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Netflix's Crazy Delicious Re-Invents the Cooking Show in the Garden of Eden

Classic dishes get a makeover in Netflix's elaborately produced new culinary competition.
  • Carla Hall, Niklas Ekstadt, Jayde Adams, Heston Blumethal in Crazy Delicious. (Netflix)
    Carla Hall, Niklas Ekstadt, Jayde Adams, Heston Blumethal in Crazy Delicious. (Netflix)

    You may have noticed that there are a lot of cooking shows out there: celebrity cooking shows, competitive cooking shows, "weird" cooking shows... Two cable channels — Food Network and the Cooking Channel — are entirely dedicated to cooking shows, and that's not even getting into the plentiful selections available on streaming platforms, specifically Netflix. Peak TV has definitely been a boon for anyone who finds these programs compelling or comforting, but it has presented a challenge when it comes to finding new and interesting ways to do a cooking show. Much as other shows have tried, you can't do another Top Chef or another Good Eats. Finding something new and inventive to do ends up being both the mission statement and the premise of the new Netflix arrival Crazy Delicious.

    A co-production with the UK's Channel 4 (which produces The Great British Baking Show), Crazy Delicious tasks its contestants with making inventive food dishes that not only taste great but are visually stunning. The show's key art features a golden apple that, with a bit taken out of it, is revealed to be chocolate cake, and that's the vibe at play. But rather than leave the premise at that, Crazy Delicious takes it to the extreme, with the whole show situated in an elaborate "Garden of Eden" styled set, where everything from the trees to the stream to the dirt is edible. The contestants forage for their ingredients in the garden for every challenge. Moreover, the judges — Top Chef favorite Carla Hall, mad British food genius Heston Blumenthal, and Swedish chef (no, not that one) Niklas Ekstedt — reside on an elevated platform above the contestants, clad all in white, and are called "Food Gods." It's all very elaborate, and quite appropriate for a show about taking one thing and dressing it up into something fantastical. But much like some of the dishes on the show, Crazy Delicious succeeds more on a conceptual level than it does in practice.

    The structure of Crazy Delicious begins with the base ingredient closest to a show like Chopped: three contestants, each experienced cooks but not on the level of a Top Chef contestant, compete across three rounds, with one eliminated after round 2. Some of the rounds are ingredient-based (make something featuring mushrooms, say), while others call for re-inventing a familiar dish like pizza or grilled cheese. The mandate is always that the food taste good but also be something fundamentally imaginative or strange, that is visually striking. The pizza challenge in the first episode is particularly instructive on this count, where one cook's "wacky ingredients on a pizza crust" entry is deemed not inventive enough, while another cook excels by creating a volcano of "rocks" (black pizza dough filled with cheese and tomato sauce) with red-sauce "lava."

    The judges are decently consistent when it comes to balancing these criteria. Each one takes a walk through the cooking stations during one of the rounds and offers their critiques and advice, but while you're never not going to feel delighted by Carla Hall's presence, none of the judges establish firm roles within the critiques (i.e. Paul Hollywood establishing himself as the stickler with a particular aversion to raw pastry dough).

    The Great British Baking Show lineage presents itself in fits and starts. Host Jayde Adams definitely tries her best to bring the lighthearted sweet-snarkiness of Mel and Sue to the table. And her voiceover, in which she describes what each cook intends to create with their dish is delivered in the perfect GBBS cadence, you half expect to see those darling woodcut drawings of the dishes to pop up on the screen. But, while Crazy Delicious keeps the pleasant air of GBBS, it lacks that show's driving force, which is that contestants stick around for full seasons, generating story arcs and building fan support. With a new trio of cooks every episode, you just can't build that kind of loyalty or interest in the contestants, no matter how quirky they often are.

    Perhaps the show's biggest failing — one which could definitely be improved in possible future seasons — is that it never truly capitalizes on its strange garden set. It promises SO much when you see Jayde Adams traverse the edible forest in the show intro. But within the competition, it merely acts as an overly art-directed pantr where the ingredients for that episode are stashed. It's rather baffling that the show doesn't game-ify the foraging stage by making the finding of ingredients more of a challenge. It's the single thing that sets this series apart from its competition.

    Another issue with the show is that it's both too long and overstuffed. At 45 minutes in length, each episode crams in three challenges, despite only using one of them to eliminate a contestant. And if the show isn't going to use that episode length to do cool, Quickfire-esque challenges or the aforementioned foraging segments, then there's just no reason for these not to be brisk, 30-minute, two-task episodes.

    Attempting to re-invent the wheel when it comes to cooking shows is no easy task, and credit is due to Crazy Delicious for trying something new. Ironically, given the content of the show, it turns out Crazy Delicious has all the ingredients, it just isn't inventive enough in how it uses them.

    All six Season 1 episodes of Crazy Delicious drop today on Netflix.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Crazy Delicious, Netflix, The Great British Bake Off, Carla Hall, Jayde Adams, Reality TV