‘Somebody Feed Phil’ returns with another season of simplicity

Sunday, November 1, 2020 - 5:25pm

NOSELL

Netflix

If you’ve ever wanted to watch someone make awkward but wholesome dad jokes for an hour while enjoying a level of decadence few will ever experience in their lifetime, “Somebody Feed Phil” might be the show for you. It is, above all else, excessively palatable.

“Somebody Feed Phil” follows the titular host Phil Rosenthal, the creator and writer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” a popular ’90s sitcom known for its sarcastic humor and lighthearted tone. Instead of performing his usual role of producer, Phil steps in front of the camera and leads audiences on culinary tours through cities around the world. 

Each episode features a new location and showcases its most famous eats and a few hidden gems recommended by local guides. The Season 4 premiere focuses on Rio de Janeiro; Phil explores the cityscape with a team of food bloggers, celebrity chefs and restaurateurs eager to show off the best of the sprawling coastal metropolis. Notable sites like Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain make appearances, as well as Carnival festivities and favelas, the city’s famously vibrant slums.

Throughout the episode, Phil enjoys quintessential Brazilian dishes like feijoada and drinks a rather impressive amount of caipirinhas. In addition to visiting local restaurants and produce stands, Rosenthal and company discuss how modern Brazilian culture came to be. While the show briefly touches on the country’s history of slavery and colonial rule, “Somebody Feed Phil” chooses to focus on present humanitarian attempts to alleviate poverty and give at-risk youth culinary job opportunities. 

It is abundantly clear that the purpose of “Somebody Feed Phil” is to be easy viewing that anyone can enjoy. In committing to this pursuit, however, it loses integrity as a constructive cultural experience for most of its audience. Framing the show through the perspective of an awkward, yet “open-minded” white male host, “Somebody Feed Phil” makes more sacrifices to cater to Rosenthal than to its international subjects. 

In prioritizing comfort and unrelenting positivity, the series misses out on valuable insights that can be made into other cultures only once harsh truths are confronted. Talk of Rio’s favelas and violent drug trade is glossed over in favor of showcasing a cooking program for Brazilian young adults as a simple and entirely effective way of overcoming all adversity. The watered-down discussion of serious issues allows the show to claim sensitivity without risk of offending or challenging its viewers.

While travel programs do not always require a somber and reflective tone, the saccharine wholesomeness of “Somebody Feed Phil” becomes abrasive after a few minutes of the constant onscreen giggling and smiles. Rosenthal has enough charm to be appealing to a broad audience, but an overabundance of his personality eventually becomes uncomfortable. Once you realize every episode is essentially him performing the polite but bumbling tourist, the show’s decadence and joy loses its credibility as a serious program and, to some extent, its value as a whole.

The show has many moments which are undoubtedly entertaining; every person, site and food presented is beautiful in its own unique way. Yet, the privilege to try so freely, to be fed so generously is one few, if any, viewers will ever experience. “Somebody Feed Phil” presents a nearly impossible journey that only someone as notable as Phil Rosenthal could probably have. In that way, the Netflix show presents an opportunity to live vicariously through the host. With all its flaws and shortcomings, this may be the only lens through which the show can truly work.

Daily Arts Writer Anya Soller can be reached at anyasol@umich.edu.


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