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

Your Weekly Summer Reality TV Roundup – 06/29/07

Sorry about posting a day late. Had a short vacation this week and it took some time to catch up with my TiVo.

Hell's Kitchen
One of the things I've always liked about this show is the way it begins with the narrator saying, "And now, the continuation of Hell's Kitchen." It's an unexpected nod to the show's soapy unreality, and almost makes up for the moments when one of the diners–apparently all Hollywood extras according to one of our commenters–comes up to complain to Chef Ramsay about how long she's waited for her starter. It's always a she; and it's always so obviously staged. The overtly stagy moments on Hell's Kitchen make me wish the show were more honest about what's going on–or maybe even less stagy. Because HK does just fine when it plays the game straight, as with this week's blind taste test, in which former frontrunner Josh ate a piece of grilled tuna and guessed that it was pancetta. (So much for the refined palette of skilled chefs, yeah?) The downside of the blind taste test was that it was followed by a sequence of the losing male chefs having to eat a plate of organ meats. I have a hard time with eating contests or eating challenges on reality shows. My imagination is too vivid, and by the end, I start to squirm around in my recliner, feeling nauseous. As for this week's dinner service and elimination, there's not much to say. The dinner service was destined for shut-it-down-land from the start, and Ramsay was clearly gunning for Vinny, who I'm not sad to see go. To quote some baseball manager (Lou Pinella, I think), "Can anyone here play this damn game?"
Line Of The Week:: "I love putting things in my mouth."

On The Lot
Every week when I turn this show on, I grumble anew that it's not in HD. Surely the contestant's films are shot in HD. How can I truly judge the quality of a moronic mini-comedy about a sperm-bank robbery if the images aren't crystal clear? I also grumble anew about other things, like the fact that we see so little of the "making-of" these films–like the casting process, for example–and the fact that we're apparently judging these directors as much on their writing ability as on how they, y'know, direct. It's not like any of these cats sucks at camera placement or actor-coaching. (Well, the sperm-bank lady does, but she's pretty hopeless altogether.) But most of them can't write a story to save their lives, let alone craft decent dialogue. A case in point: This week's "film" Discovering The Wheels, about cavemen who stumble across a time-traveling sports car. Man, even the cavemen were stereotypes. None of these contestants can think beyond characters they've seen on TV. (Not even movies. Strictly TV.) Which does make it slightly less offensive when what's supposed to be a "sex comedy" about a young couple trying to conceive their first child turns into a hilarious salute to domestic abuse. Since the people in the movie aren't anything like real people, who cares, really? Once again this week, the only really decent entry was from Zach, who needs to lighten up on the Spielbergian music cues, but still deserves praise for his ability to stage inventive, funny scenes, with or without special effects. He's also the only one making recognizable short films, as opposed to commercials. He could enter his work in festivals. He wouldn't win, but he could enter.
Line Of The Week:: "I thought it was a better bedtime wrestling scene than in Borak."

American Inventor
I'm going to miss the "weeding out" round that the producers have cut from the show this year, but now I see what they're trying to do with the new format. Apparently, they've determined that people would rather see crazy invention-pitches from borderline nutjobs than watch people with genuinely good ideas gradually get their dreams crushed; so this year we're getting maximum pitchage, and only a few actual winners. The tone is also much different this year, with the judges seeming more quietly confident than undeservedly cocky. Even loony old George Foreman is kind of lovable with the way he way he says "I could use that" to every toilet-themed invention. (Quoth the Pissy British Judge: "Can't you just be happy in America with the toilet you've got?") But I worry that these judges aren't smart enough sometimes to see what's in front of their faces. I'm glad the bike-hook inventors made it through to the next round, because that device was super-keen, even though the PBJ worried that it was "dangerous." Apparently he wasn't getting that people already hang their bikes on hooks in garages everywhere, and this new grappling-like device is less dangerous and easier to use than what's out there now. Oh well. In a way, puffy ignorance trumps treacly sentiment, which American Inventor trotted out in a major way this week when the backless bra inventor talked about wanting to be a role model for her daughters, while gospel music played in the background. (We get it, guys. She's black.) Still, her invention was pretty neat, and her demonstration–using herself as a model–led to one of the best edits of the night, as she explained, "As you can see, I'm well-supported," before a cut to George, grinning.
Line Of The Week:: "It's going to change how we use the toilet all over the world."

