Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Your Weekly Summer Reality TV Roundup – 06/15/07

The "reality vs. documentary" rumination is going to have to stay shelved yet another week. My apologies to the six people who might've been waiting for it.

Hell's Kitchen
Was it the most shocking dinner service yet? Heck, when is it not? Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the previous two seasons of Hell's Kitchen, I don't think the contestants have ever completed a full meal on only their second try. And with only a half-staff to boot (since Ramsay dismissed the entire male brigade early for gross incompetence). So hooray for the female team–even though I suspect their happy façade of sisterhood is only one burnt Wellington away from cracking. Also, just from the cursory glances the show has afforded us, it appears that the male side is nurturing a couple of actual chefs-to-be, capable of doing something with Hell's Kitchen's ridiculous prize. Seriously, I don't get how the genuine artisans of Top Chef only win a little money and prestige, while the HK bozos get a whole flippin' restaurant to run. When you watch someone like the perpetually weepy-and-sweaty Aaron on Hell's Kitchen, you have to wonder if the producers only received twelve applications this year. How did some of these bozos make the cut to compete to be a head chef, when they look like they couldn't open a can of soup without succumbing to a fainting spell. ("Turn the crank! You donkey!") I think I'm getting closer to solving one HK mystery, though: Why anyone would wait around for two hours in order to not get their lobster spaghetti. Hell's Kitchen must have the best breadsticks in Los Angeles.
Line Of The Week:: "I'm sorry. I said a curse word."

On The Lot
I tried to convince my wife after this week's excruciatingly terrible hour of cutesy sub-student work that it was time to bail on On The Lot, but she pointed out that we're only two weeks away from finding out what the hell the producers are going to do once they've burned through all the contestant's submission films. So I guess I'm going to bear this cross at least a little longer. But really, what difference do I expect to see in the films to come two weeks from now? None of these contestants have shown any spectacular filmmaking vision–and no, Marty Martin's distracting, Tony Scott-cribbing subtitles don't count–nor do they appear to have any understanding of the human condition beyond what they've seen on TV. This week, in all five films, every single character behaved more or less exactly as you'd expect them to, whether they be yuppie, nerd, crook or emo kid. The only remotely unusual film was the one about the single mom trying to keep her son from finding out about her former lovers, but I didn't really get why she was trying to do that, outside of the fact that the script required her to act all embarrassed. As always, it was far more entertaining to watch our poor hostess Adrianna, in her awful, awful clothes, flailing about on stage and peppering her sentences with words like "guys" and "buddy" to cover up for how badly everything was going. She's like every annoying waitress I've ever had. Any second now she'll come back from the commercial break and say, "I'm sorry guys, I don't know why your apps aren't out yet."
Line Of The Week:: "If you're going to be derivative, you should be more original."

American Inventor
The first week of AI was kind of a let-down in comparison to last season, but the second episode had all the cool gadgetry and extravagantly dumb ideas that make this show kind of special. Watching that dude with his radio-controlled papercraft vehicles, or that other dude with his collapsible wheelchair, you get the sense that there really are people with good ideas out there, who just need a forum to explain themselves. And if they can do so well enough, they've got a fair shot at success. (My wife says she likes this show because it lets her root for "people who have their shit together.") On the other end of the scale, this week saw a lot of people who'd poured their energies into making minor modifications on existing inventions, like icing guns and battery testers. And in the spirit of last season's "it's not a stick, it's a wand" moment, this week had two inventions that were, essentially sticks. We had a hippie who'd come up with a kind of hacky-stick (which I believe already exists), and another man who concocted some kind of a glove-drying rod, which prompted our runner-up for Line Of The Week: "It's not a glove-stick, it's a glove-inverter."
Line Of The Week:: "Thank you very good."

Top Chef
Nothing like being back in the familiar rhythms of Top Chef, one of the best-designed and most endlessly fascinating reality contests ever. Though the whole crew is in Miami this year, in much nicer digs, not much else has changed. The dogged cooks are still grinding it out, just trying to get something on the plate, while the pretentious cooks are still waxing philosophical about "flavor profiles." If nothing else, Top Chef teaches that there's no one ideal way to prepare a fancy meal–though it also emphasizes the importance of overcoming crazy challenges to come up with something both original and edible. What Top Chef fan didn't feel his or her blood start to race when the contestants were asked to come up with an "amuse-bouche" in 10 minutes, using plastic cutlery and whatever they could find left over on the "Welcome To The Show" reception table. I'm not sure I could pick my ingredients in that short a time, let alone make something as cool-looking as Micah's winning faux-sushi snack. On the whole, this looks like an impressive crop of contestants, equal parts arrogant and collegial. (It's the collegial part I enjoy best, like when Tre complimented Hung's dish, seconds before Tre beat him.) I'm especially interested to see more of our "fromagier," Sara, if only to see how long it'll be before someone says, "It's not Top Fromagier. It's Top Chef." But basically I'm loving the whole shebang, right down to that "okay, now it's tense" guitar-picking soundtrack cue, and the way the artful editing of first-person interviews and caught-on-the-fly moments keeps us well-informed without the intrusion of a narrator. It says something that the notoriously skeptical Anthony Bourdain–whose guest-judge stint last year coincided with one of the worst weeks of cooking the show has ever seen–came back to judge again. It says that among the cooks who count, Top Chef is legit.
Line Of The Week:: "You could fry my toe and it would taste good."

Pirate Master
Okay, there's trouble in paradise. I've been defending this show for its first two weeks based on the fact that it's endearingly stupid, and for the way that it shakes up the vote-for-your-least-favorite reality contest format, creating a hierarchy in which the least-favorite may be untouchable. But I have to admit that this week, I'm beginning to see the inherent flaws with PM: most notably the fact there's only one challenge per show, and once that little bit of sport is done, not much else happens. This week saw an overthrow of the wicked old pirate captain J.D. in favor of the improbably named Azmyth, who immediately decreed a more equitable–and therefore more boring–distribution of work and treasure. At least Azmyth had the decency to adopt an English accent for no apparent reason, as well as a dandyish manner, which made his declarations like "We've got a bunch of floaters, and we need to flush the toilet" all the more dopey. (Moment of the week: The host's double-take when Azmyth called Pirate Court to order. "Have you got an accent now?") Still, better Azmyth in charge than this week's castaway, who's name I can't recall, but who defended her abrasiveness by saying, "My personality can be hard for people to swallow. But that's their problem, not mine." Um, no…acting like an asshole is pretty always going to be a "your problem."
Line Of The Week:: "Look at this, we're sailing in the Carribbean. As pirates. We are pirates."