Remember when you were in grade school and you got sick and you got to stay home and watch daytime TV and you couldn’t believe what creatures were living in the enchanted daytime forest? Daytime TV was weird, because it was all for preschoolers, who enjoy primary colors
And then maybe accidentally you landed on
puffy frosted ladies naked to the shoulders in bed with guys that looked like Canadian gym teachers.
Daytime TV has changed. Soaps began dying a couple of years ago, Oprah ate a lot of talk shows for lunch (2008 was the last year the Daytime Emmys aired), cable gives us niche programming and then we can Tivo the time-space continuum into a knot. At 2 pm, you don’t have to watch puppeteering or weird cheap filler anymore.
You ladies can return your leotards to the future now, show’s over.
Here's the weird thing: The Food Network and its brother the Travel Channel still feel like old-school daytime. Before the grownups come home from work and Ted Allen shows up in a three piece suit on the Food Network, or Anthony Bourdain investigates the real Cambodia for the Travel Channel (Bourdain, the consummate grown-up:"How do you sum up Cambodia? You don't.") both stations' programming is either for children, or it's soft core porn!
Travel Channel's Man V. Food.
This is a children’s television show for grownups starring a giant child named Adam Richman who will do anything for your love, and will win it. He is good-hearted and uses simple words, he dresses like a baby in shirts that are too short and he nails the simple dramatic conceit (which I GUESS HE LEARNED AT YALE DRAMA SCHOOL?????) that it is entertaining to watch someone eat something that should not be eaten.
Charlie Chaplin's Shoe Soup LOL in 3D
This is Double Dare meets Meets Kids Incorporated meets a good half-cup of Pepto Bismol. E.g. Sloppy Adam takes the physical challenge, eats a burger stuffed with "ghost chilis," which are 10,000 times hotter than jalapenos. He hollers, like a little boy in a cape making up the rules of a fantasy game, “This burger is my mortal enemy!” He rides around a place called Chunky’s Burgers in Alamo City, Texas on an invisible pony hi-fiving people who will shortly watch his throat close as he screams “OH IT’S TERRIBLE.”
[clip of Richman sweating, drooling, clawing at table, while throng of texans cheer.]
He survives, jams fingers into a glass of milk, says “Shoulda gone to law school.” This is a joke because children can't go to law school.
The other main character in Man v Food, the Ginger to Richman's hairy barreling Fred, is not so much food as it is SAUCE, made of a bushel of ground chilis and the Devil's pituitary gland. It's Gak all over again, it's Moose getting slimed.
It's classic Nickelodeon.
But if the Travel Channel is all Nickelodeon and Double Dare, then the Food Network is Sesame Street.
Food Network: Guy's Big Bite
Did you know that "bite" is French for “dick”? This is a fact. Not a fact: CAJUN CHICKEN PASTA ALFREDO, which I watched Fieri prepare. I'm sorry, cajun chicken pasta alfredo is not a fact, it is a wish, it is a dream dreamed by baby born in a bowling alley. Guy Fieri is that baby’s genie. His cooking show is for that baby.
His studio is bright orange, there are children's props everywhere, like nozzled bottles, a baby-blue bicycle, and a wall covered in Lego-colored license plates, which Fieri probably hammered in upstate NY circa 1994 but the children don't know this. They also don't know Lemon Math, which Guy will learn them.
[clip: Fieri squeezes a lemon, says, "Gonna give this half a lemon a a half a squeeze—so about a quarter."]
I only realize that I am not watching Sesame Street when the ads run: Guy Fieri’s Big Bite is sponsored not by Mattel or Gogurt, but by Beano, Febreeze air freshener, Brawny paper towels, match.com, and anti-aging cream, which I suppose implies that its ideal viewer is a farty lonely aging stinking slob. Sad. Moving on.
Food Network: Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.
The biggest secret of a restaurant chef is that it lives in Fraggle Rock.
If Guy Fieri teaches math, then Secrets host Anne Burrell in her equally brightly-painted rumpus room studio teaches spelling.
[clip of Burrell saying "now we're going to go ahead and BTB and then RTS. Remember what that means? That's right, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer."]
Like Fieri, who almost exclusively uses the verb "to pop"-- he pops things in the oven or out of their husks-- Anne Burrell uses a kid-friendly slang, nurturing and simple. She looks up from a head of red cabbage like a school nurse about to do something a little painful and says "Let's give my hand one more little rinse." I feel uncomfortable. Back to the Travel Channel.
Travel Channel: Ribs Paradise
Ribs Paradise is a news broadcast. The top story every day is: "America is rabid for ribs." In fact, I am not particularly rabid for ribs at this point because for an hour straight today I have already seen a gallon of atomic red sauce get clown-painted on Adam Richman's sweet hobbit face, while he cried "EVERYWHERE IT TOUCHED ME IT BURNS."
But this, too, is right out of children's programming: it's classic Sesame Street Visits the Peanut Factory.
Ribs Paradise similarly is made of many short segments, perky continuous banjo music, and smiling children holding balloons in places I haven't heard of because they aren't cities.
At this point I'm feeling infantilized and nostalgic, and we're coming up on 4:30 pm, and working people who aren't sloppy truants or children will be coming home soon, and normal things will be on Television, things that people anticipate because they are All New! or Primetime! Grown ups like Ted Allen and Anthony Bourdain will use big words and knives. Ted Allen will give away $10,000 on Chopped. BORING. Not enough slime.
But in this crepuscular transition to prime time, the Food Network swings to the other pendulum of daytime: Shhh. Hush it up. Pull those sheets juuust above your bosoms and hop into bed, because it's time for soft-core.
Yes. Talkin about some 4:30 PM. Talkin' about some satin. Talkin' about warm me up for prime time.
Except also this, just after Giada:
No I know; I know you're gonna. Ina, I know you're gonna come after me with that Gala apple. You've done it before and you'll do it again.