Rachael Harris, Joel McHale and Cheryl Hines in Celebrity Beef.(Photo: Becky Sapp/E! Entertainment)
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So here’s the alleged premise: Two celebrities who have a beef with each other agree to settle their differences with a bake-off or cook-off, with noted gourmand Joel McHale determining the winner.
As soon as the words “Joel McHale” appear — and they have twice so far in this story, counting the headline — you know something’s up. What human being, especially the unusual variety gay celebritylets a guy who used to host E!’s The Soup settle any feud? Isn’t that like letting Judge Jerry Springer preside over your child custody case?
As it happens, it is E!, the cable channel that made Joel McHale a star, that is letting him do Celebrity Beefwhich debuts Tuesday right after another low-budget show, Celebrity Game Face, hosted by Kevin Hart. And indeed, I can confirm that McHale takes his show’s premise about as seriously as he did Britney Spears and The View. He mocks everything about the contest, invents new rules as he goes along, and ultimately makes an utterly arbitrary decision about who wins.
In the first episode, friends Cheryl Hines and Rachael Harris good-naturedly bicker while striving to make a cupcake that will please Joel. If you are a Joel McHale fan, then you’ll be happy to know that McHale is just as funny ad-libbing as when he’s delivering written punchlines.
Celebrity Beef is very on brand for E! and it feels on brand for McHale. So from a marketing perspective, score! But is it something you will actually want to make a weekly habit (or, once it goes to streaming, a binge) out of?
On the teeter-totter between comedy-talk and game show, with Jimmy Fallon’s tonight show as the fulcrum, Celebrity Beef leans unsatisfyingly to the game side. It feels like it should be more talky and — here comes my first beef pun — less gamey. It’s a sack of pork rinds or cheese doodles that goes down easy, but leaves you with serious doubts about doing that again. It’s hard to see anyone but McHale completists going past the first episode
But maybe you’ll want to tune in to see Ben Higgins and Nick Viall, or Cynthia Bailey and Todd Bridges, or Andy Grammer and Justin Baldoni, or Justin Sylvester and Loni Love, or Dolores Catania and Caroline Manzo, or Missi Pyle and Jeff Lewis, or Nikki and Brie Bella “settle” their “beefs” with “Joel.” I do not know why I’ve put his name in quotes, but it feels on brand.
Celebrity Beef feels like a proof of concept: Can Joel McHale upend a cooking show and turn it into a Jimmy Fallon-esque party game segment? Sure. But once that’s settled, why keep watching?
Celebrity Beef debuts 10:00 PM ET Tuesday August 2nd on E!.
Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.