What is the point of television listicles if not to rank the shows? One problem: The Great British Bake Off (known stateside as The Great British Baking Show) is the best food program on television. (Literally everyone agrees.) But since stateside audiences can’t legally access its current season airing over in the UK, looks like other superlatives will have to do for fall 2016’s television season, which is already upon us. Read on for Eater’s take on this fall’s lineup of returning and new food-related shows.
The Ultimate Cool Kid TV Event of the Year
Barack Obama on the season premiere of Parts Unknown
Premieres September 25 (CNN)
Earlier this year, a very specific segment of the pop-culture-loving universe fan-girled over a meeting of two huge minds: President Barack Obama, actual leader of the free world, and Anthony Bourdain, spiritual leader of the food world. Obama and Bourdain’s meal was chronicled by CNN cameras and will serve as the centerpiece of Parts Unknown’s season eight premiere, set in Hanoi, Vietnam. In other episodes this season, Bourdain and his crew will visit Rome, Japan, London, Minas Gerais (in Brazil), and two other cities much closer to home: Nashville and Houston.
The Most Sincere Use of Slow Motion in a Documentary Series Award
Chef’s Table: France
Currently streaming (Netflix)
The tropes associated with filmmaker David Gelb’s Netflix docu-series Chef’s Table are now well-known. Intricate food meets elaborate slow-motion shots, and both pair nicely with insightful chef interviews about What It All Means. But while last season admirably changed up the geographic focus to visit chefs in Brazil and Thailand, the four-episode third season gets Francophilic, training its lens on the ridiculously photogenic food of Adeline Grattard, Alexandre Couillon, Alain Passard, and Michel Troisgros. Your best best is to just let the slow-mo wash over you and consider it a sleeping aid.
The Most Insincere Use of Slow Motion in a (Fake) Documentary Series Award
Season premiere Wednesday, September 14 (IFC)
If the stylistic flourishes of Chef’s Table mastermind David Gelb are ripe for parody, merry pranksters Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, SNL alums both, are happy to provide. Documentary Now!’s first season parodied (serious) documentary classics ranging from 1922’s Nanook of the North to Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line. In season two, the pair will take on Gelb’s acclaimed 2011 film Jiro Dreams of Sushi with a premise titled "Juan Likes Rice and Chicken."
The ‘Never Change’ Award, Bestowed Upon a Reality TV Star Who Seems Legitimately Delightful
Vivian Howard on A Chef’s Life
Premieres in September; check local listings (PBS)
When Vivian Howard’s PBS show A Chef’s Life debuted in 2013, the charismatic Southern chef embodied the struggles of operating a restaurant in a small town. But at the debut of season four, Howard’s profile has grown beyond the Kinston, North Carolina locale of her restaurant: The show itself has won Peabody, Emmy, and James Beard Awards (the last one for Outstanding Personality/Host in 2016), and Howard’s first cookbook will be released later this fall. This season of A Chef’s Life follows Howard during the book-writing process and during her increasing travels, while promising the same ingredient-focused approach whenever she’s back at home. It’ll remain to be seen how the increased attention changes Howard’s demeanor and approach — but we’re hoping (and doubting) that will happen.
The Comeback OG Food TV Lovers Are Most Excited About
Eat the World With Emeril Lagasse
Currently streaming (Amazon)
Long before Food Network stars were all household names, a charming New Orleans chef took to the airwaves with an eponymous show and a catchphrase that took the country by storm. (My dad ran around the house parroting Emeril Lagasse by yelling "bam" at random moments; your dad — or maybe you! — likely did the same.) This year, Lagasse returns to television with a streaming show on Amazon. Eat the World With Emeril Lagasse promises to be a chef-driven travelogue that sees the Cajun-food icon palling around with chefs like Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton, and José Andrés.
