A couple weeks ago I promised a "monster post about the downfall of Paula Deen." This was easier said than done, however, because what is a blogger to do when watching Paula Deen becomes downright painful? I had five Paula's Home Cooking shows stored up on my TiVo and could only watch a few minutes of each before getting annoyed or depressed.
Paula used to be like a favorite great aunt1, the one whose recipes you secretly like more than your own mother's. You knew she had some hard times in her past but she was too private and dignified to broadcast her troubles to the world. She's the one you planned your wedding around, knowing that if she couldn't be there, the day wouldn't be complete.
But what happens when that aunt, for whatever reason, becomes a shell of her former self? You steel yourself before a visit and tell yourself that it won't be as bad this time, that maybe she's better now. When you get there her sad eyes and desperate loneliness make you want to cry, but instead you put on a brave face and a warm smile and try to enjoy her company. No one wants to be pitied, but sometimes when she's in the midst of yet another socially inappropriate remark you just wonder what happened to the old her, the one you still love.
And so it is with Paula Deen.
I love Paula and have no way of knowing what is going on with her, but the way she looks, acts and even cooks this season is downright disturbing. She looks puffy, tired, and all-around haggard. I now get more traffic to my site via "what is wrong with paula deen" queries than "sandra lee naked" queries (and that's saying something). Paula seems uncomfortable in front of the camera at times and the delivery of her Southern-isms is forced.
Predictably, her recipes have begun to decline. Paula has always turned out food that looked really good, even if it was unhealthy. Lately though, she's been venturing into Sandra Lee territory with some really awful looking dishes. I was afraid this would happen. There are limits to Southern cousine, as evidenced by Paula's five fried chicken recipes.
Sadly, we've seen all this before with Rachael Ray. Like Rachael, Paula has a a magazine and a new talk show debuting next month. Like Rachael, Paula has gone from being friendly and folksy to being over-the-top, loud, and obnoxious. If this quote about Paula's new talk show is any indication, it will be unwatchable:
Strangely, the Food Network is pinning its hopes on Paula's Party to attract younger viewers:
Hosted by Paula Deen, 59, the hourlong program will be more “Romper Room” than “Cooking with Master Chefs.” At the taping of an early episode, Deen spent time trying on a young audience member’s stilettos, telling jokes and staging a live crab race. She named her entry “Cocaine Connie.”
“I’m keepin’ the hair high and the expectations low, and that way I can’t lose,” Deen drawled afterward.
So I find myself in a familiar place, lamenting the state of the Food Network. Sara Moulton left the network and is headed for PBS. Molto Mario was cancelled. Tony Bourdain moved over to the Travel Channel and now has one of the most interesting shows on television2. Food Network is losing (pushing away?) all of its heavy hitters, and pretty soon all that will be left are the amped-up versions of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen and Sandra Lee. Watch your backs, Ina and Giada!
Aside from airing at night, Deen’s new show will feature a studio audience and less cooking instruction. Food Network thinks her biting sense of humor and somewhat unruly behavior will help attract a younger audience.
“We consider it Paula unplugged,” Tuschman says. “You never know what is going to come out of her mouth.”
At least I'm not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous. This blatant MTV-ization of the Food Network worries me. Sheesh, maybe if things don't work out with Paula and Michael they can give her a dating show, a la Flavor of Love. For old times' sake, maybe they could call it Butter Flavor of Love.
Call me when you get back, Paula. I'll be waiting for you.
1As opposed to your black sheep, drunken aunt.
2Really, Bourdain in Beirut is one of the better things I've seen on TV all year. Set your TiVos.