Gordon Ramsay's Cook-Along: A Brand Nightmare

I happened to catch the start of Gordon Ramsay’s new series on Fox the other night, called Cook Along with Gordon Ramsey. “Start” is the operative word here - the thing was so wretched I couldn’t stand more than 10 minutes. Here is a guy who has carefully, patiently cultivated a persona of being a bombastic, arrogant, f-bomb dropping, hair-tearing, egotistical asshole, and now is trying to undo all of that brand equity just when Americans are warming up to him.

Leaving aside the psychology of why we like watching jerks on TV, this new show is just an utter disaster. It tries to be Rachel Ray meets Celebrity Squares meets IronChef. The gimmick is that about 15 regular people on webcams try to follow Gordon through the preparation of a recipe, all visible on a giant screen where they can chat with him in real time. Then there are some celebrity participants in studio and on remote video. For this inaugural show Whoopi Goldberg joined by video (I told you it was like Celebrity Squares), along with LeeAnn Rimes and a number of others in person.

Gordon tries to do an “up with people” schtick, while bantering awkwardly with the celebrities and the regular folks. He looks incredibly uncomfortable and out of place in a giant studio - plainly he is more suited to close combat than stadium sports. His stuttering, staccato delivery doesn’t work well at this scale where we expect things to be more scripted than when we’re following him around with a Steadycam as he tries to rescue another twee English seaside bistro.

The whole thing had a Jeckyll and Hyde character - I don’t really watch Ramsay much, but his persona is solidly planted in my head. Now I was watching something so against type that it made both the old and new Ramsay look completely fake. The artifice of the brand came right up to the surface. The fourth wall was broken, and not in a good way, because the suspension of disbelief that is required to put up with such an acerbic character for multiple episodes got wiped away. He came across instead as just another TV personality with a made-up personality.

I almost puked up in my mouth. Well, if Gordon hired me to critique his show the way he critiques twee English seaside bistros, that’s what I’d tell him. I wish he would hire someone like that to give him the straight bleep.

Gordon, stick with what you do best, before you set your brand back a decade. Go back to being an f-bomb dropping a-hole. Please.