The Masked Singer was not just the most-popular unscripted show last year, but tied as the #1 most-popular non-sports show on all of TV, so I can’t blame Fox trying to duplicate its success by creating an entire universe of reality TV guessing games. Having attempted dancing (The Masked Dancer, ugh), singing (I Can See Your Voice, ugh), and talents (Game of Talents, ugh), they’ve now moved on to baking. Crime Scene Kitchen has a clever idea at the core, though the most-obvious crime here is that its central idea was plagiarized from one of Quibi’s best series, Dishmantled.
The major crime, though, is what a wasted opportunity this is. Leave it to the producers of Big Brother to create a show called Crime Scene Kitchen and not actually include a crime scene, or anything resembling one, or anything resembling entertainment.
On Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox, Wednesdays at 9), 12 teams of two bakers have a few minutes to independently look around a kitchen where something has allegedly been baked. Their goal is to identify and then re-create that dessert in their own kitchen. To prevent the contestants from cheating, they work in brightly pastel-colored booths, from which they cannot see the other teams. It’s a nice-looking set but ends up walling them off, literally, so there’s no interaction between the teams. There are also only six booths, so half of the teams will be introduced in episode two, and apparently merge sometime in the future. (Fox provided TV critics with only the first episode.)
Using an actual crime scene even as a metaphor may be in poor taste, but I’ve been so desensitized by all of the true-crime reality TV that I was absolutely willing to entertain it. Having just watched Army of the Dead, I was even ready for some disgusting images. But instead of anything resembling a crime scene, the producers have just offered a carefully staged, almost immaculately clean kitchen set. If you’re going to drop the crime scene metaphor completely, why not at least make a huge mess? Throw flour around, splatter raspberry puree on the walls, drop eggs on the floor like little cracked skulls.
The kitchen is comically unrealistic, and doesn’t resemble a space in which someone has just done anything, especially not baked, though that’s supposed to be the idea. Instead, there are just clues carefully placed around: a dusting of cinnamon on the cinnamon’s lid, a pile of pie tins, or cake pans drying in a rack. The idea is that someone just baked in this kitchen, so the contestants should notice cake pans in the drying rack (i.e. bake a four-layer cake), but ignore the (since they haven’t been used). Some of the clues require attention to detail, but those aren’t presented well enough for us to play along.
What The Masked Singer and Fox’s other guessing game shows all had were a sense of whimsy, of not taking the whole thing too seriously. So it’s baffling that Crime Scene Kitchen is so humorless; it’s almost like it wants to be taken seriously as a baking competition despite its name and premise. And dropping in Joel McHale as host doesn’t give the show a personality, it gives it occasional jokes/dry observations. (“This staring contest is nuts,” he says during the required pause before he announces which team gets eliminated.)
The results of the contestants’ guessing and baking are judged by Yolanda Gampp, who you may have seen judging Cake Wars or on her How to Cake It videos, and Curtis Stone, who you may have seen on short-lived, ill-conceived, one-season shows such as FOX’s My Kitchen Rules, NBC’s America’s Next Great Restaurant, and Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates and Top Chef Duels.
One episode is not enough to gauge their judging or chemistry, but it is enough time to declare that the process is excruciatingly boring. That’s primarily because neither the contestants nor viewers are told what the original dessert was, so the judging is just a string of meaningless statements: Gampp tells one team, “You’ve made the best looking dessert so far, but it might not be right.” The judges just have to keep saying versions of that over and over again, and so does Joel McHale: “If you’re right, then you’re probably safe.” By the time the reveal came, I was so grateful to be done with all that “probably” and “maybe” that I didn’t even remember who’d gotten it right.
There’s no functional difference between the two rounds, which begs the question why there are two rounds, and I think that’s because there’s not enough show for even one round. While there is a clever idea at the core, it belongs to Dishmantled, the short-lived Quibi competition hosted by Tituss Burgess, on which contestants were splattered with a dish and then had to recreate it. What Dishmantled had going for it was speed: six-minute episodes were almost too long for a competition that was more of an idea than a show. You can now watch all of Dishmantled thanks to Roku, and you should do that instead of watching Crime Scene Kitchen.
Crime Scene Kitchen: C–