Is there a fresher, more welcome presence in our television kitchens than Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney? I’m using the “t” word liberally, given their parody cooking program The Katering Show found its home online. We can only hope that one day they’ll sneak onto commercial networks and take over MasterChef from the inside: the pair are wonderful talent, and if you’re not watching them you probably should be.
Following a successful stint on YouTube, where the most popular episode of the show has accrued more than two million views, ABC snapped up The Katering Show for a second season on iView. Like the first, it comprises eight moreish entree-sized (ten or so minute) episodes. You can smash through them like a vegetable dicer on a carrot.
For those yet to experience the Kates’ distinctive shtick, it doesn’t take long to get the gist of it. Comedians are aware more than most writers or performers that time is of the essence, particularly if they have a background in stand-up and/or live broadcasting (as both do).
Comedy on stage is a buzzer-beating profession: the challenge is to get audiences to laugh before they entertain the idea they may be wasting their time, and the same applies to ‘television’ – particularly when it’s in such a condensed format. A lot of comedy, as they say, involves establishing a pattern then breaking it (the rule of threes) or observing some unspoken truth, often in an incongruous way.
In the case of The Katering Show, the pattern is already there: a tradition of audiences tuning into TV programs depicting apron-clad people in the kitchen because, well, nobody knows quite why. Perhaps a primordial desire to stick whatever edible-looking thing we see in front of us into our mouths.
Which leads to the truth: such programs (from MasterChef to Kitchen Cabinet) tend to be utterly extraneous exercises. Spatula-armed blabathons geared towards personalities rather than what’s on the plate. McLennan and McCartney jostle for the camera’s eye in a faux passive aggressive way, a frenemy relationship that never (at least so far) gets old. They’re like characters from a Christopher Guest film crossed with a kind of reverse Kath and Kim.
McLennan and McCartney are middle class and smart, closer to fussy hipsters than dumb bogans. The first episode of series two, Red Ramen, lampoons the ramen noodle craze. “Ramen bars are everywhere in the inner city. They are to lane-ways what syringes were in the ’90s,” says McLennan. Adds McCartney: “Pop up restaurants are just like normal restaurants but they’re cooler, because they don’t have a toilet.”
Episode four, The Body Issue, takes aim at paleo diets and body issues (“The paleo diet is a modern day food cult largely undertaken by activated nut jobs who are sick of having friends”). The pair reach the conclusion that paleo is something of a death cult, “better suited to those with no internal thought processes or emotions. Or Pete Evans.”
The Maggie Beer episode fares less well. There are hints at the pair’s acting chops (they dress up “like a wealthy ghost” and impersonate Beer) but feels like a bit of a stretch, as if they’re padding out the show with bulking agents. The format, however, never gets tired and there’s never that long between laugh-out-loud moments.
Good comedy is rarely far away from sadness or tragedy, even on a parody cooking program. In between direct-to-cam banter, taking swipes at each other and prepping strange meals – including kangaroo ‘roogu’ (on a bed of biodynamic sustainable potatoes) and a placenta lasagne, or ‘plasagne’ – the hosts casually drop mentions of anxiety, mental issues and pharmaceuticals.
There is a sense of self-effacing white privilege strewn throughout The Katering Show. It’s articulated directly in season two’s seventh episode, Chienging Flavours, featuring a third wheel cameo from the excellent Ronny Chieng. Opening banter has the hosts agree on their ethnicity: “I’m white” generates the response “I’m also very white.”
McLennan says to McCartney: “You are. You are too white. You look like you just crawled out of a television.”
You… look like you just crawled out of a television.
These two glorious spatula-wielding pretend dunderheads may have just whipped up the best, sharpest, simplest zinger so far in the debate about diversity on Australian screens. Whatever secret additive they’re slipping into their dishes, it’s working.