A throat-clearing of sorts, to catch up on the various realities:
Last Restaurant Standing: This British import continues to be entertaining as the wannabe restaurateurs fail to master the most basic principles of running a restaurant. One pair purposely underbooks so as not to get too frazzled; not only do they fare poorly at the till, but their few guests look miserable sitting in a cavernously empty venue. Last week's challenge was to use as much of a pig as possible and idiocies ranged from: serving oversized portions, charcoaling the tenderloin and frying up bits of brain, heart and lung and serving them unidentified atop lettuce as a "pork salad."
The pork-salad cook is a lurching, somewhat dim, affable sort, the Gomer Pyle of LRS. His mystery-meat twist landed in him the elimination challenge, where he cheerfully mismanaged a special dinner for an Oxford dining hall. His theme: "Sir Walter Riley" (he meant "Raleigh"); his goof: serving a 50-cent chicken leg to the "high table" of dons; and his gobsmacker: passing around tins of snuff to the students.
Over in pro-cook land, Top Chef New York wrapped up last night. A fairly engaging season, despite the lack of personal drama. Italian cook Fabio deserved that huge bottle of wine he won and then some for being a TV-perfect bight spot. Get this guy his own show, pronto. And please -- send that odious British judge packing. His comments were canned one-liners, and since when does New American cuisine need a snooty Brit to dump on it?
But the finale was a disappointment. The late-in-the-race rebound of Kooky Carla gave us all hope that somebody other than the insufferable baldies -- Stefan and Josea -- might win. But Carla shot herself in the sous vide and it looked like even the judges were struggling to reward either of the two dudes.
There doesn't seem to be a single soul to root for on Hell's Kitchen -- this is one inept bunch of overweight, vulgar, ignorant chain-smokers masquerading as cooks. Hilariously, the "big prize" this year has been severely downgraded: The winner gets a gig at some Atlantic City casino. And just in time for the recession!
Meanwhile in the Brazilian hinterlands, a bunch of genuinely annoying people battle it out in Survivor. So far, the long-running show has taken none of my suggestions (chief among them: adding more old people and dropping the run-puzzle challenges) and has just made a few tweaks to the tribal configurations and immunity idols. I watch mostly because I love the spectacle of people doing weird things in filthy underwear -- last week's water-polo match had the digital-scrambler dude up all night blurring out naughty bits -- and because despite the hoariness of the concept, there's often a pay-off down the road. I only pray that it's horrible and it befalls that fatuous "Coach."
Tweaks have also been made to The Amazing Race -- less airport drama, younger teams. We'll see how it pans out, but after two episodes, I'm still coasting on the Giant Wheels of Swiss Cheese challenge which made me laugh and laugh. I much prefer these challenges that really are challenges -- tricky, tough work that is mastered by applying brawns, brains and teamwork correctly -- rather than the gimmicky passive things like zip-lines and bungee-jumps which simply require getting strapped in.
American Idol did some revamping, but so far that hasn't breathed much new life into the singing competition. I tuned in haphazardly to the city auditions mostly to see how the new judge Kara was faring: more articulate that Randy, nicer than Simon and younger boobs than Paula -- but meh. The judges' table needs somebody fresh, not a combo of the three already there.
So I skimped through auditions and Hollywood week, but have settled in for this stage -- the three rounds of 12 singers, plus wild card. Giving these lucky 36 a chance at the big stage has resulted in a nearly complete trainwreck, with only one or two singers not crashing and burning. Song choice, dude, song choice.
Last week's go-throughs were dull; this week, we're likely to get that floppy-haired Hot Topic model who went all High School Musical on "Satisfaction"; the teen-age belter; and who knows? I can't help but root for Nick/Norman, whose send-up of Idol and its pompousness, was a breath of fresh air, even if it was four seasons too late. Vote him through -- he's no bigger joke than Soul Patrol, who we had to pretend to was a "serious" artist.