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The Freshman Class

I don't know what I expected.

On the one hand this is the sort of show that some people say they want: true stories (as far as we know) with no manufactured drama (as far as we know). On the other, and perhaps as a result, it's kind of boring.

Actually, one student has manufactured quite a bit of drama, at least in one episode dedicated mostly to her butting heads with the teachers and administration. But honestly I've known people like that--and much worse--so it didn't strike me as extreme.

I guess the reason I don't think there's much fakery going on is that all the conflict is so pedestrian. Will Ben come up with tuition? Will Tiffany break her academic probation?

The show does knock out some of the glittery expectations of culinary school (and there is a clever play between Tiffany, who has a few entitlement issues going on and acts as if her life difficulties should earn her leeway, and Ben who owns a taxidermy shop and does not complain when he's called up on his late tuition, allowing "They've got a business to run") but what is culinary school without glamour? It's school. And it's not a school we as viewers get to learn anything from.

Other than Ben and Tiffany there's a secret stripper with a heart of gold and a young veteran working through mental and physical damage from the wars. They've both been given quite a bit of screen time but have yet to make a huge impression on me. (Except that the vet has short term memory loss and he's struggling with what that will mean in the kitchen; that kind of got to me.)

Cooking Channel has promoted the heck out of this show (although the commercials are so drab they might be hard to notice) and it's strange that so little has been said about it, here or anywhere else. I couldn't even find a Wikipedia entry for it. CC surely likes it because it's super cheap to produce, and also, as I mentioned earlier, this has a lot of the attributes that reality fans say they want in a show. As far as we know it's a no-phony real deal documentary of life as a culinary student times four.

I wouldn't tell anyone to watch this because it's particularly good. What I am afraid of is that, if the show isn't successful, it can be used as an example of how what viewers say they want isn't really the case. "We tried low-key, we tried honest. No one watched."

In which case, we can either refine what we say we want in a reality show, or we can prepare ourselves for Guy's Cooking School.

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  1. I think the problem with low key reality shows is that they're simply not as easy to just bang out and actually require skilled directors, editors, etc.

    I don't have a good food example, but in the early 2000's HBO did a documentary, "Living Dolls" about child pageants that's really fascinating and engaging and completely different than TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras" (not that I even think they're so much at fault for manufactured craziness, but more so general creepiness). Even as a non-film/tv industry person, it's just obvious that there's a huge difference in how both productions are made.

    I'm sure there's a great documentary, mini-series, etc. to be made about cullinary school - but that probably means a lot more investment than is now standard in reality tv.

    6 Replies
    1. re: cresyd

      I want Tiffany to leave. Go.
      On another note: there is a fabulous documentry called Boiling Point about a group of inter city highschool cullinary students competing for top scholorships to big schools. It is amazing. I cried.

      1. re: girloftheworld

        I HAVE heard of Boiling Point, what network is it on?

        1. re: hill food

          I got it off of netflix and it was just a documentry... it would make a good series though...

          1. re: girloftheworld

            I tried when I was on WiFi at a friend's house, but it wasn't available to stream. oh well.

        2. re: girloftheworld

          It's not called Boiling Point, it's called Pressure Cooker. It's available for streaming on Netflix, I watched it a few weeks ago.

          1. re: juliejulez

            well no wonder I could never find it again ! DUH! Thank you! for undersatanding what I was meaning to say!...

      2. isn't there paint to watch dry? oh yeah that's HGTV.

        1. I'm watching. I'm intrigued. And I'm rooting for all of them to succeed.

          The difference is the lack of craziness and controversy that would have us posting our outrage all over the place.

          This is not Big Brother. (thank goodness!) It's not even Top Chef. But it's a darn interesting slice of life and reality - as reality.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chicgail

            I agree. They are all a bit annoying, but they are down-home real. That concept is entertaining.

            Having written that, CC, in their summer network press preview last month, made it quite clear that they are going to follow Big Sister FN, and go all reality, or all "I went here and ate this and cooked that, maybe' all the time. I do not like this concept. At all. People still need to learn how to cook.

            1. re: nikkihwood

              As a home cook and a CH, I have learned tons about how to be a better cook from FN and CC -- and I have wondered what it would be like to go to culinary school. I am learning things about that that I would not have known otherwise.

          2. Had never even heard about this show.

            1. I watched one episode, the one where Tiffany was butting heads with her instructors, and I basically just wanted to kick her ass once the episode was over. But otherwise, the show didn't bring about any other feelings for me, so I haven't been watching it.

