5 Annoying Ways TV Characters Pretend To Eat Food
Most actors are good at what they do. They can walk, talk, and pretend to be Batman all at the same time. But even the best actors tend to have one specific Achilles heel ... or Achilles stomach, I guess. They are absolute ass at making the consumption of food and drink look remotely real. And while I get that there are complications with shooting for hours and looking interested in the glass of milk that's been in front of you since yesterday, there have to be better ways to fake it. Think about how ...
Everyone Holds Cups Of Coffee Wrong
It's standard in Hollywood to only give actors empty coffee cups as props. They don't even put water in there because they figure "Why bother?" But actors give no effort to make it seem like these cups are anything but empty, and they sure as hell don't act like they contain a hot liquid, despite it being an action they've probably performed a hundred thousand times in real life. Check out this scene from Supergirl and pay attention to the way an actor is swinging around the supposedly full, hot coffee cups she's carrying:
If someone walked through your office treating coffee with such little care, they'd have Super-Soaker'd the entire HR department with piping hot lattes to the eyes. If you saw a stranger behaving like this with a cup of coffee, I bet you'd intervene.
There are other times when a character will take their very first sip of the "coffee" and slap the cup down on the table, at which point it'll make the hollow pop of an empty cup. This is such a noticeable issue that a writer at Slate seems to be as consumed with it as I am, and has been keeping track of the worst offenders.
It's time for Hollywood to start putting some liquid in their cups. That way, when a Gilmore Girl whose personality is mostly based around a love of coffee decides to get a cup of her preferred Joe, she isn't suddenly breaking the laws of fluid dynamics.
They Leave Whole Spreads Completely Untouched
I know why actors don't ravenously chow down on the food sitting in front of them. It's cold, gross prop food, and they don't want to mess up continuity if they have to reorder shots (meaning somebody's sandwich would heal its bites in between cuts, like it's a grilled cheese Wolverine). But this creates all sorts of infuriating situations that I can't help but notice, like the Biteless Feast.
Hollywood adores taking big ol' expository dumps around King Arthur's Round Table, where characters talk and share telling glances, but never once touch the lavish courses sitting just a few inches from their perfectly made-up faces. Here's a meal from Wedding Crashers that will remain in pristine condition throughout the scene:
Imagine being invited over to dine with this crew of weirdos and looking around, just wondering if anyone's ever going to stop talking for long enough to even manage to cut the glistening buttery ham sitting in the center of the table, or take a spoonful of the golden mashed potatoes beside it. It's a feast big enough for a fucking NFL team, which means that, whether they intend to or not, someone will inevitably interact with the food. But nobody's eating. WHY IS NOBODY EATING? Are they waiting for someone to start? Take a bite, Vince Vaughn. Free me from this purgatory.
Even when the scene is centered around the feast to end all feasts, Thanksgiving, they still won't stop talking for one second to chug a gallon of gravy like normal people. Some might take a quick bite of turkey or sip some water, but sustained, natural eating? They act like the cranberry sauce will burn a cross on their tongues:
This is a food-based occasion. The lack of eating even among the non-talking characters is maddening. It looks like somebody spent half the week and all of their paycheck putting that meal together. Eat it, you assholes! It's getting cold!
They'll Almost Eat The Food ... Then Just Push It Around
This one is even worse. I like to call this the Fork and Knife Fakeout, or I Don't Actually Eat Food, I Just Nudge It Across My Plate For a While As I Get All of My Expository Thoughts Out and Move On. To the untrained eye, they're just eating very casually, but in reality they're blue-balling you with a bite. Most love to employ the tactic of stabbing a little morsel with the tip of their fork and continuously running it close to their mouth as the actor across from them talks. Take a look at this scene from YouTube's show from the Karate Kid cinematic universe, Cobra Kai:
You probably never would have noticed this without it being pointed out to you, just as you've never noticed a thousand other characters doing the exact same thing. But trust me, you will from now on. That's my gift to you. The guy takes a starter bite of the eggs, as if to say, "See? It's food!" He then spends the rest of the conversation teasing us, a hunk of egg on his fork as he gestures with it, repeatedly returning that bite to the plate.
