First of all, it’s good to see Emeril back in the kitchen, rocking out with the band and truly enjoying himself and his audience. And while ION’s first episode that premiered on Sunday was far from perfect, Lagasse starts to get his stride by the yet-to-air second episode—and we can only expect he’ll continue to improve as the season progresses. ION scored a coup when it lured one of America’s most famous chefs to the network, and it will probably pay dividends as time goes on. And Emeril fans will notice a number of differences between his ION show and the one he hosted for years on Food Network. For example, the new show focuses less on cooking and more on music and guest interviews. It’s supposed to be a variety show of sorts. Judging from the first couple of eps, it’s clear that each one will sport a theme that carries through the entire show. The first one was a housewarming; the second was a “Staycation.” Ultimately, this is fun stuff. Emeril fans won’t be disappointed. And he might gain a few more Emeril-ites (yeah, I made that up) along the way.
But first, let’s talk about that premiere episode. Not a complete train wreck, but Emeril looked like a man who hadn’t been in front of the camera for a while. An awkward monologue was followed by an endless introduction of the band and unfocused banter before launching into a video segment that was supposed to humorously show his softer side working at a flower shop. It fell pretty flat. Things picked up slightly when he introduced his first guest Martha Stewart and got to cooking, but both of them seemed a bit stiff despite being longtime friends and business partners. Before long, the product placements began: Emeril pointing out the great LG oven. Emeril telling his audience to only use Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil (Cut to a nicely stacked end-cap of Reynolds Wrap boxes on his counter). Emeril hawking retail partner Macy’s. Emeril pushing Stewart’s line of plates and silverware. It eventually became overbearing. Yes, someone has to pay the bills for the show, but the constant infomercial feel eventually started to feel forced rather than organic.
A high point of the first ep was an interview with hyperactive wine expert and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, who goaded Emeril to give his wine a good “sniffy sniff” before drinking. By this point in the show, Emeril was gaining his sea legs, and it was clear that he would eventually find his way. Another high point was Emeril’s interaction with the audience, which is much more intense in his new show (and that’s saying a lot, considering the level of interaction during his old show “Emeril Live” on Food). A segment pits three audience members in a contest to win a secret prize under the “Big Bam Box.” In the first ep, audience members had to figure out obscure kitchen implements. In the second one, it was a bizarre food eating contest. In each case, Emeril seemed comfortable mixing it up with “regular folks,” and it’s obvious that his love of people is what keeps him going.
To be sure, the second ep airing Sun, April 25, makes many improvements over the premiere, including fewer product placements and a generally more comfortable host. Emeril’s banter with Sherri Shepherd of “The View” was mostly delightful, and the show seemed to flow much more smoothly and organically. This time the video segment—in which staycationing Emeril tries to sell suntan lotion and frozen drinks to New Yorkers in 10 degree weather—was actually funny. It seems obvious that the show will get better as time goes on, and as Lagasse and his producing team figure out what works and what doesn’t. He just needs to kick it up a notch.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX)