On Sunday night VH1 debuted “Famous Food,” which may be my choice for world’s worst TV show title ever. I keep picturing little club sandwiches dancing around in fabulous Oscar gowns, leaving a trail of mayonnaise and organza behind them. Anyway, watching dancing club sandwiches might be a more satisfying experience than viewing “Famous Food” unless you’re determined to find some redeeming quality in a bunch of D-list celebrities shrieking at each other about Asian fusion cuisine. Maybe you can, oh, figure out a decent drinking game. I suggest you take a slug every time DJ Paul or Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia say “stripper pole” or “whore.” You may need to have your stomach pumped halfway through, but the upside is that you won’t have to watch the whole episode.
On the surface, “Famous Food” is almost an interesting concept. These days, pseudo-celebrities have to work hard for the dregs of their fifteen minutes, and this show challenges our barely-recognizable cast (“Real Housewife” Danielle Staub
, the previously mentioned rappers, “pop culture phenomenon” Heidi Montag
, “Bachelor” Jake Pavelka
, “Sopranos” star Vincent Pastore
and politician’s-ahem-consort Ashley Dupre
) to work together to open a brand-new restaurant of their own design in just 28 days – while clawing one another’s eyes out for their chance to be the one winner of the show. Yes, that veritably screams teamwork. The lucky winner gets a “partnership stake” in said restaurant. I’m not sure how much of a prize that might be, given that I’m fairly sure the finished product will be rife with health code violations and a likely candidate for Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” but okay.
Almost as quickly as the lovey-dovey introductions are over on the debut episode, the screaming, cursing and backbiting begins. The team (and I use that word loosely) must come up with a concept, a cuisine and a name and it’s pretty much all downhill from there. Pastore wants old-school Italian on the menu, which Staub dismisses as stuff that will make customers look like, well, Pastore. The Three 6 Mafia guys want stripper poles. Montag's totally fine with that. Staub wants a celebrity chef to create an Asian fusion menu because God knows there isn’t enough of that on every third food truck in the city, which inspires Montag to ask, “You mean like Benihana?” I’m assuming she was being snide but I can’t be sure. Pavelka and Dupre sit wide-eyed on the sidelines like Bambi and Flower in a crate of rabid bull terriers, trying to encourage their castmates to play nice together. At one point Dupre tries to be helpful (bad idea) and suggests picnic bench seating. Staub snaps, “This is why we’re looked down upon in the workplace.” This is said by the woman who considers her “work” in champagne rooms viable experience for running a restaurant. When you find yourself rooting for the former prostitute, you know you’re in trouble.
Anyway, the group decides on a cuisine that sounds thoroughly disgusting but is cool because it’s fusion – Asian-soul food! – and agrees on an equally terrible name for the restaurant, Fame. But when Pastore starts pointing out that he’s an expert with connections because he ran discos in the 1970s, things get really ugly between Staub and Big Pussy. And we’re not supposed to call him that on this show, but I would think anything to remind us of better days in his career would not be a bad thing.
Danielle and Montag see in one another similar sensibilities/bad plastic surgery and decide to skip downstairs to drink wine and gossip for “research purposes” while Pastore invites his good, orange friend Richie to help the team get their restaurant going. Richie seems more interested in licking Dupre than actually offering his help, but that’s really the least of this team’s problems.
Finally, the puppetmasters behind this whole sordid enterprise, Mike Malin and Lonnie Moore of The Dolce Group (themselves reality TV survivors) pop in to shake their heads in disgust at both the name and the concept, praise Dupre for her picnic table idea and basically make Staub want to frown at them, if only she still could. They’re back to ground zero! And we’ve lost an hour of our lives! I’d honestly say we’re the poorer in this equation.
Yes, this is trainwreck TV and everyone involved (except poor, wide-eyed Pavelka and Dupre) knows their roles and how to play them. But the problem is, everyone seems to be vying for the position of Most Despicable, Shrieking Asshat (except for Pavelka, Dupre and possibly the Three 6 Mafia guys, who are just interested in saying, "Stripper pole!" as frequently as they can). At the end of the debut episode, I not only wanted the finished restaurant to suck, but I also wanted it to burst into flame and consume everything inside it, including the cast of "Famous Food." I'm all for trainwreck TV. It's the ones that drive me to homicidal thoughts that might be overshooting the target.