Netflix, in their continuing efforts to dominate every aspect of film and television, have moved further into the realms of original reality T.V. and lifestyle programming. What better shows are there to binge than the stuff we guiltily marathon on TLC at the weekends when nobody else is home? These are formats that lend themselves well to the Netflix ethos: A batch of episodes released at once, designed to be hungrily consumed in as little time as possible. The streaming service’s forays into the world of cooking shows has led to a stream of quiet successes, from the professional artistry of Chef’s Table to the giddy chaos of Nailed It. Yet these are, by and large, pretty traditional offerings, and Netflix has prided itself on the freedom and experimentation its format and endless streams of revenue offer creators.
That brings us to The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, their latest reality show-slash-cooking series that’s essentially a cross between The Addams Family, Pushing Daisies, and Pinterest. Obviously, I love it.
McConnell, a long-time Instagram favourite, specialises in spooky baking and a commitment to the entire aesthetic it embodies: Think haunted houses, adorably gory cakes with realistic looking candy eyeballs, and impeccably tailored retro dresses no normal person could ever cook in without getting dirty. Some of her most famous creations include a pie with the face-hugger from Alien bursting out the centre, snail croissants, and most recently, a sugary shrine to Freddie Mercury. Overall, what she does is create culinary fantasies that none of us will ever recreate, mostly because we know they’d never look that good if we tried it ourselves.
Therein lies one of the real hooks for McConnell’s show. While there are recipes that are easy enough to try at home, the showstoppers are creations of such time-consuming detail and commitment that the real joy simply comes in watching them be made by someone who knows what they’re doing. Would it be cool to make an exact recreation of your house from buttercream? Sure, but it’s probably more satisfying to just buy some cupcakes and watch Christine do the heavy lifting.
The Curious Creations is unique in one aspect I’ve never seen from a cooking show: It has a plot. McConnell and her friends — including a resurrected Egyptian cat god, a stuffed racoon and a werewolf named Edgar — live together in the nightmare house of my dreams and live their happy twisted lives to the backdrop of love, work and meddlesome neighbours. It’s a fascinating pastiche of the artifice of cooking shows that’s also easy to invest in. Everyone’s watched a cooking show where the host has ‘spontaneous’ guests over for dinner and must rush out a meal from their obvious studio set of a kitchen. The illusion is clear but that’s kind of the point. We’re supposed to transfer ourselves onto these fantasies of homemaker perfection. McConnell is simply following in that proud tradition, only here she’s selling a true fantasy.
The show only works because it’s wholeheartedly and utterly committed to its premise, one that requires complete earnestness. You can’t half-ass a show where a woman cooks a Ouija board cake while Brian Henson designed animal puppets provide snarky commentary and the ghost of Dita von Teese is on hand for relationship advice. In that aspect, the comparison to The Addams Family feels particularly apt. The joke with everyone’s favourite gothic family is that they’re essentially the perfect American family whose wholesomeness comes from their love of everything that makes them different. They love the dark, the gloomy, the perpetually psychotic, and none of that stops them from being a caring family. Why not find joy in making bear claw donuts and going all Edgar Allan Poe on your neighbours?
McConnell doesn’t just bake either. She shows you how to make candles, how to sew a dress, and even a little millinery. The entire aesthetic gets its due here. Most cooking and lifestyle shows, especially the ever-popular domain of HGTV, rely on that escapist element that comes from seeing highly competent people be good at their jobs. We like to watch experts do their stuff with poise and the sort of scale that can only happen with endless cash flow. The ultimate product isn’t necessarily attainable - although I think I could have a good go at making those donuts one of these days - but the full commitment to the dream is what matters.
A lot of you will probably find The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell unbearable: It’s twee, earnest, features talking animals and McConnell, while an immensely charming presence, is not a great actress. But the things that make it unappealing to some will be catnip to others, and this is a show that knows its target audience well. It’s niche and the chances are this won’t spark a trend of similarly styled or structured cooking shows, but as a unique addition to Netflix’s expanding array into the genre, there is much to love here. Halloween is approaching, after all.
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is now available to watch on Netflix.