The Cooks: articles

Rhondda Findleton

Rhondda Findleton as Ruth in Ten’s The Cooks.


Whenever a new Australian drama series begins on TV, everyone hopes it will work. After the first episode, we wait expectantly the next morning for the overnight ratings to reveal how it went. The following week, we go through it again to see how many people came back for more. Is it a success? Is it the next big thing in local drama?

We have been through this agonising process many times in recent years, only to see most new shows disappear down the ratings plughole after just one or two seasons.

It has been a lean time. But the networks will not give up on local drama. They cannot afford to. Broadcasting regulations stipulate that each must produce a minimum number of hours of Australian drama each year. So despite what the doomsayers forecast from time to time, there is no risk of our screens becoming awash with imports.

And we, the viewers, have proved that we will stick by good, engaging local drama. For example, Blue Heelers recently celebrated its 450th episode. McLeod's Daughters is our top local drama after three years on air, and last week premiered on US television.

Of course, the flops outnumber the hits. And increasingly, the networks are devoting more attention to telemovies to fill their local drama quota. They tend to pose less of a risk. But the series format will continue.

Channel Seven has renewed Blue Heelers and All Saints for 2005 and is producing two new weekly series. Nine is expected soon to announce that its recent Sunday night telemovie, The Alice, will be spun off into a weekly series next year, although a question mark still hangs over the future of the Melbourne-made undercover cop show Stingers.

Meantime, Ten launched its latest offering, The Cooks, on Monday night. Critical reaction to the show has been mixed but after watching the first two episodes, I like it.

It's fresh, funny, sexy and, despite its sometimes slow pace, engaging. It looks classy, shot entirely on film. And while it might have been hard to believe some of the characters before My Restaurant Rules came along earlier this year, they suddenly look thoroughly credible. The Cooks looks to some degree like a drama spin-off of Seven's restaurant reality show.

This is a show that is pitched at much the same young and young-ish audience that found The Secret Life of Us so appealing. But it's more coherent and remarkably more pointed than Secret Life. It's particularly less cliched than the last series of Secret Life, which Ten cut off at the socks after airing only a few episodes.

In essence, The Cooks is about three women who run R&R's restaurant, and the two blokes who run Snatch+Grab across the road. At R&R's are Rita (Rhondda Findleton) and Ruth (Kate Atkinson, best remembered as the policewoman in SeaChange), aided by a hot-tempered Argentinian, Carmelita (Emma Lung).

At Snatch+Grab are Gabe (Toby Schmitz), recently returned from a world tour learning the ropes of the restaurant trade, and Sachin (Nicholas Brown), an Indian who Gabe poaches from his rivals across the road. Gabe also enlists the aid of an old mate as kitchen-hand, Dishpig (Leon Ford), with the promise of no promotions (Dishpig has humble ambitions) and a root before the week's out.

The main scenario is complicated from the beginning because Gabe and Ruth once were an item. There's also the problem that Sachin and Carmelita remain an item. Also, scruffy Dishpig, who seems to have more sense about running a restaurant than any of the others, makes things even more complicated by bedding Ruth one night when she is down in the dumps about Gabe not seeming to want her back.

It all makes Secret Life seem rather dull, doesn't it? That's one of the keys to this show's appeal. Spiced up with some very witty comedy and a lot of the sorts of sex scenes that we once expected only in an occasional Hollywood flick such as Basic Instinct or a late-night offering on SBS, The Cooks is a complete package that manages to draw us in from the start. Within half-an-hour I was interested in these characters and was beginning to care about them. Maybe I need to get a life.

But after two episodes, with the competition between R&R's and Snatch+Grab, and with Ruth and Gabe circling one another like cooing doves and Dishpig thinking he is in love with Ruth and Ruth regretting that she ever let Dishpig near her, I am hooked. But I'm afraid I won't be for long.

There are 13 episodes of The Cooks, and after only one week, I know there won't be any more.

The viewers voted on Monday. Put simply, they voted against it. Badly scheduled in direct competition to the final series of Sex and the City on Nine, which is aimed at the same audience, The Cooks scored some of the lowest ratings for a new Australian drama in TV history.

While 850,000 Australians watched Sex and the City, only 480,000 sampled The Cooks, including a dismal 130,525 in Melbourne. The job of a TV critic is not to pick winners but I have no hesitation in saying that The Cooks deserves better than it got on Monday. But it's too late. Another one bites the dust.

By Ross Warneke
October 21, 2004
The Age