That show you've been waiting for, where "The Real World" meets "MasterChef," has arrived.
"House of Food" is its name and like "The Real World" it is on MTV and brings a bunch of strangers into a big house together, and like "MasterChef," professional chefs judge amateur cooks. There will be a winner at the end (and winners along the way), but the first two hours -- the series debuts Monday -- and the "Real World" model suggest that nobody will be sent home unless it stems "naturally," emphasis on the quotation marks, from the show's serial narrative: a familiar tale of uneasy cohabitation, post-adolescent immaturity and various forms of acting out by people whose greatest fear and source of outrage is to be disrespected by people they disrespect. Thus it behooves the producers to keep as many of them around as possible, that they may get on each other's nerves, get up in one another's business, and get busy as much as possible for as long as possible.
There is also some cooking of a (so far) not especially impressive kind. As I say, the show is most ardently devoted to exploring, which is to say exploiting, which is to say exacerbating the spiky interpersonal dynamics among its competitors, all in their early 20s, a few of whom do seem seriously interested in cooking. One feels they might have actually gone to audition for "The Real World" first and been funneled into this thing instead, where the usual fun perks (fancy big house with free food, swimming pool, pool table, possibility of sex) are somewhat dampened by their being asked to work hard and be judged by older people.
You do get more than a bit of such shenanigans in excellent shows like "Project Runway" and "Top Chef," but you also get competitors working at high levels of invention and craft; their diva-ness is at least earned. Here, attitude is unmitigated by excellence. As a class, these competitors come off as lazy, vain and entitled, and even the nice ones -- there are nice ones -- possess an inflated sense of their own abilities. The worst of them make one yearn for the day when television will let you reach through the screen and slap the people on it. That, of course, as I have to remind myself, is just reality television doing its thing: decadent, perhaps, but on its own terms successful.
The series is set in Los Angeles, and the chef-judges are local and successful: Brendan Collins (Waterloo & City), who's worked under Marco Pierre White; Brooke Williamson (the Tripel), who was on "Top Chef"; and Casey Lane (the Tasting Kitchen). They are serious about what they do and reasonably appalled by the recruits before them. (It is almost like an old-fashioned military comedy at times.) This secondary conflict, in which lessons might be learned and maturity achieved, may in the end be the primary one, instead of the rapid clique-forming and trash talking that goes on back at the house: "I'm not necessarily what I'd call impressed," says Collins, "but I see potential in all of you." I'm a dreamer, what can I say?