Like a promising restaurant opening before its service staff was fully prepped, “The Chew” premiered on ABC Daytime on Sept. 26 with likable hosts struggling to keep up with frantically paced live TV. While the food-centric weekday talker is far from the well-oiled machine of 15-year-old inspiration and network sister “The View,” it’s also nowhere near the instant SOS situation of CBS’ “The Talk.” With only mild modifications to its recipe, ABC could easily offer up a tasty dish for viewers to “Chew” on.
The central problem to emerge from the first three episodes is an overstuffed approach to infotainment, valuing quantity over quality. Recipes are erratically explained and hastily executed, host banter has little time to breathe between branded segments, and every dollop of information cues rapturous applause from the studio audience, establishing a regrettably cheesy infomercial vibe.
While each hour is packed with tips, demonstrations and audience taste tests, very little of the Food Network-on-fast-forward presentation feels coherent or complete. It’s no wonder the show’s official website reportedly crashed on day one; going online is the only way a home chef could’ve properly recreated what they saw onscreen.
Fortunately, the most crucial component to a daily gabfest comes in who’s manning the ship, and “The Chew” roped in five strong personalities to keep it afloat. Give four stars to master of Italian cuisine Mario Batali, the quickest wit and least rattled by the show’s breakneck speed. Piped in via satellite from a charity event on day one, Batali’s presence in the studio was a major boost to days two and three. He showed particular grace under pressure in the silliest segment so far: a pointlessly compressed version of “Iron Chef” that forced him to whip up a dish from a grocery bag of seasonal mystery ingredients with only three minutes left in the hour.
The other four co-hosts each fill a distinct niche: Batali’s fellow “Iron Chef” Michael Symon is the meat-loving Midwesterner with a goofy grin and emphasis on family, “Top Chef” all-star Carla Hall brings high energy Southern soul to signature recipe-saving segment “It’s Gon’ Be,” “What Not to Wear” co-host Clinton Kelly specializes in cocktails and entertaining expertise, and 25-year-old author of “The Dorm Room Diet” Daphne Oz (whose father, Dr. Mehmet Oz, fronts his own daytime show) focuses on health and nutrition.
While their chemistry hasn’t quite gelled — especially difficult with the show still rushing from segment to segment — there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. And the variety of voices increases the possibilities for audience identification and interest. Unlike say, “The Rachael Ray Show,” where viewers are forced to take or leave a single style of celebrity chef chatter, “The Chew” hopes there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.