The Food-Related Setting Totally Making a Scripted Comeback
From Arnold’s Drive-In (Happy Days) to Monk’s Cafe (Seinfeld), the diner has long been a go-to set for television writers. And this year, even more greasy spoons are coming to the airwaves. On Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (premiering on Netflix November 26), viewers who have been without Lorelai and Rory updates since 2007 will discover if Luke’s Diner is still open; same goes for fans of the pie at the Double R Diner, which may or may not resurface in the long anticipated Twin Peaks revival (debuting on Showtime in early 2017). Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see if the CW’s re-imagining of the iconic Archie comic (Riverdale, premiering in early 2017) will resurrect the gang’s hangout spot Pop Tate's Chocklit Shoppe, or if that will go the way of the soda fountain. We’re hoping for the former.
The Least-Annoying Chef-Bro Food Show Award
The Mind of a Chef
Currently airing, check local listings (PBS)
Los Angeles’s Ludo Lefebvre is the next chef to get up close and personal with the cameras of The Mind of a Chef, a show that on paper sounds insufferable but is actually pretty great. Each season thus far has dedicated several episodes to understanding how one well-known chef ticks: Every episode gets its own theme, which could be anything from a particular ingredient or geographic region to an exploration of the subject’s highly personal philosophy toward cooking (and thus, life in general). It’s educational without feeling pedantic, intimate without being invasive.
The How the Hell Is This Show Still on Award
Premieres Friday, September 23 (FOX)
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is still yelling his way through the Fox reality series, now in its 16th season. Pro tip: Skip the show and bask in Ramsay’s verbal abuse via his surprisingly great app game instead.
The Most Surprisingly Upbeat Show on Television Award
Premieres Sunday, September 25 (FOX)
If Netflix’s animated series Bojack Horseman is brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny, and depressing, Bob’s Burgers is the opposite side of the coin: brilliant, uproarious, but consistently uplifting. It’s a neat magic trick accomplished year after year by this sitcom that focuses on the Belcher family — its parental units own the namesake burger joint — and their three kids, all of whom are incredibly weird but admirably comfortable in their own shoes.
The Mash-Up No One Asked for But Seems Kinda Great Anyway Award of 2016
Premieres Tuesday, September 27 (Food Network)
Fish-out-of-water set-ups are the premise for so many reality shows, whether it’s throwing survivalists naked and afraid into unfamiliar terrain or sending CEOs to get their hands dirty among the "regular" employees. In Food Network’s new show Star Plates, celebrity participants are sent into the depths — gasp, a restaurant kitchen — to cook alongside famous chefs during a normal restaurant service. It seems so simple as to be yawn-worthy, if not for the people involved: Chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Susan Feniger, Michael Voltaggio, and Vinny Dotolo will be paired with celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Alyson Hannigan, and Colin Hanks, all of whom will be tested on the line just like any other working stiff.
Frequent Flier of the Year
Andrew Zimmern on Andrew Zimmern’s Driven by Food and Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations
Driven by Food currently airing (season finale September 27), Bizarre Foods premieres October 4 (Travel Channel)
As usual, chef/personality Andrew Zimmern is logging in serious miles on behalf of the Travel Channel, with two shows airing this fall. In Driven by Food, Zimmern entrusts his dining itinerary in global destinations like Kashmir, Bangkok, and Venice to the cabbies and other transportation-providers, who take the adventurous eater to the truly local, out-of-the-guidebook locales. Meanwhile, the fourth season of Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations promises more of the usual: Zimmern exploring the foods unique to specific regions all over the world.
The Most Underrated Comic Performance of the Year, Scripted
Constance Wu on Fresh Off the Boat
Premieres Tuesday, October 11 (ABC)
Fresh Off the Boat, the ABC sitcom based on NYC chef/provocateur Eddie Huang’s 2013 memoir, is not actually a show about a restaurant. Yes, the Huang family operates a middling steakhouse, Cattleman’s Ranch, in Orlando, Florida. And yes, Eddie the main character remains the star, even if Eddie the real life human has disavowed the show completely. But at its heart, FOtB is a show about family and fitting in, and no one embodies those often-hilarious tensions better than actress Constance Wu, who captures Jessica Huang’s incredulousness, strength, and insecurity perfectly in every scene. Jessica Huang is all of us, and Wu is Jessica Huang. You should love this woman.
Erin DeJesus is Eater's reports editor.