Director: Gilbert Adler
Writers: A L Katz and Gilbert Adler
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Bess Armstrong, Art LaFleur, Meat Loaf, Judd Nelson, John Kassir, Jeannette Lewis, and Helen Nasillski
Composer: Nicholas Pike
Air Date: 7/22/1992
Fred (Christopher Reeve) and Erma (Bess Armstrong)—owners of a failing squid restaurant—are about to be evicted by unforgiving landlord Mr. Chumley (Meat Loaf) when Gaston (Judd Nelson), an inconspicuous drifter, shares a unique steak recipe with his employers. Though Gaston’s mystery meat attracts a flood of new customers, Fred begins to worry when Phil (Art LaFleur)—a police detective and frequent steakhouse patron—investigates the “disappearance” of Mr. Chumley.
Operating on the clichéd premise that a restaurant would become wildly popular after adding human flesh to the menu, “What’s Cookin’” emphasizes gross-out humor at the expense of logical storytelling. Tales from the Crypt fans will thus enjoy the campy, disgusting atmosphere of this episode.
Horrified by Gaston’s cannibalistic cuisine, Fred at first displays an understandable reluctance to serve “meat loaf” for dinner. Despite his initial “reservations,” however, Fred eventually develops an appreciation for culinary arts of the macabre variety—a character transition made realistic, and amusing, by Christopher Reeve’s exceptional acting.
An unassuming, soft-spoken individual, Gaston never conveys the charm, cunning, and menace that one would expect an elusive serial killer to embody. As a result, audiences may have a difficult time accepting that Gaston could convince an otherwise kindly restaurant owner and his wife to commit heinous crimes for the sake of profit.
Also problematic is the concept of a veteran detective turning a blind eye to murder, especially when motivated solely by the prospect of early retirement and an endless supply of Fred and Erma’s “special” steaks. Note that Phil claims to spend a great deal of time searching for Chumley’s killer, thereby proving himself to be a dedicated lawman with a compelling sense of justice—hardly the qualities of a man who would willingly partner with an establishment founded on homicide and cannibalism.
“What’s Cookin’” puts a clever twist on an overused horror trope. Series enthusiasts are therefore advised to view this delightfully nasty, if predictable, offering.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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