Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No TV masterclass

Something is missing from BBC 2's latest cookery contest, and not just John Torode. The second series of Masterchef: The Professionals started last night, and for the most part fun was not on the menu. If that half-baked metaphor – and that one, and this next one – is past its sell-by-date, that's only fitting: this is seen-it-before-only-better TV.

Admittedly my tolerance for Masterchef, if not that of all at Hale and Hearty, is largely dictated by novelty. Its very availability as something to watch in January saw me through the early stages of 2009's amateur effort, even if the final phase sprawled interminably. But at least eventual winner Mat Follas, he of the intriguing eyebrows and oft-referenced family, was on the requisite reality-show journey. Here, the contestants cook for a living. And it's boring to watch.

Pairing Michel Roux Jr with Gregg Wallace doesn't help. In such globally respected company, the veg man's bulk seems inversely proportional to his judicial heft; the sense that he's taking his cues from Roux difficult to shake. He also talks far less entertaining rubbish than before. There will be no parties in his mouth here, let alone figurative baths in chocolate pots.

Roux's profile means he doesn't cast judgment until the final cook-off, so early rounds are co-hosted with brittle efficiency by his sous chef, Monica Galetti: sadly no TV natural, even if she has grasped the shouty-talking-head thing. Michel doesn't shout, of course; it's unbecoming. But the puffed cheeks and calm tones as last night's intake did bad things to bream are no substitute for the once endlessly quotable Gregg'n'John show.

Yes, there is peril in Masterchef: The Professionals. It's hard to see what any of the contestants really stand to gain by taking part, particularly set against the very real risk of ridicule on both sides of the pass back home (pity the head chef who flunked last night's spatchcock and lemon curd tasks). But equally, it's hard to care about them. Gregg's aspirational questions – 'How far do you think you can go in this competition?' – are especially pointless when put to the pros. Why, actually, are they here? And, more pertinently, why are we?

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