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Masterchef continues Gordon Ramsay’s bully franchise – and it just feels wrong

The day of the bully is done.

This is a good thing, obviously. And it was certainly helped along by confessions from alleged celebrity bullying victims ranging from Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga. Perhaps the coda of the bully's long and vicious run, though, occurred a few months back with that viral video of an Australian kid hurling his tormentor to the ground. On a global scale, the message was made clear: Enough is enough.

Still, as so often happens, the TV world is slow to realize change. Hence the return of Masterchef (Fox, A, 8 p.m.).

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Back tonight for a second summer season, Masterchef purports to be the search for America's most talented amateur cook. In reality it's a contest to see who can survive the most abuse from abrasive British chef Gordon Ramsay.

Exhibiting classic bully behaviour, Ramsay keeps picking on the same type of people, over and over. The brutish ex-footballer and restaurateur has enjoyed astounding success on U.S. television with the series Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, both adaptations of British series.

On Hell's Kitchen, the bombastic Ramsay unfailingly turns the air blue in railing against those chefs foolish enough to enter his hallowed domain. On Nightmares, he has been known to reduce the owners and staff of an existing restaurant to tears, all in the cause of improving the place. In either case, the hapless Yanks silently take the abuse.

But suddenly, the trademark Ramsay rage just feels wrong. The presumed hook of Masterchef is that the cooking contestants hail from all walks of American life. The first episode introduces viewers to a cop, a classical pianist, a forklift operator and a tattoo artist, among others, all apparently whizzes in the kitchen.

Not in this kitchen, however. As per all Ramsay cooking contests, the amateurs are instructed to prepare their signature dish in tonight's opener. The show's tone is established early with Ramsay bellowing, "Be the best, or go home!" at the trembling contestants.

And sometimes, bullies travel in packs. Ramsay is joined on the Masterchef judging panel by vintner Joe Bastianich and four-star chef Graham Elliot. Both men are nasty and, like Ramsay, appear to derive inordinate pleasure in dismissing the first attempts. Bastianiach dramatically feigns gagging at one meal made by a novice.

For all its pretensions, Masterchef isn't apt to inspire many young people toward a career in the culinary arts. Over the next several weeks, the show will whittle down the number of competitors with a series of cooking challenges, which includes taking over the kitchen of a biker roadhouse and catering a kids' block party.

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And in one upcoming episode, the amateur chefs will no doubt tremble when they're required to prepare a meal for the mothers of all three Masterchef judges. "Smile, Mom," Ramsay barks at the woman who brought him into this world. "You're scaring all the contestants!"

Badgering your own mother for a TV show? That's a bully.


Godless (Vision TV, 10 p.m.) is a new documentary about people "recovering from religion." The disaffected group includes people traumatized by their religious upbringing and those who've simply lost faith in what they consider a supernatural entity ruling the universe. Barring the Rapture, the second half airs tomorrow night.

Check local listings.

John Doyle returns on Tuesday.

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