Known primarily for her thrifty 30-minute meals, Food Network’s breakout star Rachael Ray enters daytime TV like a jolt of caffeine to the bloodstream. With an energy level to rival a Jack Russell terrier’s, the vivacious chef brings to mind adjectives such as plucky and perky. Her motto is “Can Do!” Her show seemingly could work on that infectious Sicilian gusto alone. That, and the fact that she’s got Oprah Winfrey in her corner. A Harpo production, the talker is syndicated in 95% of the country by King World. Previews promo the big O herself on day two as a gushing guest. Short of rejecting the queen of daytime’s endorsement like some ill-advised novelist, Ray is as close as it gets to a sure thing.
A more accessible, less felonious version of Martha Stewart, Ray has the basic tenets of being a good host and girlfriend down pat. She’s constantly feeding her audience. She encourages viewers to raid the fridge at commercial breaks. She offers up grocery lists online for the next day’s menu so viewers can cook along. She’s even trimmed down her half-hour dishes to just seven minutes.
It’s a high level of energy to maintain, especially for an hour each day. During her premiere episode, the queen of e.v.o.o. (that’s extra virgin olive oil for the uninitiated) was practically pulsating with nerves. Even the taped segments seemed a bit frantic.
Ray wants to be everything to everyone, imploring the audience to write in so she can help solve problems and spread some of that “can do” attitude, imploring, “Come, let me be your big sister.”
At one point, that enthusiasm turned a bit dangerous when the seasoned chef displayed a bandaged finger. She cut herself with a knife during a commercial break — something she tells the audience must be good luck because she practically sliced off her fingertip on her first day on Food Network. From one sister to another: Calm down. You had us at the creamy pesto.
Perhaps in an effort to balance the energy, Ray’s set features various shades of calming blue, with a New York loft exposed-brick look sprinkled with personal touches. Ray explains the framed prints around the set will change daily, featuring art sent in by kids around the country. Meanwhile, the predominantly female aud sits in pie-shaped wedges that swivel about mechanically and somewhat awkwardly, like tourists in Disney World’s Carousel of Progress.
“These seats,” she tells the overly enthusiastic aud, “I haven’t really Scotch-Guarded yet and we eat here every day, so please be careful not to spill. There’s that, and I haven’t really paid for them yet.”
Even though it’s the star’s first time in front of a live audience, the camera stays close to Ray, capturing her from inside the fridge and behind the canned goods in the pantry. More than a few times, she is looking in the wrong camera. Everybody’s finding their footing.
The prerecorded segments seem standard-issue for daytime, featuring various fans and their quirky requests, talents or tips. Not all are advisable. For instance, one might want to think twice before drying the salad greens in the spin cycle of the washing machine.
The personal stories work better, such as when Ray’s mom pulled a semi-Elvis and sent her shoe flying through the TV because Nixon appeared onscreen. That’s when the family finally graduated to color TV. Her story about running over a cat during her first driving test, however, was a bit of a flop. Our girlfriend is a cat killer? Still, she recovers quickly and offers a nice Webcam bit with a very pregnant audience member who had to miss the first show because of doctor-ordered bedrest.
Diane Sawyer, her inaugural guest, was natural and seemed genuinely enthralled with Ray, sharing her favorite purse items, such as lipstick with a built-in flashlight and socks that she tells Ray are the cure for “slut shoes.”
Naturally, Ray is best in the kitchen. Future episodes look like a better balance of food porn and girly gab, featuring guest spots with Jimmy Kimmel, Jessica Simpson and “CSI: New York’s” Melina Kanakaredes among others. And while the girlfriend angle is nice shtick for Ray, producers would be wise not to neglect the hefty male following she acquired at Food Network. There are two ways to a man’s heart, and Ray’s got both covered.