The opening titles for What’s Cookin’ give a little too much away. They draw too much attention to Judd Nelson, who doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast title cards. Christopher Reeve, Bess Armstrong, even Art LaFleur. The episode has a certain type of cast member and a Judd Nelson “special appearance” is noteworthy.
Reeve and Armstrong own a restaurant. Nelson is the drifter who cleans up around the place. Do he and Armstrong run off together? No. But Judd Nelson in a “special appearance” as a drifter? There’s got to be something funny about that guy. A.L. Katz and director Alder’s script doesn’t get very interested in character. It’s not clear Reeve and Armstrong are even married until it’s needed in expository conversation. They might have a sort of sitcom chemistry, but Adler doesn’t ask them to have chemistry. He directs What’s Cookin’ like they never got to rehearse it.
Needless to say, Nelson proves to be trouble. There are two big twists–with only the first one forecast, though the second one is obvious, there’s no attempt at forecasting. Instead, the second twist is just a way to hurriedly tidy up all the plot threads.
The episode has occasional moments where the cast would be fully capable of doing something better, but Adler never goes for it. He relies entirely on the predictable plotting. What’s Cookin’ is a MacGuffin in search of its host.
And Nelson’s really bad. He’s supposed to be creepy. Instead, he’s just bad. Some of it is Adler’s fault. But not much of it.
Reeve’s passable, though clearly just cashing a paycheck. Armstrong comes off the best, though still significantly weighed down by Alder’s lousy direction.
The funny thing is–Katz and Adler miss the most obvious twist to explore. Reeve’s always the patsy. There’s too much emphasis on Nelson to explore the possibilities of the tired concept. The majority of the actors in What’s Cookin’ deserve better engagement from the director. It should’ve been much better with this cast.
Produced and directed by Gilbert Adler; teleplay by A.L. Katz and Adler, based on a comic book by William M. Gaines; “Tales from the Crypt” created by Steven Dodd; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Robert DeMaio; music by Nicholas Pike; production designer, Gregory Melton; aired by HBO.
Starring Christopher Reeve (Fred), Bess Armstrong (Erma), Art LaFleur (Phil), Meat Loaf (Chumley) and Judd Nelson (Gaston).