Category Archives: reality TV

Top Chef Masters

Bravo has given their Top Chef franchise a bit of a spin with Top Chef Masters. Instead of a bunch of newbie chefs, culinary school students, and whatnot, the contestants are world reknowned chefs who don’t need to prove anything. They’re not competing for money for themselves; they’re competing for a charity of their choice. There’s no living together. No having their every move filmed.

It’s a better show for all of that.

Couple of things have been markedly interesting. First of all, a lot of the contestants have acted as judges on the show. All of them have commented on how much harder it is to compete in this format than they thought. There have been chefs who haven’t managed to plate in the allotted time. Chefs who have had their dishes turn out badly. Chefs who have experienced the fun of malfunctioning product placed appliances.

The judging seems less erratic also. Although the Food and Wine judge shows up now and then, it’s mostly been really good food critics who know their stuff.

All of this has provided for a really stellar program. The manufactured drama is so not missed–at least not by me. There’s a genuine pleasure to be had watching experts working at their craft.

Plus watching Hubert Keller cooking in a dorm room in and of itself was worth my time.

Spring cleaning

I like to have the TV on in the morning while I get ready. Lately, I’ve been watching reruns of Clean House, which is not the best program of its type, but is still interesting to watch. It’s the downmarket version (more mugging, more manufactured drama) of the now defunct Clean Sweep (more organizational tips, more information).

Recently a friend recommended a book by Peter Walsh (the organizer from Clean Sweep) called It’s All Too Much. While it has less of the tips than I thought it would, it was still an interesting read and it’s inspired me to start going through the house with a more critical eye. Now I’m not a slob and my house is not messy like the houses of the people who go on these shows, but I still have too much stuff. I don’t really like that feeling. I like things to be neat and tidy and orderly. So it’s prompted me to do some reorganizing.

One of his suggestions is to take two bags–one for trash and one for donations–and just go through your house and fill them. While I’m happy to say that most of what I own is in good condition, I have filled a bag twice now with items for donations. It’s a little scary how many dvds and books I own. Now I read my books. I read and reread, but there are still items on my shelves that I don’t like or have yet to have read.

I think what happens is that after awhile you can’t really see the trees for the forest. You don’t see individual titles–just the shelves with the items. So I have been looking at each book and dvd individually and weeding.

I must say it’s a good feeling when your books and media have room to breathe.

New favorite show

This is what happens when I’m bored with TV. I start channel surfing and end up watching some weird show. The show in question is Survivorman. Les Stroud, who happens to be Canadian, is a survival expert. For each episode, he gets dropped off somewheres remote and dangerous. Usually he’s only got his multitool, his camera equipment (he films the episodes himself), and his trusty harmonica. For seven days he battles the element, makes a shelter, finds food, and water.

This isn’t Survivor with a bunch of idiot reality TV contestants. Stroud seems to know what he’s doing. It gets a bit goofy at times. One of my favorite episodes had him tearing up his Scooby-Doo boxer shorts for various purposes. I have to love that.

Crazy or Annoying: which is worse?

So new season of Project Runway is in gear. I think PR is my favorite reality TV show. It’s certainly one that has the most social acceptability. This is probably because it’s not one where they randomly go out and pick people who’ve never sewn before. The contestants have actual ability and backgrounds in fashion design. The focus is also usually on the talent and less on the personality.

This week the contestants had to pair up to design a gown for the reigning Miss USA to wear in the Miss Universe pageant. Okay, not so exciting. I must say Miss USA was surprisingly articulate and had pretty good taste. The emphasis this week was unfortunately more on the personality issues. On the one hand, we have Vincent, who seems high-strung and not in a good way. Keeping in mind that this is TV and people can end up looking totally opposite from who they are in real life, something ain’t right with the man. Also, so far his aesthetic is not one I’m loving. Then we have Angela. Angela, who was, well…really, really irritating. She apparently knew this was not her forte, which I can respect. But she spends her sketching time campaigning the contestant who designs pageant gowns for a living to pick her if he wins. Then she goes up to pitch her own idea to Miss USA, and hasn’t even bothered to make a presentation.

Guess who get paired together?

