Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Ah, smell the sweat, breathe in the polluted humidity, dodge the naked cowboy in Times Square. It’s Christmas—in August—in New York!
Once again, we’ve got our big faux holiday episode of Top Chef, and this time they’ve somehow snookered Martha Stewart, amFAR, and Natasha Richardson to go along with the charade. (The Christmas tree at the amFAR party was a particularly nice touch.)
First, Martha Stewart strolls in as judge of the Quickfire challenge. I feel like there should be fanfares or fireworks or supplication rituals or somethin’, but she just kind of shows up. Martha, as it turns out, is a big fan of the one pot dish. (Insert your own crockpot-in-the-slammer joke here.) So the assignment is: make a one-pot holiday meal.
This is bad news for Radhika, who usually uses 10 pots to make one dish. (Can I just say that if I used 10 pots to make a single dish, I would either throw away all the pots or consider selling my home as is. No way would I be cleaning that shit.)
Gene makes a stew that he thickens with corn starch. Queen Martha does not approve.
Jamie’s scallops, however, pass muster.
Hosea’s paella gets “props.”
But Fabio’s polenta fails to impress. “My grandma will be so ashamed,” he says.
Let us pause for a moment to take the “How Well Do You Know Fabio?” quiz.
Who will Fabio’s grandma be ashamed of:
a. Fabio, for screwing up a family recipe and shaming the Viviani good name?
b. Herself, for creating the subpar polenta recipe that sent her beloved little Fabio to the Bottom 3?
c. Martha Stewart, for not appreciating the awesomeness of her awesome grandson’s awesome polenta?
If you guessed c, you win! You know your Fabio Viviani! (Congratulations?)
The OPG Ariane naturally makes a filet over mashed cauliflower with a very deceptive I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter element. And she wins! And it’s funny, because Jamie comes in second again. That can’t happen enough in my book.
Next, the Harlem Gospel Choir comes in and starts singing the hell out of some Christmas standards. Top Chef goes way high concept on this—each contestant will have to create an appetizer representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. (Smart observers will note that there are only 11 cheftestants left. I think four calling birds got the shaft.)
Fabio moans and groans that 9 ladies dancing is the hardest of all the days. (And this is the guy most Bravo viewers want under the mistletoe?)
Hosea is confused and seems to think that the pipers piping are smoking actual pipes, not playing flutes. Oh well, he’s Jewish, so I guess he gets a pass. He decides to smoke some pork. (So, uh, I guess he’s not that Jewish.)
Radhika gets the partridge in a pear tree and decides to make duck.
Everyone crams their stuff into the fridge—ominously—and goes home for the night.
Morning arrives and the refrigerator door has been left open! The horror!
I dunno. Maybe the fridge door just popped open on its own, but it looked pretty secure the night before to me. Why do I have the feeling that some evil Top Chef producer opened the door to create their very own Christmas-in-August miracle?
Because you see, folks, a spirit of teamwork emerges and everyone chips in to help save Hosea and Radhika, the worst victims of the Christmas-in-August Refrigerator Massacre. It’s sort of like Extreme Home Makeover, except with pork.
Off to the amFAR party they go, where, in a shocking moment, skeevy Stefan makes lewd comments about Natasha Richardson’s voice. (In fairness, she does have a lovely voice.)
The deal is, guests at the party will place their AIDS ribbons next to their favorite dish. (Probably the least sensitive use of the AIDS ribbon in the history of charity, but I digress.)
Hosea, with his pork, and Jeff, who made some sort of high concept island cheese salad, are working the room and getting their flirt on and piling up the ribbons.
In the end, Hosea wins!
Ariane made deviled eggs because she had immunity and I guess was in the mood for deviled eggs.
Jamie made scallops again. But they were raw and mushy and gross this time.
Gene made some sort of nasty sweet ceviche.
Melissa made . . . wait who’s Melissa again? (Sorry. Has anyone ever exhibited less personality at this stage in the competition?). Right, she made filet with too much gorgonzola on top.
So Gene, Jamie, and Melissa are the Bottom 3. The best part about this is that Jamie can stop bitchin that she’s always in the Top 3.
The judges confer and decide that all three dishes suck. But than again, everyone’s dish pretty much sucked! Mediocrity pays! And also, it’s Christmas in August and everyone chipped in and it is a Very Special Episode of Top Chef so. . .no one goes home. Merry Summer Solstice to you all!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Ariane really needs to gain some confidence. As the show begins, she’s sweeping the Top Chef apartment, like some sort of middle-aged Cinderella.
"I'm a lot older than the other contestants," she explains.
