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Reality TV got its start in documentary films and television. We started with actual docs, then to “news” specials, and finally into shows like COPS. Now reality TV is sort of a surreal manipulated version of reality, entertaining for sure, but just as unreal as it is real. So, it’s interesting to see a cable network stepping back in time to bring us something more akin to those “real” documentaries than the modern definition of the genre. Their new show is titled The Freshmen Class.

The First Two Episodes

The first two episodes of this new series have aired on the Cooking Channel and they have set the stage for what is to come throughout the rest of the season. The show follows a group of people of varying age groups and struggles seeking to reboot their lives or upgrade them through culinary success. These four people have entered one of the toughest culinary schools in the country: the Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge. This school is so tough that three late arrivals to class disqualify them from school! The eight part season of the show will follow these people as they fight to succeed through their freshmen semester at the school. Tiffany is a 41-year-old full-time mom trying to forge a career for the first time despite her husband’s resistance. Jared is a Marine Corps veteran battling his war injuries and PTSD. Ben is a father of three wondering how he’ll provide for his family while he’s a full-time student. Jasmine is a single mom eager to stop working as an exotic dancer and fulfill her dream of opening a restaurant.

The show contrasts the students’ struggles in class and at home. This isn’t a bed of roses by any means. Tiffany and Jasmine fail a major test and are informed they will only have four more tests within the semester to pass the season. Jared and Ben fare better at this test but as much struggle as they deal with both men have a better support system behind them. Tiffany and her husband separate while she is in school because if they stay together she knows that her husband will continue to sabotage her success. Her husband doesn’t want her in school. He wants her at home taking care of his every need. Jasmine’s mother is a successful nurse and doesn’t think that Jasmine is making a good career decision. Little does Jasmine’s mother know what her daughter is doing to pay the bills.

There’s plenty of melodrama in this series just in the first two episodes and it walks such a line between reality TV and cooking documentary that fans of either might not be satisfied. For those looking for a documentary about cooking school there is literally no cooking in the first two episodes. For those just interested in documentary drama this show isn’t as manipulated as those fans have become accustomed too. There are conversations obviously set up but prompting is kept to a minimum. The production of the show feels more traditional documentary too. This of course means a downgrade in overall production values. If you’re shooting an actual documentary you don’t have time for setting perfect lighting, sound, and makeup. You have to go where the story takes you running and shooting with a minimal camera and lighting. So, no, this isn’t as set up as typical reality shows and that’s a good thing. On the other side of the coin the presentation of the stories feels a little choppy, kind of like MTV True Life documentaries from the 1990’s. It does appear that cooking will finally kick in by episode three. It actually took a little too long to get there for a show airing on “The Cooking Channel”. With that said though it’s interesting to see just how much book work there is in cooking school before the first stove is turned on.