“The most magical board game has come to life. It’s going to be insane!” Kristin Chenoweth said at the start of Food Network’s Candy Land. It absolutely is insane: that Food Network combined the magical ingredients of Chenoweth and Candy Land and produced this monstrosity that they should have revealed by yelling, Nailed it! They didn’t.
The first few minutes of Candy Land were dedicated to showing us how 120 people created the “interactive, sugary set,” a version of the Candy Land game board. Making It winner Justine Silva is one of the many craftspeople who took 650 pounds of candy, 170 pounds of chocolate, lots of inspiration from the board game. There’s an even more-detailed behind-the-scenes special, hosted by David Bromstad, that’s far more watchable and engaging than the actual show.
Because there’s a raging pandemic, and this was produced in the middle of it, and because I appreciate attention and time being given to the craft required to produce reality television, I’ll ignore that the edible set is actually just inedible set pieces with some bowls of candy strewn around—and that 2020 has already given us a reality competition in a similar space that was much more elaborate and immersive (Netflix’s Crazy Delicious, an imperfect but GBBO-ish cooking competition where the pantry was the set).
Candy Land’s designers have done a decent job of recreating the aesthetic of the game board, which in the version from my 1980s childhood was relatively sparse, a multi-colored path weaving through and past colorful vignettes and sugary characters: Gumdrop Mountain, Lollipop Woods, Queen Frostine.
The board game itself is simple: draw a card, move to the next space of that color, and try to be the first player to get to Candy Castle.
That’s such a simple format it offers so many opportunities to be translated to television, perhaps with players moving their game pieces or themselves down the path. But no, Candy Land the reality competition doesn’t care about replicating or adapting the game. The teams who aren’t eliminated do have oversize game pieces, but they just picked up them up and walked around and did nothing with them while looking as confused as I was.
It’s very clear Candy Land is only interested in borrowing the board game as a support, over which its producers have thrown the tasteless and overused piece of fondant that is the Food Network “Wars” franchise.
Candy Land is just another Cake Wars
Candy Land’s production company Super Delicious says on its website that they’ve produced “HUNDREDS of episodes of Food Network hits ‘Cupcake Wars,’ ‘Cake Wars,’ ‘Halloween Wars’ (now in season 10), ‘Holiday Wars.'”
And now they’ve produced more—gathering teams of cake and sugar artists to create themed builds. They’ve even recycling contestants from other Food Network competitions, including Reva Alexander-Hawk and Jordan Pilarski.
The contestants are in teams, and their captains randomly assigned, and they’re eliminated as teams, but there are only five teams? For a seven-episode series? Is there going to be a merge? Will it become an individual game?
The game is incoherent. The judging is baffling. You could eat bags of candy, puke on the Candy Land game board, and you’d still have less of a sugary mess than this show.
In the first episode, the teams “drew cards,” which I put in scare quotes because Kristin Chenoweth handed them giant, oversized cards, basically telling them what station the producers had pre-assigned them to.
There was a mid-challenge challenge—how creative—during which the teams had to produce something actually edible, since all the candy and chocolate deployed on these shows just produces inedible displays. After some stilted feedback, the judges didn’t announce a winner, just a loser, who received a punishment.
That did give us the gift of Kristin Chenoweth leading the loser to Licorice Lagoon, where she read instructions from a scroll, briefly in Lord Licorice’s voice. The loser had to find red licorice in a barrel of black licorice and goo, and when she found the first red piece, Kristin Chenoweth said, “Here, I’ll hold it.” The contestant demurred: “You sure?”
“Give it to me,” Kristin Chenoweth said. I wanted her to say the same thing to the producers, who didn’t give her enough to do. She spends way too much of the show standing around, because they haven’t conceived of this as a role for her, they’ve just plopped her into the space occupied by the host of Cake Wars. (She does make the best of the moments she has, like singing “candy down!”—instead of, say, Padma’s “Utensils down, hands up”—or making the same face as a winking lemon face.)
The judges have been similarly hampered. “Make me something that makes sense in this world,” Aarti Sequeira tells the contestants at the start of the episode, and then at the end she and fellow judge Nacho Aguirre eliminated a team for making a lemon fairy for being, as Aarti said, “not specific enough to that world.” The world was Lemon Lime Springs.
The lemon fairy wasn’t perfect, especially its wings, but if you’re going to eliminate four players, give us a better reason. Some of what Aarti said was ADR—audio recorded later, which the editing pretended she was speaking in the moment—which is never a good sign.
Food Network relentlessly and energetically promoted Candy Land with promo after promo. If only they’d put the same effort and energy and time into taking these spectacular ingredients and making something creative instead of pressing Copy on its stalest franchise. Not all the frosting and candy decorations in the world can recover an underbaked cake that’s just a puddle of missed opportunity.
Candy Land: C-