Reality television is not immune to Hollywood’s fondness for resurrecting old brands and reusing intellectual property. In their desperation to break through the clutter hundreds of television shows and more-engaging distractions of TikTok, they claw at anything that may be recognizable.
But with its new cooking competition Easy-Bake Battle, Netflix has done something so very clever: used the IP and then ignored the IP.
When I tuned in to Netflix’s new cooking competition Easy-Bake Battle, I was expecting a battle with—and here was my mistake—Easy-Bake Ovens, the 1960s toy oven with a lightbulb for heat (which was somehow not the first toy oven).
I missed the fact that the word “oven” was actually not in the title, and that Netflix’s press release said simply that the show was “inspired by Hasbro’s iconic Easy-Bake Oven.”
Yet that iconic oven—or at least, its most-recent incarnation, along with boxes of Easy-Bake mix—are right there on the set, only to be ignored.
For the second time in a week, Netflix has taken a beloved brand and turned it into an aggressively generic competition reality TV show.
Queer Eye guacamole guy Antoni Porowski hosts in high-waisted pants with exuberance and excellent enunciation, and serves as an affable judge alongside a different guest judge in every episode.
They’re judging—with a lot of kindness—three contestants, who begin with The Dish Dash, which is a race to finish a dish themed around some real-life situation—making a quick date-night dinner, or deep frying a late-night snack, as one does.
The contestants have limited time to make their dish, but they’re also competing to finish first, placing their dish on a light-up stand to stop their clock.
Antoni explains that the judging will be based on “how easy your dish is,” and says “we’re looking for less time and ingredients, as well as clever time-saving hacks.”
But they are not looking for those things, and I am still looking for clever time-saving hacks, because much like the Easy-Bake Oven itself, those things are mostly missing.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a hack! (And Hacks.) Ever since Food Network handed over its prime-time to 4,918 versions of the same cooking competitions mostly hosted by Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay, instructional cooking has faded from prime-time. Offering a handful actionable tips is a nice way to split the difference between cutthroat competition and education.
Alas, Easy-Bake Battle’s early-episode tips are insightful things like “Haley has grated cheese,” which, go figure, melts faster than not-grated cheese. Episode one guest judge Kristen Kish—who I love and would follow to the worst of shows, which I suppose I have here—says, “One of the greatest home cook hacks for anyone is honestly just frozen spinach.” Is that a hack, or just a thing you buy?
Antoni demonstrates his cooking prowess with his own hack in episode three, which involves cutting a hole in the top of a yogurt container, sticking a teaspoon into it, and then freezing it, in order to produce what he calls “ice cream pops.” That seems more like a magic, turning yogurt into ice cream.
The most-interesting fact I learned in the first two episodes is that Antoni is apparently called “Ant” by those who know him well, or at least that is what Kristen calls him.
One chef in the first episode wraps potatoes in wet paper towels to microwave them, and later does something quite clever I’ve never seen: cooks pasta in the oven by smothering it in seasoned liquid. Alas, that isn’t labeled an “Easy Hack.”
The judging criteria itself is equally curious. On-screen text tells us how long it took each contestant to make their dish, and also shown the number of ingredients, but in one early round, the person who takes the most time and uses the most ingredients wins, while the person who won the race going home.
After The Dish Dash dispenses of one competitor, the other two go on to the The Easy-Bake round to compete for $25,000.
Oh! There it is, the Easy-Bake Oven! Right? Tell me they’re going to actually use the Easy-Bake Ovens that are sitting right there on the set during the round called “The Easy-Bake”?
“Please welcome, the big Easy-Bake Oven, where you’ll have to cook your entire dish,” Antoni tells the second group of contestants. Yay, there it is!
But wait, there’s a catch. “We’ve created a special state-of-the-art and full-sized Easy-Bake Oven, that captures the spirit of the original,” he explains in the first episode.
That full-sized, state-of-the-art, specially-created, spirit-infused Easy-Bake Oven on Easy-Bake Battle? It’s—and I bet you never saw this coming—an oven.
It’s just a standard, commercial, convection oven with french doors, the kind we’ve seen on dozens of reality TV cooking shows. A crummy oven. No light bulb! No sliding something raw one side and pulling it out full baked from the other!
The wall that the oven is embedded in has been designed to roughly resemble an Easy-Bake Oven, because there’s an outline around the actual oven in the shape of a modern Easy-Bake Oven, and some wallpaper inside that and on the oven’s doors. There’s also a fake dial that resembles the toy version, but also you can see the real oven controls right there, because, you know, it’s a real oven.
Because there is no actual Easy-Bake Oven here, the producers have decided to 1) require contestants to make everything in the oven, and 2) the ovens only stay on for 40 of the 60 minutes.
Oh, and by “make everything in the oven,” I meant, “make everything in the oven except for everything that they make in the deep fryer and on the stove.” (The focal point of their dish has to be oven-baked.)
The most-interesting idea that Easy-Bake Battle has is borrowed from Jeopardy!: the champion returns for the next episode. They can win up to $100,000, so there will be no Ken Jennings or Amy Schneiders on Easy-Bake Battle.
All of this produces a handful of fun moments and apparently great-tasting dishes, and it’s good-natured and supportive competition, but without any of the fun or creativity that could come from using the actual brand that’s referenced in the title and being used to draw people in. Yet I suppose Easy-Bake Battle is the perfect show to fit with Netflix’s brand identity: fine, generic, forgettable.
A good-natured but generic cooking competition that has no connection to the toy that inspired it. C-
What works for me:
- One-off episodes with returning champions
- A supportive atmosphere even in a competition
What could be better:
- Coherent criteria
- Hacks that are actually hacks
- Actually using Easy-Bake Ovens