Man v. Food (Season 2)

Man vs. FoodMaybe 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.

Man vs. Food: Mally's

Seeing this in no way makes me want to eat a 190-pound hamburger. In fact, it's basically the opposite.

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.


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Man vs. Food (S01E1-5)

Believe me, I was not planning on making this show part of my daily routine.

When I eat breakfast I usually watch 20 minutes or so of a movie, and lately they have been documentaries.  After tackling some pretty heavy stuff recently, I stumbled across this odd little gem of a show on the ol’ Netflix queue.  So far it’s pretty entertaining, kind of interesting, and best of all, each episode is almost exactly 20 minutes long–just enough time for me to chow down my Cheerios and OJ while, ironically, watching a guy chow down on lots and lots of food.

Adam Richman, about to take on one of the many food challenges in the show.

Adam Richman, about to take on one of the many food challenges on the show.

And really that’s the gist of the show:  Adam Richman, a low-profile actor and self-proclaimed food enthusiast, goes around the country (possibly the world, but not so much as of the time I’m writing this) looking for the best eating establishments, often with crazy food challenges, in whatever town or city he happens to be in.  It’s kind of an odd show for the Travel Channel, but I think they get away with it because the concept is based around Richman, well, traveling.  Each episode shows him visiting three restaurants in a given location (Amarillo, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; etc.) and chatting it up with the owners, cooks, and waiters about the dishes and specialties they serve.  The places are hole-in-the-wall joints that might not look like much on the outside, but cook up the stuff of local legend.

The climax of each episode has Richman tackling a legendary local food challenge like eating a 7-pound hamburger, 4.5-pound steak, six of the spiciest hot wings in town, and so on.  Sometimes he wins, sometimes he fails, but it’s always enjoyable to watch as he interacts with the wait staff and restaurant patrons on his way to winning the challenge and collecting that location’s ultimate trophy (usually a T-shirt, photo on the wall, or bumper sticker).  He will often talk with the manager or head cook of whatever restaurant he happens to be taking the challenge about what goes in to the preparation of the meal, and sometimes try his hand at cooking it up himself.

One of Richmans many food challenges.

No way would I ever try this.

I appreciate that the show isn’t just about one man’s journey of gluttony, but a real exploration of the culture and customs of a particular area of the country.  A visit to Columbus Ohio had Richman taking part in some pregame OSU football tailgating and visiting a generations-old sausage joint, not only for the food but to get a feel for the local community.  But for a show like this, with such a bare-bones concept, to work it must have one key ingredient:  a likable host.  And Richman fills that duty in spades.

In fact, one of the most compelling reasons for me to keep coming back to this show is to watch Richman interact with the other people around him.  His indelible charm is infectious, and he is clearly having a good time as he jokes around with the cooks and waiters.  Anton Ego he is most certainly not – he is just out to chow down on some grub, meet lots of interesting people, and hopefully get his name or photo on the wall after conquering a ginormous sandwich or beef brisket.  And while some have criticized the show for its positive portrayal of American overindulgence, I see it as harmless escapism.  Richman is eating the foods and taking the challenges so we don’t have to.  Though he sure does make it fun to watch.

Edit 1/19/10: Having finished watching Season 1 I have nothing substantive to add to this review, but wanted to reiterate how much I continued to enjoy the show.  Richman’s everyday-dude schtick never gets old, and I appreciate how complimentary and thoroughly positive he is to everyone around him:  the chefs, the waiters, the patrons, and even the viewers.  Even during the final episode of Season 1, when he was comparing Juicy Lucy hamburgers at competing restaurants, he had good things to say about both and managed to find a clever way of praising both without actually declaring a winner.  It’s vignettes like this that make the show as classy as it is greasy.

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