Top Chef
Finally some screw-ups! It's always a treat to see some kitchen disasters sprinkled in among the triumphs, though if I can nitpick my favorite reality contest for a moment, I have to roll my eyes some when the judges take the contestants to task for playing it too safe on the challenges. Granted, the chefs could've done more with the concept of healthful, upscale comfort food, but the judges act as though they hadn't imposed any restrictions. Between the low-cholesterol ingredients and the one-hour prep time, this challenge wasn't as easy as it looked. (I have less sympathy for the other major obstacle, which comes up every year during the "comfort food" challenge: the fact some chefs think the dishes they're asked to make are beneath them.) On the other hand, maybe I shouldn't underestimate what these folks can prep in an hour, because I'm always amazed with what they come up with in the Quickfire–like this week, where they conceived, prepped and cooked a shellfish dish in 30 minutes. I'm also amazed with their innate knowledge of what to do in a kitchen, as when one of the chefs observed that his sauce had broken in the Elimination Challenge, and that his only option was to add fat, which the rules disallowed. Would the Hell's Kitchen contestants know that? (Answer: Some of them probably would, but it's the nature of that show to play down any skills or wisdom the chefs might have.) The big Top Chef stories this week were the heartening comeback of Howie, who'd caught some bad breaks the first two episodes, and the continuing obnoxiousness of Hung, who hogged the shellfish, dropped product on the floor and refused to pick it up, turned off an oven that had another chef's dish in it, and got huffy when his Quickfire dish was criticized by one of the best chefs in the world. ("Obviously he didn't understand what I was going for.") And we had two strong contenders for "line of the week." The runner-up: "I guess I didn't really understand how complex franks 'n' beans are." The winner….
Line Of The Week:: "I don't really have time to dick around with the conch."

Pirate Master
Good news for Joe Don this week–or as the accented Captain Azmyth calls him, "zho-don"–as ex-captain Louie also declares himself an ex-enemy, avowing, "No longer is there vengeance in my heart." But that's about the only emotional healing going on. Factions are forming left and right aboard this pirate ship, and everyone generally seems a lot testier than they should be, given that all they really have to do all day is cruise around a Caribbean island and occasionally solve puzzles for money. Even those puzzles aren't too taxing, although this week's blackjack-themed race had its moments of bafflement, from Louie steaming up the lens on his spyglass and making it unusable to the Red Team's inability to find their first clue in the woods. ("It seems like it would be easy to find a card on a tree, but actually in reality it's pretty freakin' hard.") All of this led to what the CBS promo guy could've called, "The most confusing Pirate Court yet!" Azmyth gave "black spots" to the people his officers disliked, and then couldn't come up with any good reason for anyone to vote them off. Listening to him cover his tracks by saying that contestants have to "choose sides" because "there are two sides to a ship, and two sides of what we do on the ship" raised the question I've been meaning to ask for weeks now: How are they getting pot aboard this tub?
Line Of The Week:: "One day you're searchin' through the forest for hidden treasure, and then the next day you gotta see one of your friends float off on a pathetic little raft, never to be seen again."

Hey Paula!
I'm not proud of myself for watching this, because I generally can't stand the "celebreality" subgenre of reality TV. True, watching famous people try to pretend that they're just like everybody else while they pal around with their employees and fret over what to wear to awards shows can be fascinating, if only for the way it reveals how out of touch and self-absorbed the rich and well-known can be. But watching these kinds of shows only feeds their egos, and contributes to the sense of entitlement that I find so unappealing about modern celebrity–and about the people who want to be modern celebrities. Still, this show is on Bravo, which I had hoped would make it a little classier, and it's about a woman whose generally out-of-it public demeanor begs for an explanation. And Hey Paula! offers one: Paula Abdul, it turns out, is just really, really tired. The show's first two episodes are about her on-the-go life as a public figure and independent businesswoman, with so many irons in the fire that she can't keep track of them all. Hey Paula! is also about how unhelpful her support team is, as they basically watch her melt down and fail to intercede on her behalf. (To be fair, it's possible that Abdul is a lot surlier and harder to manage when there aren't cameras around, recording her steely, forced smiles.) The second episode ends with the notorious American Idol interview junket that had her looking totally wasted and loony on coast-to-coast TV–which means I'll probably watch the next episode to see how she handles the fallout. But I doubt I'll write about this show again, because as it turns out, this Bravo production falls into all the usual "celebreality" traps. It presumes to be warts-and-all honest, but because there's no director around to prod Abdul with questions or provide any context, nothing ties together. If this were a documentary and not a reality show, we might find out something about what Abdul's life was like between the end of her Top 40 days and the debut of Idol. (Was she always this loopy?) And we might get Abdul to clarify what she means when she says of her costume designs for the live-action Bratz movie, "I know this project! I know these girls!" Paula Abdul as an aging, washed-out Bratz doll…now that would be a show!
Line Of The Week:: "They beat me down. But I am a warrior."