Imagine if you were eating across from such an unhinged lunatic, forever halfway between eating and not eating like he's a character in a video game and someone needs to press the big glowing "X" above his head so he can do the action. And it's especially egregious when you're dealing with a meal like breakfast, which is meant to be eaten like you're a POW in a Popeye's (but more on that in a moment).
Besides the bite tease, the other extremely common and infuriating fake-ass Hollywood "eating" technique is the push-around. Apparently, nobody had that down like the folks over at The Big Bang Theory. Pay close attention to the two in the middle of the couch and the maniac behavior going on with their forks.
Does a single fork even make it from takeout tray to mouth? The way they're lightly poking at their food but absolutely never shovel it into their faces like a proper person shows you how far we are from entertainment capturing the human experience. HBO will "bravely" march a million flaccid hogs in front of the camera before anybody figures out how to make an actor look like they're really enjoying a meal.
No One Knows How To Eat Chinese Takeout
From the classic trope of the overworked detective poring over a case late at the office surrounded by lo mein to the "New Yorkers'" night in, the white Chinese takeout box is pop culture's go-to prop. It also always results in two annoyances: the idea that people are weirdos who just grab a carton and eat exclusively from that one without plating it, and characters who are more interested in stabbing their food with chopsticks than ever eating with them.
Yes, we're back with these scumbags again. Generally, these cartons contain a mixture of things that are designed to be emptied out onto a plate and shared and mixed and matched to complete the meal. But in Hollywood's vision of Chinese takeout, there's always going to be one person who paid their share for the dinner but got the unlucky draw and is just stuck with a carton of plain white rice for the evening, while the guy next to him sucks back a pound and a half of General Tso's.
Then we get to their use of the chopsticks. One of the most maddening things you'll see is when an actor decides to kill time pretending to eat Chinese by stabbing into their carton like they're performing a food-eating idle animation:
I think you'd need to be Jackie Chan to be eating Chinese near someone behaving this threateningly with their food, because shit's about to pop off. You're gonna have to fight for your life using nothing but chopsticks in about two minutes.
Everyone Always Abandons Their (Huge) Breakfasts
Let's set the standard stage: Mom has been up all morning, and despite the cramped kitchen and one functional burner, she's managed to pump out the weekly output of South Carolina's busiest Waffle House for her family of four. Then she puts out the call to the family: "Breakfast is ready!" The family comes down, none of them bothered by the fact that their mom turned into the chef of an aircraft carrier overnight. There are waffles, eggs, bacon, cereal ...
They then proceed to completely ignore it, either sitting down to do something other than eat, or just walking right past it.
Forget even mentioning the fact that Mom poured the orange juice INTO some fancy container to make sure the colors really popped for their arrival. Nope. Nobody gives a shit.
To someone watching such scenes over the last 30 years of film and TV, they'd get the idea that all Americans eat like this. That before school, the sun is inexplicably already on full blast, and kids and fathers alike give no respect to the work the mother put in for them. One teen MIGHT grab a piece of toast and head out the door in a rush for school (these people are always "going to be late"), but other than that, it's just fodder for flies. These scenes are a fucking fever dream.
The staggering amount of prepared and uneaten food being presented as your average weekday breakfast is buck wild. In reality, if your regular working mother prepared a buffet like this for her family and they hardly took a bite, let alone didn't thank her, she'd have all her bags packed and out the door before noon. But she's not in the clear either, because why is she making so much? What kids need to eat 3,000 calories in nothing but fat, protein, and carbs before they get on the school bus? Some people just aren't super hungry in the morning, Mom.
Hollywood, my plea is simple: Step it up. You're doing pretty well with the CGI and breaking down all kinds of technical and social boundaries on camera, and that's great. But everybody eats, and actors have been doing it the exact same kind of wrong since the invention of the camera. It's a lot easier for me to identify with "Hungover Guy Who Scarfs Down Bacon Egg & Cheese Sandwich Like He's On Death Row" than whatever HGH-ridden flying laser god you're going to throw at me this summer.
For more, check out 6 Ways The Food Industry Tricks You Into Eating Garbage - The Spit Take:
Follow us on Facebook. Nom nom nom.