Australia’s best TV show of all time?
There’s a simple reason why some three million Australians watched the Masterchef final last night - instead of making heroes out of people you would do anything to avoid, it celebrated people you’d be happy to have as friends, or proud to have as part of your family.
On paper it was merely the latest phase in the reality television format, another game-based cooking program, similar in theory to so many others which now infect the Lifestyle Food channel, not even an original idea but the re-heated antipodean version of the British program of the same name.
As such, many Australians were slow to respond to the program, assuming it was formulaic fluff, cooked up by the marketing people in a cynical bid for ratings and targeted advertising.
It not only ended up being an antidote for cynicism, it quickly shattered whatever formula it had inherited from the UK with a refreshingly representative mix of contestants, a civil and encouraging panel of judges, not to mention some very classy guest chefs appearing throughout the show.
Apart from being fun, polite and informative, it also reflected the multicultural face of modern Australia - as Yvette Andrews wrote on The Punch last week, what other TV show has devoted an entire episode to the family moussaka recipe of a Greek-Australian judge, or culminated in a final between an Adelaide artist with a Malaysian-Chinese background and a suburban mum from the NSW Central Coast?
Julie’s victory last night inspired some toffy-nosed criticism, chiefly via Twitter, of her cooking technique as being plebby and every-day, with conspiracy theorists her victory had been rigged because her cookbook (with a family-based scrapbook format) would sell well, and because as an “ordinary” Mum she’d make the best public face for the show’s supermarket sponsors.
Such talk ignores what happened last night - Poh, by her own admission, had a brain fade and bungled two parts of her dessert by not following the recipe, while Julie showed amazing and uncharacteristic calm when, having made a mess of the sorbet, she made it again and nailed it with seconds to spare. In addition, when the finalists were presented with a chicken as their main ingredient for the food invention category, Poh’s choice of Hainanese Chicken Rice did seem to lack adventure, given that it’s the Malaysian equivalent of a roast chook in the everyday stakes. In contrast, Julie’s stuffed breast and ballotine ensemble went way beyond the everyday, and far behind the talents she possessed when she debuted on the program.
The snobbish or conspiratorial nonsense on the sidelines over Julie’s victory is easily eclipsed by the dominant sense of joy and gratitude that such a genuine feel-good show went to air. It had none of the contrived schmaltz of other programs in this “family” category. It involved a group of people who were so genuinely nice that, as the finals heated up, even the contestants seemed just as interested in each other’s well-being as their own chances of victory.
We watched it at home last night, having structured our last seven days around being plonked down with the kids in front of the telly bang-on time every night, and at the end we were trying to think of an Australian television program we had ever enjoyed so much.
The domestically-produced TV programs which have been hailed as classics have all tended to involve people being shot or blown up - Phoenix, Janus, Blue Murder, latterly Underbelly - while the juggernaut programs of reality TV, such as the early seasons of Big Brother or Idol, have often been banal or cruel.
If the measure is simply watchability, good values and unadorned fun, Masterchef may have set a new benchmark.
Last word can go to viewer James Dellow (@chieftech) of Wollongong who said on twitter last night: the downside of this whole #masterchef thing is that my kids now want to eat at ARIA Restaurant.
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