Those of us who have been short of culinary cliffhangers in the last couple of months (except of course the bite-sized re-runs of Celebrity Masterchef on Swap Shop, sorry, Saturday Kitchen) may have found ourselves turning to the Australian and New Zealand,er,ian versions of the franchise on Watch. Last year saw the respective third and first series in their territories and both have been refreshingly understated combinations of education and competition. The plot (it is a plot, this *is* drama, after all) got rather convoluted, with the early leavers getting second chances, the Australians being flown all over the world to cook for different celebrity chefs (this hasn’t happened in the Kiwi version yet, which is probably cautiously finding its way before the big money gets invested) and increasingly complicated ways of serving chocolate mousse.
The competitors were given more prominence, including being part of the titles, and have, certainly in the Australian version at least, gone on to some actual culinary celebrity. It seemed fairly likely that some or all of the new format was going to make it back to the UK, and, after trailers that showed at least one element, the competitors as performers, the new UK series of Masterchef started tonight with, gordon crikey, auditions.
Twitter is all ready full of the accusations of ‘X Factor’-ness, and there are the starts of stories attached to each winner, and some competitors seem to be being picked out for extra attention (the young carpenter who turned up mob-handed with his mates got a Reservoir Dogs film introduction), but Greg Wallace is still Greg, John Torode is still, you know, him and India thingy is still narrating like she’s trying to pass a horse.
The soundtrack is much the same as the Australian and New Zealand versions but far more obtrusive, and the amiable friendliness of the format in Antipodean hands has been overlaid with the usual artificial tension and Greg and John’s Mr Nice and Mr Not-as-nice act. True, it’s only the first night but the emotion is being signposted several miles away all ready.
It is early days, but over the next 98 weeks (sorry, I haven’t seen how long it is, but they’re starting with 20 contestants, and allowing for returns, nervous breakdowns and assassination attempts, and following the Australian version, which was seemingly challenging Mahabarat towards the end, that can’t be far wrong) we’ll see what elements of the new version have been brought in – I’m expecting communal house, early dismissals and returns, and probably a reciprocal week or so in Oz at the very least – and how they’ll be slathered with the artificial tension that detracts from what the show used to be about.