Last night, MasterChef Junior aired the finale of its too-short, seven-episode second season. MasterChef Junior is the most joyous reality show currently on television, a weekly treat in which viewers get to watch tiny and adorable wunderkind chefs create extravagant dishes worthy of a five-star restaurant. The first season was nothing less than spectacular, a surprising entry into the cooking competition genre that won over everyone who watched it — even those who aren’t big fans of cooking shows (or children). Season 2 started off strong, but seemed to lose a bit of its magic along the way.
This isn’t to say that MasterChef Junior isn’t still an enjoyable watch. It’s still immensely enjoyable — you won’t find any other show that will so often make you clap your hands with glee or tear up (particularly when Gordon Ramsay comforts a child who has over-spiced a dish). But there often felt like there was something missing from this season; it felt colder than its original incarnation, more formulaic, and less exciting. I’m inclined to agree with Libby Hill’s Grub Street review of the season finale:
The thing about both Logan and Samuel is not that they’re bad chefs or uninteresting boys. But the fascination they exhibit with the cooking process seems to be just that: a fascination with the process. It doesn’t seem like either of them really like food all that much. In other words, the finale of MasterChef Junior was missing any sense that the people involved loved food, and so a certain level of warmth was lost, too.
In last night’s finale, 11-year-old Logan (whose main dish was salt-crusted branzino) went up against 12-year-old Samuel (pan-seared arctic char). It was strangely anti-climatic, perhaps because both of these boys are deeply serious about their cooking process — this isn’t a criticism; I admire them for it — and, understandably, spent most of the episode working hard to cook a flawless dish, which left little time for the fun goofing around that occasionally happens in the kitchen. It should be noted that the most fun episodes always come toward the beginning of the season, when the kitchen is packed with hyperactive and overly excited children, racing around while trying to pick the right ingredients and lift heavy kitchen appliances. With just two kids going head-to-head, there’s drama, sure, but most of the fun is gone.
That said, the finale had its high points: it was sweet to see contestants’ family members, as well as some of the series’ former contestants, there to cheer on the young chefs. According to the judges, both boys cooked impressive and amazing meals that made it hard for them to choose, but ultimately Logan came out on top (I still am not even familiar with the vast majority of ingredients in his dish, so consider me just as impressed). It was cute as ever: Everyone was overjoyed, confetti fell from the rafters, and Logan adorably reiterated that the friends he made along the way were more important than the trophy or the money (AWW).
Overall, it all felt a little… less special than the first season, maybe because everything always feels a little redundant the second time around. Plus, the episode felt oddly rushed and thin toward the end. And now, we barely even have time to celebrate Logan — the next season of MasterChef Junior begins on January 6. It’s still a great show, but it would help if Fox slowed down the franchise a bit to give it room to breathe — and the children more time to have fun and hang out with each other.