Vincent, in addition to not being terribly stable, apparently can’t play well with others. To an extent never before seen on Project Runway. He won’t let the woman do anything at all. Tells her to stand three paces away from him, and then seems surprised when she disses him and his design on the runway.

To my surprise, it’s Angela who gets lambasted by the judges. I’m not sure if it was because she was inarticulate (again, that pesky editing) or what, but she’s in the bottom two. Go figure…

Those pesky social scientists

Sadly, Jade is [insert Tyra Banks overly dramatic delivery here] “still in the running to become America’s Next Top Model“. She’s too old and too deluded. Why is she still on this show?

On another, less plebian note, new episode of Lost last night. Now they’re running rather creepy commercials (as well as print ads) for the Hanso Foundation as part of an online name. Basically, more clues about Alvar Hanso, the DeGroots, and those other fun folks at the Dharma Initiative.

I’m still annoyed beyond belief at what they did to Libby, the Cynthia Watros character. There’s an interview out there with an executive producer. Nice spin job, not too terribly convincing. It seems far more likely her character met the fate she did because of the DUI incident. I’m just ticked because I’ve liked Watros since she played crazy Annie Dutton on Guiding Light. On the other hand, it appears she’ll have some future appearances in flashbacks so that’s one consolation.

Other than that, it was a most interesting episode. I’ve been wondering if the task in the Swan hatch were part of a Skinner Box or a Milgram experiment, and it appears I am not far off. A friend of mine has a theory it’s all part of a virtual reality experiment and that’s possible too. I guess we’ll see.

Insomnia reared its ugly head again. This time I ended up listening to the commentary track for Revenge of the Sith. It was ROTS or the end of That Certain Woman with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda. That looked turgid. The next film up was Marked Woman. Bette is a “hostess” (contemporary audiences would have known “hostess” equaled prostitute) at a mobster’s nightclub. This was a way of getting around the Hays/Production Code).Her innocent sister gets mixed up in the nefarious goings-on and it’s up to Humphrey Bogart (the DA) and Bette to get justice. Interesting flick, but I’ve only seen it six times. So I settled on Revenge of the Sith.

Like all the other Star Wars commentary tracks, it’s sadly lacking. I can appreciate the special effects, but I’m far more interested in the story and the acting and the writing. The Star Wars’ commentary tracks, by and large, are devoted to the technical aspects of the movies. That’s fine and lord knows, they have their place and their own fanbase. What I don’t get is why they can’t spring for two separate tracks. You have one for the actors and maybe Lucas (who still has a hard time fathoming the necessity for exposition and character development) and one for the production ends of things. Far lesser films–heck, films with much lower budgets–manage to have multiple tracks. Somebody wanna tell me why they can’t manage to do this for Star Wars?

Fun with physics & religious fanatics

I’ll start off with Ice Princess. Okay, this is one of those movies that I would never, but never go see in the theatre unless I was accompanying a 12-year-old child, but which I ended up watching one day on cable. . As I write this, it occurs to me that since I’m eagerly counting down the hours to America’s Next Top Model, (when hopefully Jade, the narcissistic, murderer of the English Language will be eliminated), I have no right to malign the taste level of 12-year-olds…

Back to the film, Michelle Trachtenberg plays a physics geek. She’s unattractive in the way girls are unattractive in the movies–curl her hair and apply some eye shadow and she’s an instant beauty. She’s putting together a project for some scholarship that her mom, Joan Cusack is pushing her toward. The kid hits upon an idea: the physics of ice skating. Soon she’s at the local rink (run by Kim Cattrall) watching the figure skaters. The next thing you know she’s skating herself and dreaming of a competitive career in the field.

Formulaic but enjoyable. There is a place for these kinds of movies in our lives. Not everything has to be high art, which segues nicely into my next topic: the promised in-depth critique of that camp classic, Die! Die! My Darling!

