This may sound superficial, but I'll say it anyway: Debi Mazar is not thin. The near washed-up actress has got some desirable curves goin' on.
Awkward segue alert: But those Latvian-origin hips are about the most substantial part of her show, Extra Virgin, arguably the most bereft-of-worth show mounted by the 1-year-old Cooking Channel.
Talk about a dud. The show, at least after one recent viewing, almost seems like an outtake from Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd, or an aborted, SNL-worthy parody of the new post-modern cooking show in which celebrities of baseless fame somehow bribe, or just luck, their way into one last shot on TV.
Memo to the Mazar camp: Try satellite radio, which might find just the right frequency to modulate that nasalized honk of a voice, one that most hoped had disappeared with the last episode of Fran Drescher's The Nanny.
How to describe Extra Virgin? Imagine Drescher's 21st century doppelganger, Mazar, concocted a cooking show in which the unsuspecting viewer had to spend too much time with her annoying self, her marginally more appealing Italian husband, Gabriele Corcos, and their two very real (as in somewhat bratty) daughters.
A recent episode verges on the hilarious in how little cooking is actually done. After breezing through something that turned out to be a child's portion of penne with zucchini, a full third of the show is spent listening to the mindless banter, (OK, over a cutting board filled with diced zucchini and red onion) between Mazar and the "mama mia, fantastico" accented Corcos.
Then, perhaps sensing that the television audience was about, en masse, to reach for the remote, the couple decides to, in Hollywood parlance, "open up" the drama by transporting their spirited dialogue to a nearby Los Angeles shooting range where one meets a somewhat vacuous guy named Haley. For minutes on end, the viewer is treated to endless sequences of Mazar in full diva regalia (black hot-pants, black blouse, sunglasses and a parasol), strolling up to the table laid out with .357 Magnums and Berettas. Best to term her sartorial touch as "shooting range meets street walker chic." And in case the audience has short-term memory loss, Mazar repeats numerous times that her last experience with a firearm was in the highly forgettable 2002 Jackie Chan flick, The Tuxedo.
No accidents happen with this innocent bit of shooting range gunplay, so the sparring couple has no choice but to spend the rest of this snoozer of a show actually cooking something. And talk about a whopping thematic stretch between everyday life and an Italian meal, but Corcos actually admits that being on the shooting range makes him think of hunting wild boar on his Tuscan land. Oh clearly, that must compel him to whip up a series of peasant-hunter's style dishes.
What mostly Corcos (clearly the more accomplished of the two cooks) then does is stuff two pheasants with a nice mix of prosciutto, pancetta, ground pork, stale bread and spices. Mazar refuses to help her hubby to perform this, for her, distasteful exercise.
Really. Mazar is on a cooking program, and she looks like she's about to break for the Pepto-Bismol at the sight of stuffing a game bird. Mazar: Turn in your apron and go out and shoot something.
Corcos does what he can to inject some culinary life into the show as he assembles two highly appetizing rustic dishes from his native Italy: a pepper and potato stew, bursting with all manner of red, green and yellow peppers, russet potatoes and violently smashed garlic (Mazar excels at this); and a Florentine chestnut flour cake topped with raisins, fresh rosemary and packing both chopped walnuts and pine-nuts.
Which leads one to the only truly redeeming, pedagogic quality of Extra Virgin, which is the presentation, in Italian, of random words like "wild boar" ("cinghiale"), or for all the dishes made, along with their English translation. To wit: Pepper and potato stew is "peperonata di patate" and the yeastless, chestnut flour cake is "castagnaccio." Watch this show, along with a couple of reruns of anything with Mario Batali and Giada DeLaurentiis in it, and you'd have little need for Rosetta Stone's Italian edition.
However, just when one was enjoying the slimmest benefit to watching Extra Virgin, Mazar makes the directorial decision to bring in the family's two daughters for the final nuclear-family-around-the-Los-Angeles-dinner-table finale.
Again in a moment of shocking reality, even for reality television, the minute one of Mazar's brood learns the fowl being consumed is, in fact, not chicken as Mazar fibbed but really pheasant, the screen momentarily fills up with the disgusted look of one of those daughters, along with an accompanying, "Ewww, this is pheasant. You told me it was chicken."
The little one took the words right out of my mouth: "Ewww, this is a cooking program?"
(Extra Virgin can be seen Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on the Cooking Channel.)
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