Your Weekly Summer Reality TV Roundup – 06/22/07

Your Weekly Summer Reality TV Roundup – 06/22/07

Will this weekly feature ever evolve into a thoughtful discussion of where reality TV fits into the human journalistic impulse? Not this week, when there are so many hapless chefs to marvel at:

Hell's Kitchen
For the second year in a row, health issues felled a contestant in the early weeks. At least Aaron seemed legitimately under the weather–so weak that his fellow chefs had to get him dressed for breakfast service–as opposed to last year's sicko, who was chilling in the hot tub mere hours before he cracked under the demands of vegetable-chopping. Chef Ramsay was a lot kinder to Aaron–at least in the staged phone conversation we saw–but I noticed his newfound compassion didn't prevent him from using Aaron's condition to browbeat another contestant later in the show. ("Are you feeling dizzy? Medic. Medic.") Anyway, the real story of this week's episode was the persistent suckiness of the men's team, now down to four obviously smart, probably talented chefs who just can't cook…at least not in unison. For all their rededication to teamwork, they failed at breakfast and dinner, despite a strong start in the latter. (Quoth Ramsay: "We've sent two orders. Don't start wetting your pants.") The other story was Julia, the Waffle House short-order cook who rocked breakfast and did well enough at dinner that she should've at least been given the privilege of picking which of her fellow females to put on the chopping block. Instead, her teammates hung her out to dry, because she's never heard of a crème brûlée. It's true that Julia may lack the culinary imagination to run an upscale restaurant, but she's outworking everyone right now, and longtime Ramsay-watchers should know that he likes working-class grunts more than fancy-pants. At least Julia earned the respect of one of her colleagues, who delivered our….
Line Of The Week:: "That bitch could run a fuckin' Michelin star restaurant."

On The Lot
In yet another format change, the contestant-booting happened at the top of the show rather than at the end, which so messed with conventional reality show grammar that the audience sat stonily silent after Adriana said, "Marty," probably because they were waiting for her to add, "You're safe. We'll find out who's going home later." Oh well. It was nice to see that Marty stayed jerky right up to the end, touting his obstinacy by declaring, "I'm proud I stood up to people who have opinions." Yes, thank God those people who have opinions were taken down a peg. As for this week's films, they actually weren't uniformly awful, though I'd hardly call any of them good. The film about the glass eye that sees things remotely was inventive in concept, pat in execution. The one about the drug addict with magical blood was way too "college creative writing workshop," and way too pointlessly bleary. The pulling-down-the-sun film was neat, but our mini-Gondry is trying to hard to be a mini-Spielberg, putting his effects savvy in service of torturously routine story beats. The "ex-lovers fail to reconcile" scene had lousy dialogue and no style, but the acting was pretty good. And the tree-horror exercise…well, okay, that one was awful. ("It's experimental," the contestant offered meekly.) At least the tree-horror prompted some of the meanest commentary yet from Carrie Fisher, who said it was worse than "adolescence, and being left by a man for another man." Yikes! Finally, our weekly Adriana watch: Apparently, someone up above is convinced that America has had enough of her breasts, so this week it was all about the legs. Maybe someone will get the bright idea that it's really about her grating voice, and will put all of her required speeches on a cue card, so that we'll be spared the pain of watching her try to banter with the contestants and the guest judges. Adriana's idea of a witty thing to say to Wes Craven provides our….
Line Of The Week:: "Boo."

American Inventor
I finally see the flaw in AI's re-worked, no-second-round-only-finalists format: There will be no dark horses. If someone has a decent invention and gets three out of four votes but no unanimous support, all the tearjerker soundtrack music in the world won't change the fact that this person is ultimately going to walk away with nothing. The downside is that this week, some potentially good products–like the piano-glove, and the helmet/shoulder-pad combo–were killed because their pitches were lame, and the judges had no reason to give the contestants another chance in another round. The upside is that all those contestants who've essentially "taken an existing product and put a clock in it," to paraphrase The Simpsons, didn't get an undeserved second look. Like the woman who designed the coolest jewelry box ever, or the guy who put a condom on a keyring, or the kid who created musical tennis shoes. (Nothing like seeing pre-teens get their dreams crushed, huh? Keep punchin'!) The oddest inventions of the week were the body squeegee (as one of the judges asked, "What are the holes for?"), the jogger's leg braces ("This actually teaches you to run, while you're running."), and, "The only superhero who has one goal, and that goal is to protect children." And the saddest? The glorified Hot Wheels track that one contestant spent $300,000 developing. When the judges asked him how he could spend that much money, he answered with details about second mortgages and the like, but I think he missed the real point of the question: How does a length of curved plastic cost anyone a third of a million dollars? This guy got his necessary three "yes" votes, but what kind of triumph is that really, when there's no way he's going to be a finalist? So he feels better for a couple of days. So what?
Line Of The Week:: "Always but never give up!"

Top Chef
Judging by the teaser for next week, we're finally going to have a culinary disaster or two, which will be a nice change of pace. As I've said multiple times, I enjoy watching reality contests because I like seeing skilled people show off; but I also enjoy watching arrogant people overshoot and get their comeuppance. These first two episodes of Top Chef have been great, but like the judges often say, we need a little acid to work against the fat. On the other hand, Top Chef had its first semi-shocking elimination this week, when the obviously skilled and dedicated Sandy got sent home for taking "barbecue" to mean "sauté in a pan over indirect heat." Of course, anyone well-versed in reality show grammar should've seen this booting coming. The producers spent a lot of time at the top of the episode with Sandy, which meant she was bound to be either a big winner or a big loser. Once she landed in the bottom four, her fate was sealed. Another sad victim of editing.
Line Of The Week:: "You be a man!"

Pirate Master
So I figured out what Pirate Master is like. Have you ever played a brand new card or board game with your family? You know how for most of the first time through, you're trying to figure out the strategy, and you end up making huge mistakes by, like, hoarding the wrong cards or failing to take advantage of opportunities to hurt your opponents? That's what's going on with the show, except that for some reason, everyone who's become captain is so sure that they know the right way to do things that they end up making permanent mortal enemies. Poor Joe Don took too much money in the early going, and he'll be paying for it for as long as he stays on the ship. This week he kind of broke character during Pirate Court and said to new captain Louie, essentially, "Dude, we're playing a game. Lighten up." As for the quickly deposed captain Azmyth, he spent another week trying to cling to a British accent that disappeared whenever the action heated up–though he still tried to rally his expedition party with lines like, "Find the treasure in your head!" The rest of the time he let everyone goof off, which caused the former executive branch to gripe that, "On a pirate ship you got to be more of a disciplinarian," when the cameras caught the crew holding crab races. Crab races! Okay, I like this show again.
Line Of The Week:: "This game is taking a turn and the turn is anger."

Next week: A new show joins the roundup! But probably not the one you think.

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