Michel Roux’s Service

Posted: February 4, 2011 by josheppard in Telly
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

In a nutshell: The Apprentice meets Masterchef… without the shouting

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

During its opening episode a few weeks back, Michel Roux’s Service provoked multiple snotty remarks on my Twitter feed. Training kids to be waiters? Oh, how terribly down-market. They should at least be twatting about in pinstripes braying about profit margins and licking the loafers of Alan Sugar for a middle-management position in a business that hasn’t been a household name since 1982. That’s aspirational, right?

Wrong.

The premise of the show is simple: Michel, notable not only for his Michelin-starred empire but also his unique ability to be genial and terrifying simultaneously, trains eight no-hopers to be front-of-house restaurant staff. Hence the snobbish response from the Twitterati. Because English people look down on waiters. Chefs, we admire. But a maitre d’? We’re not even sure what that is, but we’re guessing something on a par with shelf-stackers.

Which is bollocks. It’s a tough job, and a skilled one. The contestants are expected not only to work as a seamless team, but also to memorise Michelin-starred menus, recommend wines, flambé crepes and fillet fish at one’s table, and other things that would reduce a sneering middle-class Tweeter to a snivelling wreck in seconds.

The trainees have never even eaten in a decent restaurant, let alone served in one. Nikkita is a scowling 17 year-old mum with low self-esteem. Baby-faced Ashley keeps mumbling about an Asbo and thought cheese only came grated. Brooke, 18, works as a school dinner-lady. Even the two graduates in the group have never had jobs in their lives.

In the first couple of episodes, it shows. Alternately giggling stupidly or muttering ‘whatevah’ through a fog of passive-aggression, the contestants are devoid of charm. But nurtured by the unfailing enthusiasm and support of the perpetually paternal Mr Roux, confident, professional young butterflies hatch before our eyes from sullen Kevin-the-Teenager / Vicky Pollard caterpillars. They’re bright, they’re articulate and they’re proud of themselves. And they’ve never looked happier, either, which is a damn sight more than you could ever say about the dead-eyed yuppie throwbacks on The Apprentice.

The winners will be adopted – sorry, chosen – by Michel to work as a sommelier and a maitre d’ in one of his restaurants. In a way, therein lies the show’s biggest flaw. A series of contrived camera-friendly challenges (what did they actually learn by serving dinner to Diarmuid Gavin, exactly?) is not the best way to grant someone a future. All these kids deserve to go far, and I feel uneasy at the immense potential of the losers being dismissed for the sake of compulsive viewing. Given what’s at stake, couldn’t we accept that not every reality show has to be a competition?

Reviewer: Josheppard

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