What lies behind that bright, shiny sheen of the Martha Stewarts, Giada De Laurentiis, Paula Deens and Ina Gartens? As time and the news has shown for the most of them, the answer is something dark. Caroline’s Kitchen takes us behind the scenes of a mid-level television cook, Caroline (Caroline Langrishe). After rehearsing for a live show that will go on the next day, Caroline is frantically trying to get the house prepared for a family dinner with her golf obsessed husband Mike (Aden Gillett) and her recent Cambridge graduate son, Leo (Tom England). In the midst of this, her snarky, irreverent temporary assistant, Amanda (Jasmyn Banks) tells Caroline about some embarrassing bad news that will potentially impact her career while desperately hitting on the handyman Graeme (James Sutton). On top of this, a mysterious woman (Elizabeth Boag) shows up to the house, presumably a potential buyer. With everyone having life changing news and marriage altering secrets, tensions escalate to absurd extremes despite Caroline’s desperate attempts to maintain a shiny veneer.
Caroline’s Kitchen is funny and irreverent. The growing tension and hysteria walk the fine line of not going too far into the absurd while still being laugh out loud funny. What helps is that while all the characters are objectively not great people, each manages to find a relatable humanity. So, while everything falls apart, we get the pleasure of both laughing at and rooting for each person.
Admittedly, at times the absurdity of the characters does not feel earned. Amanda’s unprompted monologue about living with her mother’s illness feels out of place and awkward, and unfortunately not in a humorous way. Amanda’s character just does not have the motivation or stake that the others’ have. The rest have history or passion or some form of connection outside of a work relationship that seems unnecessarily malicious. Yes, this show has absurd and over the top characters, but who would actually speak to their boss in such a demeaning manner? Especially, if they are only a temporary replacement. I had half been thinking Amanda would be revealed to be a supernatural persona or business plant, something to justify her unjustifiable behavior. This is not a critique on the part of Banks, who, though perhaps at times hamming it up, delivers the mean girl diatribes with humor and spunk. She is simply not served well through the script.
Yet truly, this misplacement of Amanda is the only glaring fault I can find with the production. While you struggle to find anyone to actually root for, you are nonetheless trapped in a balance of laughing at the crazed predicaments this family gets themselves into and genuinely wanting them to connect with each other. For a family filled with quite annoying people who live to generally annoy one another, their love for each actually does shine through.