Can anyone be truly baffled by chives, you wonder. Would anyone really not know what a whisk looks like? Or “a tong”? Would anyone actually rinse a turkey in bottled water? Or is it, must it all be part of the carefully curated act of idiot rich girl the presenter has been performing for the past 20 years?
All these issues and more are thrown up by watching Paris Hilton assemble basic meals – if we use the word “meal” in its loosest possible sense, to include cereal, marshmallow shapes and caviar – in her new Netflix series Cooking With Paris. “I love cooking but I’m not a trained chef,” she explains at the start. One of these things is true. But I’ll bet that Hilton, who clearly believes that edible glitter is a food group, no more loves cooking than I would love little rat dogs crapping in my handbags.
This reference may need explaining to younger readers, now that the early 00s are nearly two decades instead of 10 minutes ago. Socialite Hilton, part of the family of hospitality tycoons, parlayed a stint as a model with Donald Trump’s agency and a leaked sex tape into global fame as a reality TV star. She and her then friend Nicole Richie made their names with The Simple Life, wherein they attempted low-paid menial work to show that they weren’t very good at it and were very happy they weren’t the kind of people who had to do it. Hilton went to every party, was in every newspaper, festooned with pink accessories and accompanied by at least one tiny chihuahua in one tiny handbag. She was a Barbie fan’s fever dream, a brand magnet and she made millions. She went quiet for a while (there was a musical interlude we’ll pass over) but now she’s back.
Having tested the waters with a few cooking videos on YouTube, a series has duly been commissioned in which Hilton invites friends – ranging from the inimitable Kim Kardashian and Demi Lovato (“We met 13 years ago at Ellen’s birthday party”) to the lesser known likes of comedian Nikki Glaser – to join her in the kitchen. The second group of guests are there to fawn over Hilton and express disbelief that they have been let into her home for the privilege of making “unicorn-oli” with her (cannoli with edible glitter – enjoy) and having someone else place it on an appropriately dressed table.
It all gets odder as it goes on. It’s not (just) that Hilton has only four phrases at her disposal (“So good”, “So bomb”, “Insane”, “So cute”), but that she is such a deadening presence. The monotonous voice, the unmoving face, the careful movements developed over a lifetime of not wanting to disturb hair or outfit – it leaches vitality from the entire show. Kardashian, simply by virtue of being recognisably human and willing to laugh, rescues her episode and Lovato – although almost as baffled as Hilton by kitchen ingredients – does so, too.
The final episode, in which Paris’s sister Nicky and mother Kathy are her guests, is a study in everything. In money (at one point Kathy eats gold and I can only applaud the decision by everyone to let her); in celebrity (the sisters gasp in horror when Kathy tries to bend and speak with her mouth full instead of looking her perpetual hottest on camera); in mothers and daughters; in sibling rivalry, and all points in between. Paris’s signature breathy baby voice, interestingly, disappears when she is distracted, but where the real and fake Paris begin and end remains a question for the ages.
At least some of her Parisness, like the voice, must be put-on. But what are we to make of the moment when she gathers up the lead of a blender in such a way that the plug is clearly going to whip round – as it indeed does – and nearly take her eye out? Is that Stanislavski in action, or a sign of a quite profound incomprehension of the world? Genius-level acting, or just how you become when you have been insulated by such a thick layer of money from the day you were born, like generations of your family before you? Has the mask eaten the face, or was never a more meaningless question uttered? Tune in to find out less, but marvel either way.