Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party which debuts tonight on VH1, carries itself like it’s the strangest and most surprising new program of the year. But the most striking thing about it is how hard it works to convince us that co-hosts Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg have almost nothing in common.
Ostensibly a cooking contest but really more of a hanging-out show recorded in front of a studio audience, it presents Martha and Snoop (who are friends in real life) as the ultimate odd couple: a prim, older white woman with a lifestyle-based empire, and a weed-smoking 40-something black rapper who's achieved his own version of entrepreneurial success. The set is divided into a Martha half (light tones, clean design; a fridge that plays opera when opened) and a Snoop half (cluttered, nightclub-lit, bling-y; a fridge that plays rap when opened). “I can’t lose to the ’hood!” Stewart proclaims, as if she were a Harvard-trained heavy in The Great Debaters taunting a member of Denzel Washington’s crew rather than a millionaire addressing a fellow millionaire.
“This is the ’hood and Hollywood right here!” says guest and ultimate cooking contest arbiter Ice Cube, marveling at the cultural divide separating hosts whose personal assistants and drivers are probably tight, too.
The first cooking contest revolves around fried chicken, a dish that Stewart informs us was brought to the United States by Scottish immigrants but improved by African-Americans. The banter, which sounds part improvised and part scripted, caricatures the hosts and encourages them to caricature each other. While things never turn ugly, there are stray moments where it seems as if the way-overdone culture-clash thing might be rooted in something too real for a VH1 cooking series to really explore. During a “one truth and two lies” game involving Snoop, Martha, Cube, and fellow guests Seth Rogen and Wiz Khalifa, Cube offers the following: (1) that he once went to architectural drafting school , (2) that he was kicked out of high school, (3) that his Death Certificate album turns 30 this year. Only the first claim is true, but Stewart assumes Cube was kicked out of high school. “Really, Martha?” Cube says, staring at her across the table and looking very slightly hurt. “You think that of me?”
The role of culturally clueless older white lady comes easily to Stewart, which is surely why the show goes overboard in trying to exploit it for comedy. “Look at me, I’m wearing a T-shirt, I’m wearing bling!” she says, marveling at the attire provided for her by the show’s wardrobe department. She jokes that Snoop’s “vocabulary” is catching on with her, then wonders if the correct word is actually “lingo,” then realizes that’s not right, either. “Vernacular,” Snoop offers. Some of her segues have a Principal Seymour Skinner construction: “The competition will be as hot as the oil in which we are going to fry,” she promises as the show heads into a commercial break.
Meanwhile, Cube, Khalifa, Snoop, and Rogen do their part to establish Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party as the most unabashedly pro-marijuana space on TV’s grid. There are incessant nods to the ubiquity of weed and cornball lines playing on the word “high.” Snoop’s “one truth and two lies” offerings include the possibility that he once smoked a 16-oz. blunt. Rogen asks Snoop if he smoked weed inside the White House when he visited. Snoop doesn’t answer, but he does introduce himself as "The King of Kush" going up against Stewart’s "Queen of Cuisine," and plugs Khalifa’s own personal strain, Khalifa Kush, right before Khalifa enters stage left bearing a huge bag of the stuff. “A lot of us smoke!” Rogen points out for the benefit of viewers who don't know anyone on the show besides Stewart, or who have been in suspended animation since the first Bush presidency.
This is a fun show that’ll be a lot more fun once everybody involved calms down a bit and lets the hosts and guests represent only themselves instead of stale ideas about the cultural stereotypes they supposedly embody. The best part of the show's format is the final stretch, when the hosts and their guests sit at a round table, eat the food Snoop and Martha have prepared, talk, and play games. It’s here that something resembling authentic human interaction can occur.
Among other nuggets, Stewart informs us that she’s been struck by lightning three times. “It does make you stronger,” she says. “Going to jail does not make you stronger. Only lightning makes you stronger.”
“I’m not going to the gym no more,” Khalifa says. “I’m going to get struck by lightning.”