The Black Box: “Emeril”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.

This week, we kick things up a notch! And then down five or six notches.

Ok, so this week I kind of have to start out with an explanation. Emeril Lagasse was (and I guess still is?) a celebrity chef of high renown. He was a well-regarded restauranteur and television personality throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. And, to his credit, he has been a part of numerous highly successful television shows throughout his career. Today’s show is not one of those.

“Emeril” a sitcom loosely based on Lagasse’s life, aired on NBC on… um… yeah, I actually couldn’t find an exact air date for this one. “Heil Honey” had a goddamn air date, but all I can find is that “Emeril” aired sometime between 2000 and 2001. I’m sure that’s a great sign. It had eleven produced episodes, and not even the internet seems to know how many were aired. Anyhoo, the show centered on Emeril, his production team on his cooking show, and his family. The celebrity chef must balance family life, working life, and his aforementioned celebrity. Hilarity ensues… except holy fuck, does that sound convoluted as hell, or what??

What they did right: I’ll be honest here, a good few of the jokes in this do land as intended. In that respect, it’s a lot better than the other sitcoms I’ve talked about, since those were only funny through sheer mind bending horror. It’s just funny enough, in fact…

What they did wrong: …To be really, really mediocre. It’s one of the few things that I can say isn’t bad enough to be entertaining. I’ve been really struggling to find a way to make this boring thing funny. So here goes. The plot of the pilot centers around Emeril’s family being unhappy that he’s never home, Emeril trying to do something nice for his wife’s birthday, and Emeril dealing with network notes on his television show. And yes, the show is just as confused and clusterfuck-y as it sounds. There are legitimately way too many characters in this damn thing, between the family and Emeril’s work cohorts. It wouldn’t be so bad if the show didn’t try to give everyone a storyline, but nooooo. The A plot is about Emeril not making time for his wife, which culminates in him using his show to cook her a wonderful birthday meal. That’s a fine plot for an episode, and if that was the whole plot, this might have turned out ok. But we also have the subplot about Emeril’s children being spoiled which goes literally nowhere. They start the episode as spoiled little shit-sacks, and end it as slightly older spoiled little shit-sacks. The third plot is about how the “Culinary Channel” (because they for some-fuckin-reason couldn’t call it the Food Network) is mandating changes to the show that Emeril doesn’t agree with. The problem with this is how avoidable it is. This is Emeril’s show. He would one hundred percent have final approval on all these decisions. At the end of the episode, he tells the network to tear down the entire set they just built, which probably cost thousands of dollars, when he should have been able to nix it’s creation long before this point. Also, don’t even get me started on the fact that the plot revolves around Emeril not having time for his family when this would be his SECOND show on air. Hey, Emeril, you want to see your family? Maybe CUT BACK A BIT!!!

Let’s talk about the humor. This is a comedy after all, right? No, seriously, I’m asking you. While, like I said earlier, a few of the jokes did elicit a chuckle from me, a lot of the humor is weirdly mean-spirited. There are a couple out-of-nowhere jabs at Martha Stewart, feminism, and the female cast members of “Friends”. I mean, they also go after Roseanne Barr and the Church of Scientology, but I’m somehow ok with that. Also, a lot of the humor is definitely dated. They make a “Weakest Link” joke, and if you have no idea what that means… yeah, I had to look it up, too. It’s unclear whether the show wants to have an adult sense of humor about it or not, and it winds up stuck somewhere between “How I Met Your Mother” and “Full House” as a result.

On the actor front, this show is kinda lacking. Emeril has some charm, sure, but he is not an actor by any means. His family and friends are fine, but the standout is nerd high priestess Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, The Guild) who shows up for a single scene. The fact she was in this mediocre piece of television somehow surprised me BOTH times I watched it. You were far too good for this show, Felicia, FAR too good. And yes, I did create an entirely new paragraph about the cast just so I could talk about Felicia Day being in this. What’re you going to do about it?

Speakin’ of Day, the scene she’s in is very weird to me for a couple reasons. In the scene, she plays an employee of Sacks 5th Avenue who is yelled at by Emeril’s two female producers over the unfairly small sizes sold by the store. And while I fully support the idea that fashion should cater to more averagely proportioned women, the characters make the claim the the store in question doesn’t cater to “real women”. Now, I am not a woman, and therefore don’t like to speak for women, but the “real women” thing has always made me uncomfortable because it suggests that women who are genetically skinny/pretty/whatever aren’t “real women” which feels kind of wrongheaded. Plus, less than a scene later, Emeril states that he won’t say a certain joke on air because, “it’s a chick thing”. He also later goes on to proclaim that, while feminists don’t like romance, “chicks love it!” Jesus Christ “Emeril,” if you’re gonna have shitty gender politics, at least be consistent about it.

The premise also leads to some weirdness. If I had to describe this show to someone, I’d say it was “Home Improvement” if Tool Time was a real show that existed. If that doesn’t help ya… I dunno, watch more Nick@Nite, I guess? But it’s strange whenever the episode shows the taping of Emeril’s cooking show, because they show the actual studio audience of the sitcom we are watching, while pretending that they are the studio audience for the fake cooking show. That is mindfuckery on a grand scale. Also, listen Emeril, it’s pronounced “exclamation point” not “explanation point”. You know how I know that? BECAUSE THAT’S HOW IT’S FUCKING SPELLED!!!! God damn it! I know that shouldn’t bother me, but it does.

So that’s it for this week, next week we go in depth on the show I’ve been wanting to review since all this started.

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