Pressure Cooker: Season 1

Pressure Cooker
Pressure Cooker
Genre: Reality Competition
Service: Netflix
Release Year: 2023
Watch: Netflix

I swear I won’t spend too much time on this one. Because, frankly, it doesn’t deserve it. My time. Your time. Anyone’s time. This almost cynical attempt to mashup the typical cooking contest show with a Big Brother or Survivor. Unfortunately for us, it fails on both levels. The “characters” aren’t as interesting as they’d hoped. The challenges not as challenging. And the drama just not dramatic. Not even creative editing — something they clearly try to employ — is enough to build whatever tension they envisioned this type of thing engendering.

The idea here is clear. Stick a bunch of chefs in a “house” together, have them cook and then judge each other’s food, vote each other out and watch things burn. Because chefs are artists. And imagine an artist telling another artist that their art stinks. Awkward! And imagine a bunch of competitive people knowing that the other person is a strong artist and voting them out of the contest not because their art is bad, but because they’re insecure about their own art and feel like this person’s better art puts them in jeopardy of being found out. But with like a steak and not a canvas. I get the concept. I get how they wanted it to work. But this assumes that these chefs have as much (or as little) honor as the snakes and egomaniacs who play Big Brother. Or that the stakes are the same. But they’re not. Because artists generally respect other artists. Or at least do on camera. Because it’s a small community and nobody wants to shit on another person — or look like a backstabbing asshat — when this person, or someone related to them, could be a potential future employer or investor. A serious misjudgment here if they intended to build Survivor-like gameplay.

With the exception of one contestant, the chefs mostly play it straight. They try to let their cooking speak for itself and hope that their fellow chefs will vote based on the quality of their food. Sure, some of them try to form alliances and whatnot, but they’re pretty darned civil about it. It’s almost as if you can see them literally thinking about Survivor and being like “Hey, they do that on that show, and this is supposed to be like that, so maybe I should do that?” But their hearts aren’t really in it that way. And the one “game player” is so bad at it, and comes off as such an immature dummy, that it makes everyone’s lack of care about the drama and backstabbing even more obvious. She’s an outlier and almost seems like she was told by the producers to mix things up and try to goose a little intrigue out of this group of undramatic duds.

In terms of the setup, there is no host. All the instruction comes from a faceless producer somewhere who sends instructions through a ticket machine that one of the contestants has to read off. And the chefs sleep not in a house, but on a set. Which also houses the kitchen in which they cook. It all feels like a super-cheap way to produce what feels like a super-cheap show. Like they couldn’t get some third-tier celebrity chef to at least do some on-camera commentary or hosting. I mean, couldn’t Mario Batali use some image rehab? Ok, bad example, but there has to be someone out there who will work cheap and could have added something, anything to this otherwise pretty flat experience.

The thing is, there is one chef who is clearly way better than the others. His stuff is competition worthy. They start the show clearly trying to set him up as the bad guy, but that soon falls apart as he consistently puts out stunning food and shows himself to be an upstanding and honest player. If not a little weird. So they shift focus to the aforementioned young woman, who makes a fumbling attempt to game-ify things, coming off as a craven liar, but ends up seeming more sad than anything else. And as things progress, it becomes more and more obvious what the finale will bring about. Until it doesn’t. And a chef wins who is not the best chef. And seems — through his own words — to actually be one of the more problematic people on the show. The sensitive dude who couldn’t look more like a cook if he tried, cries at the drop of the hat and seemingly admits that he’s been “angry” and “intense” and “demanding” and all the other trigger words one associates with kitchen culture. But without tipping over into the real buzzwords that get you Batalia’ed. Or maybe he is just a sensitive pussycat who happens to redden in the face and cry a lot. Those are always our most stable white dudes. They’re “passionate,” right? Or maybe I’m just scarred from having to deal with a similar type in Scott Rudin in my youth?

I just don’t know if we needed this. In fact, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. It didn’t really serve anyone (no pun intended) in the way the creators probably thought it would. Perhaps they’ll retool for season two. Or cast a bit differently to bring in more assholes. Who will inevitably be worse cooks. I think the concept was just based on an old stereotype of the industry — or at least one before the MeToo era occurred. They assumed they’d fill the kitchen with a bunch of climbers willing to stab each other in the back and play the game, but they ended up with people who actually just wanted to cook with their buddies. That could be a show, I suppose. Just not a very interesting one.