Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Thing #23: Masterchef Australia

If there was a way to legally watch Masterchef Australia in the US, I wouldn't advocate pirating it. Unfortunately, as far as I know, that's our only option. Do it. Go to Pirate Bay and search for Masterchef Australia and torrent it right now. It's the gold standard for what reality programming can be. If you're into cooking or into competitive reality TV, go get it now. If you've ever watched such shows and it seemed like they weren't living up to their potential, go get it now. Here's reality programming raised to the level of a true artform.

A word of warning, though. After watching Masterchef Australia, it's hard to watch the US versions of Masterchef, or even Hell's Kitchen. They just seem embarrassing now.

The key difference is that Masterchef Australia understands drama. The US version too often reverts back to the comfortable, understandable standards of sex and soap opera. Masterchef Australia understands the real drama is in the food and in learning to become better chefs. You can actually learn to be a better cook and to better appreciate the food you eat by watching the show.

Masterchef Australia dispenses with the hero and villain cliché of the US version, where there's cooks you route for and cooks you hate. Instead, all the cooks are likable and we really want to see them all succeed. The cooks actually support and encourage each other as well, and become friends as show progresses. The approach really notches up the drama. Instead of the "I'm not here to make friends," line we get the victor's conflict because their victory is at the expense of someone they care about.

There have been episodes that made me exclaim, "THAT'S how you do drama!" because the show frequently goes beyond what makes good reality programming and into themes that make good cinema, or good novel writing. It has that kind of power to make us engage emotionally with the characters and feel triumph and heartbreak as they do. That's a remarkable thing in any medium, but for it to happen in what's typically the lowest point in our culture is just amazing.

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