Review: 'Selena + Chef'

Post by: Rick Ellis 16 August, 2020

It's not that I am overly cynical, but generally speaking, I am not impressed with the fact that someone may be a celebrity. I can appreciate someone's talent and creative works. I can be intimidated by their accomplishments. But I don't know that I "stan" anyone. Part of this stems from the fact that I have close friends from my stand-up career who are now well-known stars. Spending time with them, meeting their industry friends and hearing their off-the-record stories, it's clear that for the most part the men and women who are stars are not that different than the average civilian on a personal level. Yes, they may have a posse of hangers-on who get paid to hang out with their "best friend." But celebrity tends to magnify a person's core values more than change them. The nice people are usually still nice (most of the time) and the jerks are just going to be jerks to people who are too afraid to push back.

All of this was in my mind as I approached  the first three episodes of the HBO Max reality series "Selena + Chef," which premiered on the streaming service Thursday, August 13th. The premise of the pandemic-inspired series is not that dissimilar to the Food Network's "Amy Schumer Learns To Cook." In both cases, it's a star trying to learn more about cooking. But while Schumer receives her tips from her live-in husband, Gomez is cooking along with a celebrity chef who walks her through the recipe via a video call. 

I honestly didn't know what to expect going into "Selena + Chef." I'm not foolish enough to think that you are really going to get an unvarnished glimpse of a celebrity through a television show, especially one that they are producing themselves. But my measure of success for this type of show is whether or not it feels overly stage-managed. Are there some moments that are unscripted or unexpected? Do you get a clear sense of the celebrity's personality, even if it only the public part of their lives? Is this a show that feels natural and fun?

For the most part, the first three episodes of "Selena + Chef" are a success. Gomez has a long history of being on camera, so she's comfortable with the process and knows what works best for her personality. But more importantly, there are a few moments that come off as organic and she has a slightly cutting sense of humor that comes off on camera as mildly sarcastic instead of mean. For all of her comments about not being comfortable in the kitchen, she displays some decent skills and is even willing to tackle vaguely unpleasant tasks such as breaking down, preparing and cooking an octopus. She cracks jokes about the process, complains in passing that it's hard to find a decent boyfriend and shares stories about her experiences in the kitchen when she was growing up. On a lot of levels, "Selena + Chef" is exactly the show you want it to be, whether or not your're a fan of hers.



No show is perfect and there are certainly a couple of things I'd tweak if I could. The first episode (with Chef Ludo Lefebvre) is noticeably looser than the episodes that follow and Gomez is dressed more casual and seems a bit more thrown by the process of putting together a finished dish. It's also the best episode because that looseness plays to Gomez's strengths. Given the chance, she can be funny and smart in a way that is truly charming. The later episodes seem to be consciously a bit more structured and that structure wrings a bit of the fun out of the process.

Gomez also seems to have a few different people quarantining with her. Episode one features one set of Grandparents along with someone she introduces as a friend. Episode two introduces another friend to the mix. All of which is fine and it's not a criticism. It all just made me wonder how many people are living with her at the moment. Not because I care per se, it's more that the question is one of those things that might be of interest to viewers. If Gomez isn't cooking, then who is? What's a typical meal like in the Gomez compound? 

Weird and minor quibbling aside, I really enjoyed what I've seen of "Selena + Chef." It delivers on the food part of the premise and Gomez is more than charming enough to carry any show. I'm not sure that the fact that it's one of my favorite HBO Max original shows is a great thing for the streaming service. But watching the series will leave you with a smile on your face and maybe a new recipe or two to try out during your quarantine at home.

Episodes 4-6 of "Selena + Chef" will premiere on Thursday, August 20th and episodes 7-10 will be available Thursday, August 27th, 2020.


Last modified on Sunday, 16 August 2020 19:59

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