Josh Reviews: Iron Chef

It seems like TV’s been raising its standards recently. Cartoon Network has thankfully started to cull its lineup of dated Hanna-Barbera shows in favour of genuinely worthy, innovative stuff. Even much-maligned (and not unfairly so) reality TV has redeemed itself with the emergence of some shows that don’t seem calculated to destroy our faith in humanity. The premise of Iron Chef raises a fevered hope that cooking shows, too, might be about to emerge from the dismal period that’s reigned ever since the Two Fat Ladies sadly became One Fat Lady. Each week (at 7:30 pm, Saturdays, on SBS), one challenger competes against a stable of three Iron Chefs in the fabled Kitchen Arena for nothing less than honour! But does such a brave idea work on screen?

I freely admit that I don’t watch much TV. What TV I do watch is pretty much limited to the news. This should really disqualify me from doing TV reviews, because I’m going to be biased against anything that doesn’t give fair and balanced coverage to all sides of the issue. If I were doing a proper review of a cooking show, I’d want equal air time to be given to the steak and the vegetables. There. Now that I’ve got that off my chest… Iron Chef. Watchability The version currently being shown on SBS is the (original) Japanese version, dubbed into English. The Food Network in the USA (which originally picked this show up and ran with it, much to its advertising-sales team’s delight) made their own version, which has yet to be shown over here. In that light, please be aware that I’m only discussing the Japanese dubbed version… …and therein lies the problem. My one big beef (heh heh. Get it?) with this show is that it’s so quiet. In the dubbing process, the new audio track almost entirely eliminates any noise behind the announcers - it sounds like they’re doing commentary on a snooker match. It just doesn’t do justice to the action in Kitchen Stadium. I look forward to some background music and clanging utensils in the American version. The filming, though, is not to be sniffed at. Although some bits are a bit dark - it could do with a few more floodlights - the visuals come together pretty well. Most importantly, the food looks yummy. Watchability: 710 Listenability: 510 Enjoyability Firstly, I want to apologise for the name of this category. It’s hard to rate a TV show on plot or such, especially when it’s a cooking show. I’ve already done audio and video… so really, at one point or another, you have to rate the show on whether or not it’s fun to watch. There’s no question that Iron Chef is fun to watch. Admittedly, it gets marked down for being a cooking show - you can’t help that, though. There’s simply no way to make baking as riveting as, say, politics or organised crime. Even so, the producers do a commendable job of making the show engaging - live crosses to the floor of Kitchen Stadium, lots of dramatic lighting, and rampant speculation over the secret ingredient. It’s good clean fun, and you can’t claim that it doesn’t have zest. Enjoyability: 810 (Next time, I’m going to be more arbitrary with my categories. If I want to rate shows by the number of times we see the cameramen or the number of shiny things hanging on the walls, I will!) Shiny factor Well… firstly, there are so many neat appliances! And they’re all brushed metal! And it’s subtitled in parts, which is also shiny. The dubbing is a bit mediocre, which is not shiny. Shiny factor: 810 Overall I genuinely wanted to like Iron Chef. It’s got a great concept, looks good on paper, and it really has heart. Two things stood in my way, though. Firstly… I’m just not a fan of cooking shows. It might take some time to get over this little bias of mine. Secondly, it just isn’t very exciting to watch. It’s certainly engrossing… but the excitement factor just isn’t there, and you can almost entirely blame the soundtrack. If it were cranked up another notch, this would be a show worthy of watching. I still await the American version with bated breath. Overall: 610. Give it a try - you may well like it more than I did.