James May’s ‘Oh Cook’ blows up the cooking show formula

Sunday, November 15, 2020 - 5:11pm

NOSELL

Amazon Prime Video UK

In the very first scene of “Oh Cook,” Amazon Prime's newest cooking show, host James May greets and introduces us to the beautiful kitchen behind him. Rows of spices of all colors adorn the cabinets, and pots and pans hang on the wall, organized in ascending order by size. This scene is typical of any normal cooking show and, at first glance, one couldn’t tell the difference. Then, the twist: Our host can’t cook. Well, he can, but only three dishes. Behind the shiny veneer of a picture-perfect kitchen set and a photogenic host is a relentless team of producers, story-writers and real cooks that do the work of making a good cooking show.

Each episode of “Oh Cook” is structured like a typical cooking show. The host cooks several unique and interesting dishes while humoring the audience with occasional riffs and commentary. But what separates “Oh Cook” from a more traditional cooking show is its hilarious self-awareness. Halfway through the cooking process, producers will interrupt to make sure that every dish looks aesthetically pleasing to an absurd degree. The amount of importance put on clean white plates is shocking. In addition, sometimes the “real cooks” behind-the-scenes come into the actual scenes to help May in the cooking process. 

Despite its focus on aspects other than cooking, the show is incredibly good at teaching the average viewer how to cook. May is more or less winging it, but in many ways, cooking is all about winging it. The show encourages its audience to be bold and experimental, to try out everything, even if it may not work. Not everyone can have intense culinary training, but since everyone has to eat, everyone should know how to cook. May also spices up the cooking commentary with interesting factoids about well-known dishes, from pad thai to chicken noodle soup. Even though he doesn’t know much about cooking, the host seems to be a perfect fit for the kind of self-aware humor that is so characteristic of “Oh Cook.”

Ultimately, the most important part of cooking shows like “Oh Cook” is that it takes an immense amount of work and talent to create cooking shows, despite all the credit usually going to a fancy host. The show tries to inspire a love of food and creation in its audience by focusing on the hard-working people that make it happen. In addition, the wit and character of the host is a huge boon that makes this show all the more entertaining. By breaking down the formulaic cooking show, James May’s “Oh Cook” is an excellent and fresh new take of the oversaturated medium.

Daily Arts Writer Joshua Thomas can be reached at realjt@umich.edu.

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