a particularly conceited contestant unravel under the scrutiny of the game. With The Restaurant, it’s Sam and his fucking drum kit that most obviously fulfils the brief. In last night’s episode, even the voiceover man couldn’t resist having a pop, as he made it clear Sam was looking for a scapegoat for his own inadequacies.

Tonight’s edition featured more blame-shifting and work-avoidance from the jazz drummer. “High pressure cooking doesn’t suit Sam,” explained voiceover man, “and instead of taking charge he’s left it to Jacqui”. It was to the programme’s credit then, that it was actually a surprise at the end of the episode when the duo who were given the boot. All through the episode Martin and Emma had been labouring under the affliction that most commonly affects Apprentice contestants; namely, being the ones with the most relevant previous experience for that week’s task. For most of the programme, the smart money was on them to pack up their coq au vin and go when the show ended.

With marketing and elbow grease added to the equation this week, The Restaurant moved ever closer to The Apprentice. The first episode suggested the series would simply follow the progress of the nine couples as they tried to make their way in the restaurant business, but it has now become clear this is to be a task-based elimination programme after all. Like Sugar’s show, The Restaurant compromises relevance for the sake of variation, and the catering task, although entertaining, seemed a distraction from the business of actually running a high class eatery.

Still the Thursday elimination programmes are an excellent innovation. These secondary task shows allow the series to have its cake and eat it. Wednesdays feature the couples toiling away in isolation, while the politicking and group dynamism all takes place the following evening. It’s a satisfying arrangement, and one that also allows the BBC to commission twice as many episodes.

Two weeks in and its all unfolding as it should – perhaps a little too much so, in fact. Three years ago this would have been unmissable telly, as compellingly watchable as, say, The Million Pound Property Experiment, but watching The Restaurant today, there is a slight weariness in the eviction format that undermines some of the programme’s effervescence. But it is superbly made, and is the kind of series you can confidently predict will still be worth watching in a few weeks. Any show that makes you feel able to commit for the long haul after just four episodes has to be pretty good.

Over on ITV1, Hell’s Kitchen is spluttering, although slightly improving thanks to Lee Ryan’s walkout (the kind of incident that doesn’t require creative editing to turn it into an interesting story). Meanwhile the ill-fated Tycoon is still recent enough in the memory to remind us that this kind of programming can go wrong, despite the security of a seemingly flameproof format. Viewed in that context The Restaurant is an assured, albeit somewhat predictable success. Although, let’s just hope that by week six the would-be restaurateurs aren’t challenged to carry out a cooking demonstration on QVC …


Comments are closed.