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Consumed is the kind of restaurant reality show we’ve been waiting for

Consumed is the kind of restaurant reality show we’ve been waiting for
Melba Wilson, owner of Melba's, on CNBC's fascinating series Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business. (Photo by CNBC)

CNBC’s Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business is the kind of restaurant reality show I’ve been waiting for.

It’s not yet another makeover series, and certainly not one of those Food Network abominations that hires actors. There’s no screaming chef who comes in to trash the place, scream at people, and repaint it.

Instead, it’s a documentary-style series that simply follows restauranteurs and explores their real struggles, and it’s even more dramatic than those other shows. I’ve been wanting this kind of show for a long time.

Yes, there was Rocco DiSpirito’s Mark Burnett-produced The Restaurant in 2003 and 2004, but it was more like The Real Housewives, cast for drama and obviously staged. Most recently, Bravo’s Tom Colicchio-hosted Best New Restaurant tried but was like a bad combo of bad Food Network shows.

Consumed doesn’t even have a narrator, though there is one in the trailer, which makes the show seem more aggressive than it actually is.

I’ve only seen the first episode, which debuted last night and repeats tonight at 7 p.m. ET, but the first hour breezed by.

I became particularly attached to Melba, who for me so far is the star of the show. She’s successful and ambitious yet also willing to own up to her screw-ups. She also brings warmth, which is a nice contrast to the other four people the first episode introduced, all of whom cozied up to the line of grating and irritating.

Yet I’m invested in their stories, too: two brothers whose family business is falling apart, two friends who are considering expanding their super-successful chain The Meatball Chain outside of New York.

The series is just like dipping in to people’s lives already in progress, not watching as they film a reality series. All three restaurants are on the cusp of big decisions, but those don’t feel like they’re artificially constructed for the sake of the show.

For example, Melba is debating what to do with an empty storefront next door, and that seems like it could be a conceit. Except she rented it more than a year ago and has wasted more than $100,000 renting it because she’s scared of failing.

Two more businesses will be introduced in future episodes, and I’m interested to see how that plays out. These three could carry the season on their own, and I don’t want the narrative spread too thin.

With Restaurant Startup, CNBC seemed to be trying to capture some of the magic of its break-out hit series The Profit, but for me that show just doesn’t work on multiple levels. It’s aggressively annoying.

Consumed, however, is like The Profit without Marcus Lemonis. As much as I love him, it really works just to watch the day-to-day reality of restaurant life in New York City.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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