Often on weekdays while I’m making dinner, I have the TV tuned to Food Network’s 30 Minute Meals, hosted by Rachel Ray. I’ve always liked cooking shows: there’s something about the simple instructional aspect that makes it feel educational, and having it on around dinner time makes me feel motivated to cook creatively. 30 Minute Meals isn't as entertaining as Iron Chef or full of odd facts like Good Eats, but its mission of encouraging healthy, flavorful, easy-to-make food every day is important in an obese society addicted to take-out.
When Martha Stewart went to jail last year, Food Network replaced the 6:30PM timeslot for From Martha’s Kitchen with a second episode of 30 Minute Meals. So now a new episode of Ray's show airs at 6:00, and an older rerun from a few years back immediately follows. As a result, viewers see the 2005 version of Rachel Ray at 6:00, and what I’m guessing is the 2002 or 2003 version of Rachel at 6:30.
You’d think I would enjoy a second helping of show I’ve always liked, but watching an old episode and a new one back-to-back has made for an odd revelation.
The earlier episodes 6:30 show Ray to be a normal-looking person who would fit right in at a PTA meeting: maybe a little too perky for some tastes, but refreshingly genuine. Compare that Rachel with the modern version at 6:00, however, and you realize that she’s been overzealously glammed-out.
Rachel’s everyday brown hair is now a giant mane with more highlights than an extended SportsCenter episode. (Highlights to me are today the biggest cliche in hair care.) She loudly throws her voice as if you’re in the next room, or there's no microphone a few feet away. Her makeup is caked on like Tammy Faye (well maybe not that much, but I’d still recommend buying stock in Loreal). And what was once an endearing array of cornball expressions (“Yuh-hum”, “get some of these guys goin’ on”) has been exaggeratedly turned up to eleven.
I don’t feel completely comfortable, as a male or as a viewer in general, micromanaging another person’s personal style. I don’t want to sound like some obsessive fan who mistakenly thinks he has the right to get personal about someone who in all likelihood is very nice. But I think the point is still worth making that TV professionals have a revolting tendency toward heavy-handedness when it comes to handling grooming for people on the air—especially women. I find local TV news virtually unwatchable, for example, not just because of the general lack of substance to the reporting, but especially because the on-air personalities are presented stylistically like upper-class suburban psychos drunk on too much hairspray with a perma-grin that's more Stanley Kubrick than June Cleaver.
Rachel Ray got on national television because of her culinary expertise and her passion for getting people to make cooking a greater part of their everyday lives. I respect her and 30 Minute Meals for that. But inevitably watching a particularl TV show on a regular basis you develop a familiarity with the host. And I find it a legitimate distraction when that host is glammed-out by the handlers. If this were food, it would be revoltingly over-seasoned. I say let Rachel be herself, a simple woman from rural upstate New York, not another Nordstrom-ensconced lemming whose perfume you can practically smell through the cable box.