Gordon Ramsay is known for being loud with his celebrity character based on his brash personality and angry interactions. But, this hard image has changed slightly with the premiere of a spinoff of one of his hits, “MasterChef Junior.” By surrounding Ramsay with a group of incredibly talented child cooks, he was able to show a side of himself that doesn’t usually appear in his other programs. In the process, he made this new series much better than his others. With a strong second season return, “MasterChef Junior” can proudly claim its place as not only the crown jewel of the Gordon Ramsay reality empire but also the best reality show on network television.
Season Two Premiere
Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
In “MasterChef Junior,” children from ages eight to 13 compete with one another in a cooking competition. The contestants are tiny; some are even too small to lift the equipment. Despite that, they’re preparing pork tenderloin and an assortment of chicken dishes that look like they could be served in a high-class restaurant. At this point, it’s a little too early in the season for any of the participants to really pop the way that Sarah and eventual winner Alexander did last year because there are just too many. This is a problem that every iteration of “MasterChef” has, but one that resolves itself as the season moves along.
What really separates “MasterChef Junior” from the other shows in the Ramsay network is that it’s built from a genuinely sweet place. There’s none of the vindictiveness and backstabbing that make competitions like “Hell’s Kitchen” difficult to watch. When someone doesn’t do well, the contenders express support instead of just giving the camera coy smiles. The best moment in the episode came when the other competitors comforted one player who broke down after presenting the judges a dish with raw chicken. It’s rare that something with that amount of authentic kindness actually makes it to the final cut, and it’s something that should be savored.
From a judging perspective, Ramsay and professional chefs and restaurateurs, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich, are never overly harsh. Because they’re assessing kids, they find a way to give pointed criticism without coming across like they’re attacking the children themselves, as they often do on “MasterChef” senior. Bastianich especially tones down his abrasiveness from what he brings to the adult version, to the point where he’s a better judge for it.
The show also has slick editing. It doesn’t have the same drawn-out nature of “MasterChef,” and it allows the episode to feel freer. In addition, they incorporate some fantastic reaction shots and testimonials from the children. A big part of watching the program is those clips; some of the kids’ comments make for great television.
“MasterChef Junior” has elements of what every competition series should have — great editing, skilled contestants and intelligent, but not overly cruel, judging. What sets it above the others is a lack of theatric maliciousness, which keeps the focus where it should be — on the talented kid chefs — rather than on the sabotage or hatred. Even with a busy schedule, the show is well worth the time. It’s easy on the brain and, because of that, it’s one of the most enjoyable hours on network television.