Maybe it’s the excessive amounts of food I’ve been consuming this past week, thanks to various Christmas parties at work along with snacks that people have had around the office, but I think it’s high time I reviewed Man v. Food, Season 2. The first season was a pleasant surprise, and I appreciated host Adam Richman’s unpretentious enjoyment of American cuisine. Season 2 is in many ways just what one would expect: more of Season 1. But that’s not a bad thing at all. The blue-collar premise of the show is pretty simple: Richman visits diners and eateries around the country in search of good grub and doing his best to conquer the nation’s most (in)famous food challenges. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn’t, but it’s always a fun ride.
The basic gist of each episode remains roughly the same: Richman travels to a particular city, such as Charleston, South Carolina, Boise, Idaho, or Tucson, Arizona, and visits three famous local restaurants in order to sample their food. He doesn’t seek out fine dining or haute cuisine, just good food recommended by the locals. It’s still unclear just how the show’s producers select the venues for Richman to visit, but they do a fairly solid job of finding some of the famous local haunts in each location and staying away from more mainstream places. It’s not quite Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but it gives viewers a good idea of some good off-the-beaten-path joints. Of course there’s always the main event in each episode: the food challenge, which always takes place at the final restaurant. There’s plenty of teases leading up to the main event, but the first two thirds of each show are plenty interesting even without a challenge. Richman keeps things light and fun, often talking with restaurant patrons and joking with the wait staff while talking about the food he’s eating. Some of the adjectives get a little overused (how many ways can you say “delicious”?), and every now and then it’s clear that Richman trying his best just to be polite even though the food is clearly not all that great. But to be fair, the guy does come across some weird concoctions, and they can’t all be scrumptious. His visit to Harold’s New York Deli Restaurant was probably the low point: the sandwich he sampled was literally two pieces of bread with about ten pounds of sliced deli meat in between them. Yawn.
Of course the highlight of each show is the challenge, and in many ways the ante was upped from Season 1. There was the usual slew of artery-clogging concoctions like gigantic burritos, pizzas, and entrees, not to mention a couple extraordinarily spicy meals like the “suicide six wings” challenge, which once stopped Richman after just one wing. But in order to add some welcome variety to the mix, there were some truly inventive and creative challenges too. One had an entire restaurant taking part in bringing down a 190-pound burger, another was a food triathlon in which Richman and three teammates had to bike, swim, and run their way to victory while consuming massive quantities of food at each stop, and there was even a Man v. Food Live during which Richman had to finish a 48-ounce steak in 20 minutes.
Even though some of the challenges were kind of silly (seriously, at some point just piling more and more potatoes onto a subway sandwich just gets kind of ridiculous.) it’s all in good fun and even when Richman loses he’s a great sport about it and makes sure the crowd, and TV audience, have a good time.
Some have criticized Man v. Food for promoting unhealthy overeating and gluttony, especially when obesity is such a major problem in this country. Food Network host Alton Brown even went so far as to call the show “disgusting.” I don’t see it that way, though. In fact, watching Richman attempt the massive food challenges is a way for me to live vicariously and enjoy, on some level, the thrill of the challenge without the unfortunate side effects. Richman is an avid exerciser and maintains a relatively healthy weight by keeping a strict treadmill regimen, and I doubt anyone who watches the show would be inspired to overindulge. If anything, watching Richman’s edible escapades has made me more aware of the food I eat and actually caused me to reconsider large portion sizes from time to time. It’s enough that he does the challenges–I don’t need to do it too. It’s fun enough just to watch him and enjoy it.