By now you’ve no doubt seen a few of the new fall TV series. Which is important stuff and we’ll get to that. But first we need to talk about the very serious matter of fall TV food. Yes, this is a thing. And there are guidelines, rules even. Behold.
1 Volume. No crunchy foods. Even with closed captioning (there is no shame, people), the juddering of your molars on Cheetos will be too distracting for the demands of following the plotline of high-concept television like, say, NBC/City’s Monday-night show Ordinary Joe, in which the title character’s life is played out in three parallel lives: a cop, a nurse, a rock star. Judging by the pilot, deep focus will be required to follow the criss-crossing threads of the three fates. It is also suffering from Overloading the Pilot with Too Much Story, but remember how the surprise dual timeline of This Is Us seemed so hokey in the first season? OK that’s a bad example because This Is Us went off the convoluted-plot rails after the second season, but if Ordinary Joe can keep a calm grip on the three fates, we could get a couple of good seasons out of this one. Now, where were we?
2Simplicity. If you’re watching TV while eating, and of course you are, you don’t want anything fancy that will demand your attention. Say no to the burn risk of hot cheddar dips, likewise nix the beautiful but esthetically complex plating of osso buco with citrus gremolata and mushroom risotto. The go-to choice, especially during the new-TV rollout of fall premières, is definitely the casserole. It’s also homey and sentimental. Which is what you might expect from the ABC/CTV Wednesday night reboot of the 1988 critical darling The Wonder Years. Narrated by Don Cheadle, the new series follows a Black family, living in an Alabama neighbourhood in 1968, led by a young boy experiencing all of his firsts. But while the Fred Savage original series struck deep chords, the new series, starring Elisha Williams, has seized not only the wonder of childhood but the power of the era’s civil rights movement, which rings louder in this current era of Black Lives Matter, in both good and uncomfortable ways.
3Nutrition. The TV season has only just begun. There are dozens of new and returning shows yet to première. You need to not only keep your strength up, but to make sure you consume an appropriate amount of fibre in your diet. (When you get to the part where I share my mother’s exquisite pasta dish, which is the superstar of any fall-TV season, assuage your eating-right guilt by choosing Catelli Smart pasta, for added fibre.) On the question of narrative nutrition, the première of Fox/CTV’s Tuesday-night show Our Kind of People seemed promising, given the blurb about the show noting that it was based on Lawrence Otis Graham’s book of the same name, subtitled Inside America’s Black Upper Class. However, the new drama about the daughter of a former maid trying to redeem her family among the Black elites of Martha’s Vineyard had enough cat-fight moments that one almost expected to see a hologram of the late Dynasty star Diahann Carroll.
4Binge control. As with any good series and like the whole fall-TV première season, it’s easy to overeat to the limit of even your stretchiest couch pants, eating pants, whatever you call them. Not only will that give you indigestion and insomnia, but — as with too much TV watched without thought to pacing — you are at risk of not appreciating the savoury goodness of Hollywood’s or, say, my mother’s best effort, which we’ll get to in a moment. Fox/CTV’s Monday-night The Big Leap is a show I am glad has not arrived as a full season, because I would not have been able to resist gulping it all down in one extended sitting. Which surprised me because I hate the meanness of reality shows and this is a drama about a dance competition show, the cynical execs running this trainwreck of a "reality" show and the contestants hoping for their big second chance. But as with two other excellent shows-within-shows — Smash (NBC 2012-13), set in Broadway’s theatre community and starring Debra Messing; and the eviscerating, Peabody Award-winning UnREAL (Lifetime 2015-18), about a Bacheloresque show starring Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer — the characters won me over. All are very well drawn, especially the single mom who had to fight for the right for this very slim chance at her big break.
5Comfort. This section could also be called Familiarity. Because while we can all appreciate new foods and radically different TV stories, we also know what we like and appreciate the comfort of a familiar dish or TV face. In that category, we have former Daily Show host and patron saint of common sense who returns today to Apple TV+ with The Problem with Jon Stewart, a "new current affairs series … taking a deep dive on the issues affecting us most" plus "lots of jokes." Be still my heart.
Speaking of cholesterol, how about that recipe I promised, which I hope delivers as much comfort to you as it has to our family.
Betty’s Macaroni and Tomatoes and Cheese
While you’re boiling the bejesus out of a small box of high-fibre macaroni, set the oven to 350 C. In a large casserole, add a can of diced tomatoes, an egg-sized lump of butter, three green onions chopped roughly and a handful of chopped parsley, plus salt and better. Put that in the oven while you shred enough cheddar cheese to fill your brain cavity, which is empty from too little good TV over the summer (don’t buy preshredded because are you made of money?). When the pasta is limp to the point of disintegrating, pull the casserole out of the oven and add the drained pasta, salt and pepper to taste, and a third of the cheese. Stir with the vigour of complicated mother-daughter love and then top with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven for roughly three old family stories or, say, 40 minutes or until the top browns. Get out the TV tables, grab the remote and tuck in.
— Special to the Winnipeg Free Press
Denise Duguay writes about TV twice a week at d2tv.wordpress.com. Questions, comments to email@example.com.