Stream it or skip it?

Have you ever tried to bake with an Easy-Bake oven? The oldest versions cooked with a light bulb; it took about an hour to make a brownie bite that was burnt on the outside and still raw on the inside. But it still seemed like a cool toy, even in the old days when we were growing up and we weren’t allowed to have one because “it wasn’t for kids”. Now, Hasbro has added the name Easy-Bake to a Netflix cooking competition that pits home cooks against each other.

Opening shot: A shot of the set, which includes huge ovens with neon lights around them in the form of the Easy-Bake Oven. Host Antoni Porowski introduces the show saying, “I’m here to show you that good food doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy.”

The essence: Three home cooks compete in each episode, judged by Porowski and a guest judge; in the first episode, the guest judge is Kristen Kish from Netflix’s iron chef restart.

In the first round, Porowski throws out a quick thirty-minute challenge; for example, a late-night fried snack that includes cheese and salsa. The first round is a race so the idea is to make an easy recipe that takes as little time as possible. “We’re looking for less time and ingredients, as well as clever tricks to save time,” he tells the contestants. The top two finishers advance to the second round.

In the second round, the cooks are given a similar task, though the refrigerators are cleaned out and they only have the freezer and canned food pantry to work with. The two cooks get 60 minutes, with a twist: the main components must be made in the huge “Easy-Bake Ovens,” which fire only 40 of those 60 minutes. The winner of that round receives $25,000 and returns in the next episode; a cook can potentially earn up to $100,000 if he keeps earning.

Easy Bake Battle
Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

What shows will it remind you of? Easy Bake Battle operates mainly in the chopped up format, with that champion tweak returning in its place. It’s not the first show to feature home cooks, but it’s the first to emphasize easy and tasty recipes.

Our take: If I were to remove the fairly obvious product placement from Easy-Bake Battle: the home cooking competition, it would basically be the same show as it is now. It could have a different title, and the ovens wouldn’t have the Easy-Bake Oven shape in neon around their doors. You wouldn’t see toy Easy-Bake ovens on set. But the goal of the game would be the same: home cooks who prepare comfort food using home cooking tricks.

So what does Hasbro’s money bring to the proceedings? We are not sure. There are a few good guest judges, most with Netflix connections, but the set looks like a pretty standard cooking competition set, and the ingredients available are things literally bought at the local Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. We’re not talking about expensive cuts or meat or truffles worth $100 a sliver here.

Most people know Porowski from queer eyeand he brings the same mix from that show: Lots of gourmet seriousness and enough humor and performative personality to make sure things move forward during the moments when he and the guest judge are watching the cooks go about their business.

The “tricks” that home chefs provide are sometimes helpful, like when someone shredded Goldfish with Parmesan cheese because fresh Parmesan cheese wasn’t available, and some were pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever cooked anything at home. For example, the contestant who baked potatoes in the microwave may seem like they’re doing something special until you realize, as our partner pointed out, that each microwave has a baked potato button.

We’re a little intrigued by the returning champion wrinkle, because we’re not sure how it works. When Porowski says a cook can earn up to $100,000, does that mean he can earn four times and then have to walk away? Or is there a final where they compete? Either way, that wrinkle separates this from the usual. Chopped up-style competition show as it pits someone who has experienced the challenges against people who are new to the process.

Sex and skin: Porn food shots.

Parting shot: The winner wins and everyone celebrates with little brownies made in real Easy-Bake ovens. We see scenes from the season.

sleeping star: We’re giving this to Haley, who was pregnant with twins when this was filmed, with an 18-month-old daughter at home. With 3 kids under the age of 2, we bet this amazing home cook doesn’t cook much these days.

Most of the Pilot-y line: One contestant’s “trick” is to use frozen onions. Well duh! We think all home cooks use frozen onions, especially if they want to cut down on prep time a lot.

Our call: TRANSMIT IT. Despite the tenuous link between the Easy-Bake product and the sometimes silly home cooking tricks, Easy Bake Battle: The Home Cooking Competition it has enthusiastic enough contestants and a fun returning champion wrinkle that makes it interesting to watch.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but he’s not kidding himself: he’s a couch potato. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, vanityfair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

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