Nobody wanted to love Cooking With Paris more than I did. As a reality-TV obsessive and fervent admirer of Y2K celebrity culture, I am a shameless Paris Hilton fan. I still laugh whenever I think about how, during season one of The Simple Life, she asked a dinner table of Midwesterners, “What is Walmart?” I have long followed the antics of her teeny tiny couture-clad dogs on Instagram (RIP Tinkerbell). Last year, like many others, I watched Hilton eloquently detail the alleged abuse she endured as a teenager at boarding school in the revealing documentary, This Is Paris. The film was lauded as a look at another, more sincere side of the heiress, sans breathy, affected valley girl voice. So, when Netflix announced Cooking With Paris, which premiered this week, I was eager to tune in and thrilled for Hilton’s return to television.
Unfortunately, the quasi-cooking show (it does not offer any remotely useful cooking advice) is an over-produced miss. Each 25-minute episode features Hilton preparing a full meal, designed around themes such as family steak night and Italian night, with the help of a celebrity guest. We see her shopping for ingredients in various impractical outfits, butchering the pronunciation of “tomatillo,” and being taught what tongs are by Kim Kardashian.
Kardashian is the guest in the first episode, in which the two reality-TV icons and longtime friends cook a Lucky Charms-inspired breakfast. If the phrase “Lucky Charms-inspired breakfast” did not already make it abundantly clear, Hilton has the culinary tastes of a 5-year-old and this show is decidedly not for people looking to actually learn how to prepare gourmet recipes. Ultimately, the six-episode series is bizarre at best—why are we watching a montage of Hilton perusing a butcher’s prosciutto selection while dressed up as Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s?—and flat-out boring at worst.
Part of the problem might be that Hilton wants to have her funfetti cake and eat it, too. She slips in and out of the nasally baby voice that she shed in last year’s documentary, occasionally exposing her much deeper natural speaking voice in conversations with her guests. She seems to be trying to channel her clueless, perpetually bored Simple Life persona, but now that we know that that was just a character, it feels forced.
It’s not that I don’t believe that Hilton loves gaudy designer clothes, the color pink, and blinged-out sugary treats—all of that feels authentically Paris. Of course she would feed her dog caviar off of a spoon or task her army of assistants with transforming her dining room into Tulum for taco night. Even her inexplicable insistence on cooking in lace fingerless gloves like an extra from a Madonna music video feels like something she would do off-camera.
What’s less convincing is her complete ineptitude and lack of common sense in the kitchen, which is, incidentally, the entire premise of the show. It’s not hard to believe that Paris Hilton does not cook for herself—frankly, why would she? But moments like the intro of the first episode when, decked out for her trip to the grocery store in a hot pink gown that would make Barbie jealous, she asks an employee, “Excuse me, sir, what do chives look like? What do I do with it?” are clearly hollow attempts at recreating the does-Walmart-sell-walls brand of humor.
The show leans way too heavily on this concept for laughs. As she is toasting bread in a frying pan, Hilton wonders, “Why does this keep turning brown?” Kardashian, perhaps the only woman in the world who seems less likely to cook for herself than Hilton, supplies the obvious answer: “It’s just cooking.”
Not only is this an unfunny direction for the show, but it’s a confusing one, since the star has recently been trying to push back against being stereotyped as simply an airheaded heiress. The timing of a Paris Hilton TV comeback could not have been more perfect, aligned with a resurgence in appreciation for early-aughts pop culture. Bennifer and low-rise jeans are back! People are wearing vintage Von Dutch trucker hats unironically! Most importantly, we’re seeing a reckoning for the relentless sexism faced by the era’s young female stars, propelled largely by the #FreeBritney movement, but also bolstered by Jessica Simpson’s excellent 2020 memoir and, yes, Hilton’s own documentary.
So why the return to the oh-so-2000s trope of a ditsy blonde trying and failing to complete basic everyday tasks? And while we’re asking questions, why cooking? Hilton says at the top of each episode that she loves cooking—her specialties are nachos, Jell-O shots, and lasagna—but she could not seem less interested in the culinary arts once it comes time to actually chop, season, and sauté.
The most enjoyable aspect of the show is watching how she interprets a theme and brings it to life (well, hires party planners to bring it to life) via elaborate décor and over-the-top costumes. Perhaps event planning, interior design, or fashion would have been richer sources of inspiration for a Hilton-helmed production. With her impressive roster of famous guests, including Kardashian, Demi Lovato, and Saweetie, she even could have offered thoughtful, revelatory interviews on the nature of celebrity.
Above all, though, Cooking With Paris is a missed opportunity for Hilton to further take the reins over her public-facing identity and nurture the more genuine, not-at-all-bored version of herself that she had only just begun to reveal. Instead, she sells herself short by leaning on a tired punchline.