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Review: "Inedible to Incredible" tonight on TLC

June 21, 2010 |  4:13 pm

In Scott Collins' excellent Sunday Calendar story on TLC, he was apparently too distracted by the network's more sensational series (big families, little people, cake, Sarah Palin's upcoming thingumabob) to mention "What Not to Wear," not only the best show on TLC, but the best of all makeover shows, and possibly the best reality series going. (It's the one I sit down to watch for pleasure, in any case.) It is formulaic to a fare-thee-well, but it's a formula that leads to changed lives, not just new looks, and it works time after time. Hosts Stacey London and Clinton Kelly have a simple message: You are already good, you could just dress better -- to flatter your figure (they don't care if you're fat, or short, or your legs go up to your armpits), to embody your spirit, to reflect your age. They want to get you out of your old dry rut and into the river of life.

The "WTNW" template has been applied to a new TLC show "Inedible to Incredible," which debuts tonight at 10. In this case, a challenged person -- cooking, not clothing, is the problem here -- -- is nominated by her friends and/or family as a fit subject for re-education. John Besh, owner of six New Orleans restaurants and author of the cookbook "My New Orleans," is the makeoverer. The idea is that he will come to your house and teach you first that you don't know how to cook, and second, how to cook.

As is almost always the case with "WNTW," the subjects are (so far) women, and while that works for the former show, which is all about self-knowledge and self-empowerment, it makes "Inedible to Edible" seem strangely retro. The show is all about serving, literally -- not the thing you do for yourself, but a thing you do for others. As a woman. Not that preparing a good meal isn't fulfilling, O Protesting Cooks of the World, but the show does play as a kind of elaboration on the old joke about the new bride happily serving her husband rock-hard steaks and spoonfuls of unrecognizable mush, which he chokes down with a smile.

"Inedible" is nowhere as profound as its predecessor, which is about bringing substance and surface into alignment, to the benefit of each, where this is just a kind of how-to show with a twist. There is no signficant inner transformation, apart from perhaps a new appreciation for food, and a resolution not to do horrible things with or to it in the future. (The most interesting challenge is Besh's -- he comes up with good recipes based on the subjects' bad ones; the women just do what he tells them to.)

But it is sort of incredible, and highly entertaining in a Believe-It-Or-Not sort of way. The producers have found housewives the oddness of whose cooking -- horribly overcooked meat, garnished with Fig Newtons to resemble I can't remember what animal, hamburger studded with flakes of strawberry-flavored cereal, combinations that recall the sartorial mismatches of "WNTW"  -- is equaled only by the pride they take in it. But like a Zen master giving a novice a quick kick in the pants, Besh awakens his surprised disciples to the damage they've done, and points them toward culinary enlightenment.

--Robert Lloyd (twitter.com/LATimesTVLloyd)

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