America’s Next Great Restaurant: great idea, quite a mess of a first episode

I was really looking forward to America’s Next Great Restaurant, NBC’s reality competition that debuted last night. But it was pretty a freaking awful first episode.

It should have been great: It’s a smart concept, 10 people competing to open a mini-chain of restaurants based on their original ideas. They’ll be challenged Apprentice-style, and also mentored, because the judges are actually investors, too. On top of that, it’s produced by Magical Elves, the production company behind Top Chef that basically created the genre of talented people being challenged when they produced Project Runway.

So why is it such a mess?

First, the structure of the first episode was flawed: A group of 21 had to be narrowed to 10, which is fine, but the judges started cutting people immediately. And that made it obvious that the final 10 were clearly pre-determined, because if they weren’t, the judges wouldn’t have been so flippant about cutting or accepting people so fast after barely hearing anything. So the cooking and the presentations (which should have been modeled after Masterchef and Shark Tank, respectively) fell flat because there was zero consequence and that was very obvious from the first few moments.

But even within that structure, it was bad, introducing people who disappeared seconds later. I laughed out loud at the woman with the hilarious voice whose restaurant concept was called Soupz because it involved soups. And she seemed to have an interesting idea, but the judges dismissed it and after some awkward cutting between them and a bad Bobby Flay voice-over, she was gone. The editing was choppy and rushed, and a lot just went unaddressed; one person’s pot pie restaurant concept was called Pot Belly. Um, there’s an awesome sandwich chain called Potbelly already. Google, anyone?

And let us not forget Bobby Flay. He was awful–or at least, was edited to appear awful. First, about 90 percent of everything he said appeared to be recorded later, and it was painfully obvious. I like him as a judge on The Next Food Network Star, but I think it’s more because his short, to-the-point bluntness balances well with the warmth of Susie and Bob, who are the real stars of that judging table. Here, he was in charge of dismissing contestants, and that came with none of Tom Colicchio’s detailed but brief explanations.

The biggest problem, however, is that there isn’t much to encourage people to tune in next week. A lot of the ideas seemed weak, at least in their presentation to us. Grilled cheese, really? And since the show spent so much time introducing us to people who disappeared, there isn’t a lot of depth to the contestants as characters yet. (This is a problem all elimination shows have; American Idol addressed it this year by relentlessly focusing on people who ultimately made it to the semi-finals, all but ignoring two of the four rooms of people who got cut during Hollywood week.)

I’ll stick around for another episode or two, at least, but like so many other shows, this seems like a great idea turned bland and generic by mashing it with the standard network TV reality formula.

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.