Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It didn't used to be a guilty pleasure.

I used to recap "Hell's Kitchen." I've had a love/hate relationship with it. The first season I liked it, it was a new idea. There was drama, as only Fox can do drama. And then "Top Chef" had its first season. And it was so awesome that the next time "Hell's Kitchen" came around I decided it was an inferior show and I still wrote recaps, but it was a poor substitute. And then the infamous Season 2 of "Top Chef" forced me to watch Ilan and Elia and Sam and Marcel, and Betty, let's not forget Betty, that harpy, and all of a sudden "Hell's Kitchen" was the greatest food-based reality show ever. Really, depending on how "Top Chef" is doing, that changes how I feel about "Hell's Kitchen." This season of "Top Chef" isn't super exciting, for all its eye-candy goodness. Our TV critic said that "Top Chef" was about "excellent cuisine" (I think, I can't find the article now) while "Hell's Kitchen" is all about drama and television.

More after the jump.

First of all, "Top Chef" is not about "excellent cuisine", not anymore. It's about product placement and silly challenges. Although the experience level of the chefs is much higher, and the creativity is much higher, than on "Hell's Kitchen". I watched a lot of self-taught chefs last night who have never worked in a restaurant before. Those people can't even make it onto "Top Chef" anymore. It makes for good flailing. Also, "Top Chef" winners get money and whatever. "Hell's Kitchen" winners get to run a restaurant. And the show makes them run a dinner service--which is more useful for any chef than making appetizers based on a bear's diet. As entertaining as that was. "Hell's Kitchen" tests actual skills that a chef would need in working in a restaurant, while "Top Chef" tests creativity.

I don't have a lot of good new impressions from "Hell's Kitchen". It's the usual first episode: everyone cooks their signature dish; Ramsey declares one or two edible and heaps insults on everyone else; he spits out at least one dish; the "customers" complain about being hungry and act up to get screen time; the dinner service is a complete disaster and Ramsey shuts the kitchen down early. But as I was watching the beginning and the announcer says that Ramsey is going to be on the bus with the contestants, only in prosthetics and a bad wig? Without any explanation of how he could sit with them, as if he's also a contestant, only none of them suspect anything? Oh, Fox, have we sunk to the level of undercover fat suits? But I must admit that when he tore off the prosthetics, after everyone had been doing impressions of him? FABulous. And Jean Phillipe, whose French accent slips into Cockney more and more often? And the sous chefs? I'm glad to see Scott isn't too big for "Hell's Kitchen" after he hosts "Food Network Challenge" sometimes. (He's the bald one, not the one with the glasses who knows enough to judge sometimes, that's Keegan.) But where is Mary Ann? Who is this Gloria person? I liked Mary Ann, she didn't take crap from people, just like Scott and Ramsey. Gloria will have to prove herself.

Some of the contestants made an impression but not all of them, so I find myself caring about a few. Louross, I guess, even though he has a mohawk. Craig, once he lost his stupid hat. I thought he was going to cry when Ramsay made him take it off. Jen, because the "big sassy woman" is always a pretty good bet. Christina, who is from St. Louis so I'm supposed to care but seriously? When I looked up her name, I couldn't remember if she had done anything I would care about. Jason is this season's "I can't lose to a woman, and I've just said that on national television, so I will not be dating anytime in the near future" loser. Ben has unfortunate facial hair but seems cute and also competent, a rare combination on this show. I do applaud Louross for trying to get rid of Bobby by nominating Dominic to go up against him. It seemed like it would work, until Ramsay got rid of Dominic. Who knows what he thought about that. Dominic did seem to be flailing a lot. I was going to predict who I thought would win this season, since last season there was a betting spoiler about Rock and after watching him I knew it was accurate. But this season no one stands out as really

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