              1. Huh, I don't find it boring at all. I'm really enjoying it. I could actually do with even MORE of the cooking school stuff and less of the individual character stories, since the scenes filmed at the school are the most interesting to me. That being said, I don't particularly mind the character back stories.

                I also was surprised that there wasn't any discussion here about it, but I realized I was ok with that, considering how unbearable the Top Chef threads have become.

                1. As someone who has returned to school (one night class left to go!), I found this show really interesting.

                  I like that they covered the money issue. Ben worked all night before a huge test and had to cram the morning of. And he got an A-.

                  I see the gamut of how people in school deal with money. One woman I took a class with is living off student loans and just doesn't seem to really like school or even have a goal for her education. I think of her every time I see students living in their cars (the number of homeless students is increasing).

                  As for the cooking, I like seeing that it is a struggle for everyone to learn to tournet a vegetable. I also appreciate the obvious emotional growth with some of the students.

                  As for low key - Yay!

                  Disappointed to hear that CC is going the way of fewer cooking shows. Will they rename the channel? Reality Bites? Nearly Cooking Channel? Just remember - Stay Hungry. I have always loathed that tagline.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MplsM ary

                    well MTV doesn't show videos anymore...

                  2. I saw what, I think, was the first episode of the second season this weekend. To my surprise (and pleasure) they don't seem to have changed the format any to make it match more typical reality TV. I enjoyed it still, and am looking forward to watching more episodes.

                    I also caught a program called Cooking School Confidential which looked to be a one-time special from 2011 that seemed quite similar. I missed it the first time around, but also found it really interesting. I wonder whether it was a pilot of sorts for the Freshman Class.

                    1. Just watched the 1st season; since it's free (couldn't see paying 1.99 on Amazon or YT for about 20 minutes of content). I love it. I'm obsessed with cooking & have been into Top Chef, Chopped, & several other reality TV cooking shows for quite some time. However... around Top Chef Texas, I started to get sick of the formulaic 'characters' (casting); the lack of focus on creativity/cooking, the increasing time spent on drama; especially that that's easily manufactured or encouraged. For instance, TCT finalists needing to break through blocks of ice to get their ingredients was so stupid - as if that would be a commonplace challenge in a real restaurant environment. I found the latest season even worse, as was my feeling about the latest Top Chef Masters.

                      TFC is a very refreshing change of pace. There's obviously some drama-encouragement from the producers; but basically that seems to be about casting (their choices re: the students who are the 'stars' of the show). And the drama they're going through is, indeed, very real, & much more relatable, for me, than the kind of foolishness (personality conflicts & breaking through blocks of ice) encouraged on Top Chef these days. I ended up finding the 1st season pretty inspirational.

                      I wish the Cooking Channel had more of these shows, that the episodes were longer, & that more time were spent on what the students are learning. But I think the show is great - if anything, slightly more interesting than that one-season show with the French culinary instructor; Chef Academy.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: acertainblue

                        Just to note - Top Chef-Texas was singular in its stupidity.

                        TC-Seattle wasn't anywhere nearly as bad, and TC-NOLA was even better. So don't give it up - they're in Boston filming now for the fall series.

                        1. re: acertainblue

                          For a reality show, I think TFC is a breath of fresh air. Yes, they did cast for a variety of people in different walks of life taking on the rigors of culinary school, but I didn't find them to be one-dimensional archetypes.

                          Like you I was frustrated with the time constraints. A 30-minute format didn't allow real conflicts and concerns to be fully fleshed out. For example in season 2, I would have liked to have explored how the relationship between one student and her husband got resolved and how another dealt with her family's feeling neglected. I also wanted to find out more about what happened to the student who dropped out.

                          I would also love to have a follow up to find out if they graduated, how they got jobs and how their experience in school impacted their lives and the work they do.

                          I consider the show to be a real find in the "vast wasteland" of television.

                          1. re: chicgail

                            I also wish they would have delved a little into the instructors' backgrounds. The fellow who took Gabe under his wing because years ago someone had done the same for him - more, please!

                            That wine class final seemed impossible to pass. I'd like to know a little more about the instructor. She came off as really tough but fair.

                            At the same time, how refreshing that this show does not push its way into every area of the participants' lives. Wanting more from a reality show is a new experience.

                            I, too wonder what happened to Jim.

                            They also need to update the "Where are they Now" section for the first season.