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MUELLER: My hunger for the Food Network

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I’m going shock all five of my loyal readers right now.

This column is not going to be about movies. In fact, I’m not even going to use the word “movie” from this point forward. I’ll give you a brief moment to pick your stunned jaws up off the floor.

You see, the five hours of the day I’m not spending in a theater are usually spent either sleeping or eating a healthy dinner of Hot Pockets, Dr. Pepper and a side of Skittles (Peanut Butter M&M’s if I’m feeling really body-conscious). My third, and favorite, non-film related part of my life is watching the single greatest achievement in the history of television: the Food Network.

The Food Network is something that could only exist in an overindulgent society. It’s not television about health. It’s not even about how to cook food properly (it has banished most of its actual cooking shows to early mornings and afternoons). It is instead television created merely to look at food adoringly. Just imagine trying to explain that to someone living in a country suffering through drought or coping with hunger.

However, it’s easy to forget your first world guilt since the Food Network is so freakishly, incredibly watchable.

When I say that the Food Network is the single greatest achievement in the history of television, it is only a slight hyperbole. When I want to watch TV (which is admittedly rare), I mainly have two goals in mind: I want it to either be mild entertainment so I can turn my brain off without hating myself, or I want it to serve as pleasant background noise for some other activity, like homework or cooking my Hot Pocket.

The Food Network serves as both of those things. When I’m working on an article or studying, it’s the perfect complement. It’s not too bright and complicated to completely draw your attention away from what you need to get done. At the same time, it’s entertaining enough to be the ideal little study break when all the typing and head scratching get too stressful. I mean, what better way to dissolve worries of an upcoming final than watching a mouth-watering plate of tasty toasted ricotta gnocchi come together?

And that brings me to the food itself. Oh, the glorious food. I don’t think you have to be a cinematic genius to direct for the Food Network, but they do know how to make a dish look so delicious, you ponder whether you should fly halfway across the nation to get a taste.

Most of these scrumptious temptations are showcased on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” or as my mother and I call it, “Food Porn.” Every episode, the show asks about five or six of the channel’s stars about their favorite dishes, and they take about five minutes to dissect every flavor and nuance.

Every episode is utterly drool-worthy.

Viewers not only get teased by scintillating shots of delicious food, but they often also get a trip behind the scenes to see how the magic comes together. It’s almost informative – if, that is, there is a chance in hell you will attempt to make these dishes yourself (don’t fool yourself; you won’t).

Yes, I’m aware the show functions essentially as glorified advertising for their various featured restaurants. However, it’s easily the most satisfying product placement on television, and the Food Network celebrities are mostly entertaining and informative to watch (except you, Guy Fieri).

Of course, there’s also “Chopped,” which provides the cheapest, lightest thrills of all. The show follows four chefs, each given a basket of mystery ingredients and 20 minutes to make a tasty dish. When the time runs out, they present their plates to the judges, and one of the chefs gets “chopped.” The rest move on to the next round until there’s only one champion remaining.

It’s terrifically hokey and predictable. The contestants’ dramas all blend into one big cliché after a while: One contestant will have a family story; another contestant will be a jerk for the sake of “good television.” Plus, you get the awesome Food Network editing and production, which adds dramatic music cues to sentences like “You overcooked the risotto” and “You call this breaded eggplant?”

But it’s all goofy fun, and every now and then, it’ll deliver a few tasty combinations or interesting characters to follow.

I’ll admit the Food Network isn’t flawless. Some of the shows are misses. For instance, “Restaurant Stakeout” – a show about finding and exposing bad service at restaurants – is an example of the kind of “gotcha” entertainment that just serves to make people feel better about themselves by laughing at others’ shortcomings and failures.

“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is also the screen saver of entertainment. It’s tolerable for background noise, but if my eyes stay glued to it for more than five seconds, I become bored. It’s just a guy driving around and telling people what they already know about their cooking.

Even with its flaws, though, the Food Network is still the only station my television ever lands upon. It’s almost as wonderful as watching a movie. Well, maybe I shouldn’t go that far.

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