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If when in the presence of People or Us magazines you, like me, find your eyes unfocusing and your hands reaching inexorably to flip then you've probably dipped into the one-hour Chefography shows on Food Network. The second series runs this week, and will be occupying two big five-hour blocks tonight and Sunday afternoon.
(Note: I haven't meant to harp on FN so much recently, it's just that it's so ... loud. I swear I'll write more about other TV creatures soon, like hottie Andreas Viestad--Norway's Naked Chef?--from New Scandinavian Cooking. Despite Viestad's bizarro halting delivery, I do like watching him cooking outside in brisk apple-cheeked health, doing fearless things to salmon. There must be some good dirt there.)
I haven't caught all these cheffy biographies yet, but I did watch most of Nigella Lawson. Was very curious how they'd handle her. The shows all follow the same formula: every episode, no matter what's come before, ends with the subject's final realization of a dream and arrival at (surprise) Food Network. The shows may start out juicy and full of personal details--rely on them, in fact, to hold viewer interest--but they disintegrate into press kit fodder. And, unsurprisingly, FN managed to do that with Lawson's life story too, despite the fact that she's actually led a more interesting life than many of her colleagues (the last ten minutes of the Giada DeLaurentiis episode is devoted to how their most recent shooting location fell through).
An Oxford-educated, food-writing daughter of a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, who's married to the world's most famous Iraqi Jewish art collector and whose mother, sister, and first husband all died early deaths from cancer, Lawson is one of the most publicly-dissected, written-about (by herself, by people who know her well, by journalists who don't) celebrities in the world, although not all of that has drifted across the pond. Not only has much of her life been heavily documented in print and film, but the writing about her has been written about, and writing about the writing's been written about. It's all just beyond meta, with all these multilayered versions of her twanging about, many of them contradicting themselves. The "Chefography" piece didn't tackle any of that. All it meant was that anytime they needed footage of her life, they had it.
Also not covered, or just hinted at: her recent failed (and how) talk show, which I think was the last thing she did before her current U.S. show; her role in public life in England, from her effect on sales of prunes and goose fat (positive), to the nasty rumors about the speed and nature of her second marriage to Charles Saatchi (they also didn't do much to describe Saatchi, himself a serious public figure); the nature of her first husband's cancer (his tongue was removed because of it) and how it played into her food writing, as well as the criticism of the access cameras had in their life at that time (the scene "Chefography" used more than once, in which she kisses him goodbye on a hospital gurney, had been criticized); her recent exploration of her Jewish background. I know they can't cover everything, but their version was very...filed-down. Just more high-powered talking heads (Richard E. Grant, Nigel Slater) than other shows.
What really ought to be interesting? Is the Sandra Lee episode. Just how are they going to tackle that creature? Her recent nasty divorce? The anti-Sandy shrikes? The romance with whats-his-name Cuomo (are they still dating)? The nasty food? Will be interesting. Or...boring.