The quality of the tape I picked up was quite horrible, but I stuck with it. Well worth the aggravation and the fiddling with the tracking button on the remote. Synopsis again: The guy Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) was engaged to has died. She’s since met and become engaged to someone else. From what I gleaned from the garbled section of the tape, she meets Fiance #2 on the boat over, but maybe I missed something. Anyhow, he’d really rather she forget all about Fiance #1, but no, she’s a Nice Girl and she’s going to do the Right Thing. The right thing involves her calling on Fiance #1’s elderly mama, Mrs. Trefoile. Sometimes it’s not so smart to be a Nice Girl who does the Right Thing, particularly when you’re in a horror movie.

Mrs. Trefoile is played by Tallulah Bankhead. Time has passed and I suspect that most people, if they know her at all, think of her vaguely as an old-time movie star. Possibly, they recall her performance in Lifeboat. A grande old dame as it were. This is a lady whose name and scandal were nearly synonymous. She worked hard; drank hard; loved hard; played hard. She went commando long before the Sharon Stone character in Basic Instinct was born and she was far more brazen about it too. She had affairs with men and women and was open about it at a time when Such Things Were Simply Not Spoken Aloud. So think about that for a second. Now picture this lady sans makeup, hair severely pulled back, and playing a religious fanatic. It adds a whole new layer of irony to the film.

She gives a very good performance. Surprisingly, so does Stefanie Powers. Donald Sutherland has a small part as a developmentally disabled servant. Peter Vaughan plays a distant relative/servant with seedy elan. Yootha Joyce is his long-suffering wife and ersatz housekeeper. The cast is actually pretty good (I should point out that Die! Die! My Darling! is a Hammer production. Quality was usually a happy accident in their films.) So is the writing. Omit the religious angle and you have a fairly standard plot: pretty young woman is imprisoned. Her escape attempts are unsuccessful and her captor’s use of violence escalates. See enough of these and it’s hard to care about the heroine. However, Patricia is a bright, somewhat snarky young lady. Her escape attempts are thought out as best as could be expected. She’s got spirit. Never gives in. So that’s all good.

But the focus is always on Bankhead. It’s like watching Mary Astor in Return to Peyton Place in that you simply cannot take your eyes off of her. In the end, she owns the film. Great stuff.

2:30AM TV!

Insomnia is an annoying thing to have. Last night, I fell asleep at the old lady hour of 9:30, missing the last half of Blow Out. Yes, I know it’s trash and possesses no redeeming qualities, but I don’t care. I have dropped two reality based shows from my line-up count ‘em two and I haven’t added any more. But I digress. I woke up at 2:30 AM too awake to get the sleep I needed, but too tired to do anything productive. Been there, done that, more times than I care to admit. My usual prescription is TV and Sudoku puzzles. Unfortunately 2:30 AM also means there are umpteen million channels with nothing but infomercials. My two choices were Her Twelve Men and Donnie Darko neither of which I had ever seen and both of which were already in progress.

Her Twelve Men was a programmer featuring Greer Garson in her last film for MGM. I think they’d hired Deborah Kerr (another elegant English redhead) by then and Hollywood has never been kind to older leading ladies. Garson’s a widow looking for a new direction in life. She becomes a teacher at a boys’ boarding school headed up by Richard Haydn (if you’re too lazy to click, he was the theatrical agent in The Sound of Music). The redoubtable Robert Ryan is the cynical co-teacher and love interest. Schmaltzy and largely forgettable, but I couldn’t help watching. Robert Ryan has that effect on me.

Donnie Darko
was an altogether different kettle of fish. I suspect it would have helped if I’d been completely awake, seeing the film in its entirety, and without commercials. But I wasn’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is the lead. I guess troubled teen may be the closest I can come to the character. Whether he’s schizophrenic or whether his visions are real is unclear. But he’s seeing something, namely an evil looking giant rabbit named Frank. There’s a mess of stuff in there about time travel and alternate realities, but between Bravo’s cuts and my switching between this and the Greer Garson flick, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. I’ll add it to the list of DVDs to watch.

Dan Curtis passed away this week. I have a love/hate reaction to his work. On the one hand, he was the driving force behind one of the more interesting and creative soaps ever produced, Dark Shadows. On the other hand, he apparently didn’t have the strongest handle on the soap opera format. In the long run, I suspect that contributed to the show’s demise. All that said, he was a creative man and he will be missed.