“The Chopping Block”
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
NBC

1.5 out of 5 stars

With its new program “The Chopping Block,” NBC attempts to bring culinary entertainment to network television to compete with Travel Channel and the Food Network’s dozens of food-centered offerings.

“The Chopping Block” focuses on eight pairs of contestants who want to open their own restaurants and win the show’s grand prize of $250,000. In the series premier, they were divided into two teams of four duos apiece. Each of these teams was then given its own restaurant in Manhattan and told to have it open to the public in just one week.

Each week, an incognito food critic comes to judge the cuisine at both venues. The critic analyzes the successes and failures of the meal in tandem with chef Marco Pierre White, best known as the belligerent star of the U.K. version of “Hell’s Kitchen.” After the critic finishes judging the meals, one pair from the losing team is eliminated.

“The Chopping Block” plays like a low-budget, quickly produced midseason replacement. The bizarre opening credits, which prominently feature White’s pair of checkered Vans wandering past poorly-done CGI billboards — all while Duffy’s “Mercy” plays in the background — are emblematic of the show as a whole: There’s no cohesive focus. Random, eerily half-lit interviews with White are interspersed with inspirational contestant profiles and lengthy shots of the teams working the kitchen.

The storyline is a patchwork of elements from other, superior shows including “Top Chef” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” Even the weekly elimination scenes appear to be drawn directly from “The Apprentice,” all the way down to set design.

Cooking shows tend to focus on one vibrant personality — chefs like Alton Brown and Paula Deen have succeeded in large part due to their charisma. White, on the other hand, is not an especially compelling figure. His gruff demeanor is reminiscent of an unfunny Dr. Gregory House, and his character of the no-nonsense television chef is an unsuccessful retread of dozens before him, like Anthony Bourdain, Travel Channel’s resident foodie, and Chef Gordon Ramsey of the U.S. version of “Hell’s Kitchen.”

While his cooking ability is touted endlessly, White never actually prepares food on screen. He is an undeniably talented chef, but his role here is limited to weak one-liners (“This tastes like a home ec experiment”) that he doles out a few bites into each dish.

Strangely enough, the primary focus of “Chopping Block” doesn’t seem to be food. Large parts of each episode are dedicated to intra-team squabbles and the selection of team leaders rather than the actual execution of the dishes. The cuisine is pedestrian and offers no insight into the culinary world. And the large number of contestants makes picking a pair to root for a non-issue: They’re all tragically generic and unmemorable.

Television’s current glut of cooking shows means that any new program needs to be outstanding to succeed, but the uninspired monotony of “Chopping Block” makes it unlikely to flourish in an already overcrowded field.

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