Emeril Lagasse, the restaurateur who taught America to cook by setting the heat to high, throwing items into a pan and yelling “bam!,” starts his network career with the burners on simmer. Telegenic to a certain degree, Lagasse’s experience in front of the camera helps in his transition to a sitcom, but he doesn’t have the power to overcome the weak script and perfunctory feel-good tone of the pilot.
Lagasse’s timing works with about half the jokes he’s given, and, in fact, they flow more easily than the studied delivery of his co-stars. Robert Urich, as his agent Jerry McKenney, is hemmed in as a superficial type obsessed with cleanliness and self image. He does a decent job with what he’s supplied, but one figures their relationship will not immediately evolve into the show’s centerpiece.
Pilot finds Lagasse and his crew at “Emeril” — a replication of his Food Network show, only now he’s on the fictional Food Channel — being told to take it down a notch in the fat content. Network nudge (Tricia O’Kelly) trades potshots with Lagasse’s production crew — played by Lisa Ann Walter, Sherri Shepherd and Carrie Preston — as they agree to a network-wide monthlong dieting contest. Cooking show goes for tofu and tomato water recipes that are greeted with hoots of derision from the Food Channel studio aud.
The usual exercise, hunger and food jokes ensue — all of it supported by an overly loud laugh track — until Lagasse and McKenney come up with a plan to beat the “balsamic vinegar swilling yuppie show.” Celebration of the victory entails, what else, an enormous spread of fried chicken, barbecue ribs and other goodies.
Female members of the cast are given little to do, the characters barely distinguishable; is there a sitcom handbook out there that says no show gets on the air unless it includes a gaggle of supporting actors with too many lines?
At one point, Lagasse debates the Food Channel exec and even allows “fat’s been good to me.” He’s dead right with that one, it’s just that “Emeril” needs more meat if it plans to make it beyond the November sweeps.