James May is always likable, but he has his limits as a telly host and James May: Oh Cook tends to find them more often than any of us would perhaps like.
I’ve always considered James May the MVP of the original Top Gear/Grand Tour crew, though I do concede that’s not exactly a tough category to best. Either way, he seems to have a rather cushy relationship with Amazon. Back in January, he was given his own series in James May: Our Man in Japan, and now at the other end of the year, he’s got another in James May: Oh Cook. This one’s a culinary show, not for any particular reason other than the fact it’s another avenue for May’s specific brand of self-deprecation and fourth-wall-breaking humor, and thankfully Jeremy Clarkson is nowhere to be seen.
May makes no secret of the fact he can’t cook, meaning a cooking show helmed by him isn’t much of a cooking show. This doesn’t go unacknowledged. To be honest, barely any actual cooking happens at all, and whenever something more is required of May than he’s necessarily capable of, Nikki Morgan emerges from one of his cupboards to take the wheel in a slightly bizarre gimmick that isn’t as funny as the show seems to think.
No matter, since what is funny is May’s obvious disdain for the traditional way of making shows like this, mostly nattering about personal and world history and happily calling attention to all the bits of television production you’re not really supposed to see. May is quite pleased with his rambunctiousness here, even though it’s only a tepid bit of rebellion and is typically the domain of YouTubers and such. May’s a man out of time, in that sense, the host of a show on one of the world’s largest streaming platforms getting all revelatory about TV editing. It’s charming, in its way.
Slightly less charming, and slightly more important in the grand scheme of the show’s priorities than virtually everything else, is a shameless bit of self-promotion, since James May: Oh Cook is a tie in with a cookbook he’s bringing out, though admittedly it’s difficult to tell which is an advert for the other. Referencing this all the time makes the age-old mistake of confusing calling attention to something with not actually doing it. The shameless plugs are presented as such, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are shameless plugs. Never mind, though. And besides, in that case, surely Amazon is the best place to do it.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.