Ariane, I hasten to point out to you that skeevy, stalker-ish Stefan is 37. You are 41. You are not his mother, nor anyone else’s for that matter. Stop cleaning!
(But maybe she just finds sweeping to be therapeutic?)
Anyway, no need to feel sorry for Ariane, because she is the OPG (Original Protein Gangster). But more on her triumph later.
First, Stefan is hitting on Jamie, in a variety of unsavory ways. He makes some towel pants for her stuffed animal. (Some sort of Finnish mating ritual?)
Later, he climbs into her bed and begs for a kiss. Yuck! Seriously, when Jamie signed up for Top Chef I’m pretty sure she didn’t have to check a box that said, “Will happily submit to sexual harassment by Eurotrash chef.” Also, as she put it rather succinctly, “Does the word lesbian mean nothing to him?”
The Quickfire Challenge is your favorite and mine, the palate tester. They do it in a really fun fashion, Name that Tune. . .broth style. (“I can name 4 ingredients in this broth” “I can name 5” “Name that broth.”) I am, however, concerned about all the double-dipping.
Right away, I can see that the best strategy is picking salt and pepper, even if it is kind of lame. (Sort of like those contestants on The Price is Right who go one dollar over the last bid—crude but effective.) You definitely feel like a chump if you go out on a failed guess of “turmeric” when you didn’t even mention "salt."
And so it goes that the final two contestants standing are Kojak and Yul Brenner, uh, Hosea and Stefan. I’ve never rooted so hard for Hosea in my life. When Stefan incorrectly guesses that the mole sauce has chili powder, Hosea wins. To which I say, Hosea! (It’s a name and a joyful exclamation!)
Onto the main challenge: Prepare the meal for Gail Simmons’ bridal shower. Awww. As Padma says (in a moment of extreme cognitive dissonance for me), “Mozel tov, Gail!”
The chefs split into teams: New, Old, Borrowed, and Blue.
“Me being married, I know the phrase something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” says Ariane sagely. (For her next trick, Ariane will explain to all of us unmarried grunts what the ring is for.)
Poor Carla gets New and is saddled with Team Loser: Danny and Gene. Ouch.
The other teams are:
Fabio, Melissa, and Jill (Blue)
Radhika, Jamie, and Ariane (Borrowed)
Hosea, Jeff, and Stefan (Old)
Off to Whole Foods they go, where Carla loses her teammates and starts randomly yelling out “Hootie! “Hootie!” Turns out, she and her husband have this nauseating/cute routine where, when separated, she yells “Hootie!” and her husband yells “Hoo!” I guess Carla was hoping that this practice was somehow sweeping the nation.
Stefan is being Mr. Bossy Pants with his group and I have to give Jeff and Hosea mad credit for sticking to their guns and not just caving. Jeff is going to make his savory sorbet and Hosea is going to make his gazpacho, God dammit. And no pushy Fin will stop them.
Team Borrowed decides to “borrow” some flavors from Radhika’s Indian culture and make what looks to be the most delish piece of lamb with carrot puree and kale.
Of course, the OPG is in charge of the lamb and, after a brief panic where the meat is too rare, she pulls it out and it looks positively sublime.
Team New is making some sort of deconstructed, build-your-own, surf-and-turf cooked sushi (what, no foam?). The whole thing is so high concept, it makes your eyes bleed. Then, to make matters worse, Danny decides to “help” Carla by adding marinated mushrooms to her salad, thus ruining the apparently one edible dish on their menu.
Team Old is making a trio of heirloom tomatoes. Stefan doesn’t want Jeff to make his tomato sorbet, but Jeff says, “Bite me, Dieter” (well, not in so many words) and the sorbet is a big hit. Score!
Finally, Team Blue, flummoxed by the fact that there is no blue food (“blueberries are purple,” Colicchio reports) decide to do something deep sea related. They also decide, brilliantly, to put Fabio front and center in a room full of smartly dressed power foodies.
“All of you women look absolutely beautiful,” Fabio says.
“We have Chilean sea bass from the deep blue seas.”
“And we have green kale and yellow corn. Combine them on the color palate, and you have blue.”
Ooohs and aaahs, and possibly even squeals of approval.
Basically, they were eating out of his hands.
(An aside about the magical power of Italian men. Imagine if Danny had come out and said, “Youse ladies look byootiful tonite.” They would have booed him off the stage. Fabio says it, and they think he’s Don Juan in an apron.)
In the end, the bottom two were Team New (no explanation needed) and Team Blue (because Chilean sea bass ain’t exactly rocket science).
But first our winner: Ariane! Yes, the OPG is on a roll. Give that woman a turkey or a lamb, and she’s unstoppable. I can’t wait to see what she does with duck!
