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It simply isn't possible for this reality series to be titled more aptly than "The Chopping Block," given its similarities to Fox's long-running "Hell's Kitchen" and pretty much every other restaurant/food competition show there has ever been. This new effort from NBC is literally a chop off the old block.

About the only significant difference is this one's got Brit chef-restaurateur Marco Pierre White, host of the U.K. version of "Hell's Kitchen," instead of Gordon Ramsay (also British) as the latest arrogant incarnation of Simon Cowell. This one also features wannabe star foodies paired as couples (chef/waiter), rather than individuals competing on two teams of eight. It adds the wrinkle of having the nervousness and hostility of the contestants doubled down, if you will. And "Chopping Block" is a mite more traditional in its shameless use of those old standbys: driving music, ratcheted-up suspense and manufactured conflict.

As our snobbish and intense judge, jury and executioner, White is suitably contemptuous of the 16 players and their culinary creations that will wind up with one pair earning a $250,000 grand prize. Transforming restaurant dining into something approaching warfare, the show zeroes in on the chaos of the process as the red team and black team attempt to open their own restaurants, cook and serve dinner for fussy patrons in New York (including a real-life stuffy food critic, to their great shock and chagrin). The worst performers on opening night — or at least the ones with the least charisma — are sent packing in the usual show-ending elimination ritual. There's also one really great "Tell it to your mama, loser!" argument among teammates that we wish would come to blows.

White does a cloying job of presiding with an iron (chef) fist and has a head of hair that's as unkempt as it is improbable. It's furthermore difficult to tell the actual from the staged in "Chopping Block" in that there are 11 credited editors. By the time these folks are done snipping and revising, who really knows who did what, when and how? Capturing the genuine process without altering and sweetening is just so 1985. In the primetime of the new millennium, perception long ago replaced reality as the image of choice. Lest we forget.(partialdiff)
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