Jamie, however, could not bring herself to be happy for her teammate. “None of us expected anyone but me to win,” she said, proving that her carrot puree is better than her sentence structure. (It’s true that Ariane seemed surprised, even guilty, about her big win. But then again, she always seems surprised when she does well. It’s part of her charm. )
Ultimately, the last team on the chopping block is Team New. Carla got sabotaged by the Mushroom Burglar, so she is safe. Gene realized he screwed up, plus people like to rub his head for good luck, so he is safe. Danny stubbornly stood by his craptastic food to the bitter end, so he is OUT.
Next week: Martha Freaking Stewart, people.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Fresh off his decided non-triumph on Dancing With the Stars, there’s Rocco DiSpirito, extolling the virtues of bacon and explaining the concept behind the breakfast amuse bouche Quickfire challenge. The funny thing is, a few seasons ago, they didn’t explain what an amuse bouche was, and many of the contestants created full appetizers. This year, they did explain the concept, but the contestants still managed to bungle it, much to Leah’s bus-throwing delight.
So Leah wins the amuse bouche breakfast challenge, cause she and Jamie pretty much made the same thing (a little mini BLT), but as Leah was quick to point out, Leah’s was both smaller and more amusing.
As for Jeff, he made two non-related amuse bouches and then seemed surprised when Rocco called him on it. He is such a Dilido.
Oooh, kids, grab your grappa—new drinking game: Drink every time Fabio mentions that he’s from Italy. (e.g., In Italy, where Fabio comes from, they don’t eat bacon for breakfast! Rocco DiSpirito cooks Italian food, which happens to be Fabio’s country of origin! It’ll be hard to cook and talk English, because Fabio’s first language is Italian! And so on.) Small sips, people.
The big challenge: Create a dish you can prepare in 2 minutes on the Today show. The contestants are all surprisingly flummoxed by this challenge. Leah pretty much says she has no personality and will suck on TV. Fabio has one of his “I’m Italian” freakouts. Alex says “I’m a chef, not a . . . public servant.” (No, Alex., that wasn’t the phrase you were looking for) Carla’s eyes completely bug out of her head . . .I kid, I kid. . .
But fear not, Danny is brimming with confidence! You see, he has a TV show back at home. Can you say New Jersey Cable Access? (Later, when he gives a “bababooey” Howard Stern shoutout during his segment I actually wrote in my notes: Could this guy be a bigger cliché?)
Off they go to Whole Foods, where everyone feels compelled to cut their own tuna. No, this is not a euphemism. They actually go behind the fish counter and cut their own tuna.
So they set up a little makeshift set in the studio, with Padma and Tom Colicchio playing the roles of Matt and Meredith. (They apparently think Matt and Meredith are extremely dumb, as they keep saying things like, “Duck egg? What’s that?” and “Is a habanera pepper hot?”)
In the end, Jeff, Fabio, and Ariane are the Top 3 while Jamie (who served a raw egg and seemed pissed about it), Alex (who didn’t realize it takes more than an hour to make crème brulee) and Melissa (who tried to kill Tom Colicchio with her peppers) were in the bottom.
But first, determining a winner! Tom Colicchio came into the girl’s room at 2 am and gently woke up Ariane (hey, I had a dream like this once!). Then he grabbed Fabio and Jeff and they all went down to Rockefeller Plaza, where, according to Jeff, three unsophisticated rubes—namely, Meredith Vierra, Kathy Lee Gifford, and Natalie Morales—would be picking the winner. (Cut to Kathy Lee Gifford spitting out Jeff’s dish. Har.)
In the end, the winner was Ariane with her watermelon and basil salad. Yes! I’m kvelling! (I even taped her appearance on today’s Today show which I ‘m going to watch when I get home.)
Now the bottom three:
Jamie had a bad attitude and totally could’ve given Matt Lauer salmonella, but she’s safe.
Melissa’s taste buds have been destroyed from eating too many peppers, but she really, really, really, really wants to be here—so she’s safe.
Alex is about to get married, which somehow, according to Melissa, makes him less worthy of being on the show—and he’s packing his knives and going home. (To a life of wedded bliss, I'm sure.)
Thursday, November 27, 2008
“Now, when Chef Tom Colicchio says Happy Thanksgiving, don’t stare at him like he’s got two heads.”
Or such is what I imagine a producer told the contestants for this very special “holiday” edition of Top Chef. I think they film the show about 4 months in advance, so by my calculations, the Foo Fighters were enjoying their tasty Thanksgiving feast in late August. But, hey, it’s the magic of TV, people—and let’s always remember that when it comes to reality TV, that’s reality with an asterisk.
First, we had our truly wackadoo Quickfire Challenge, which involved one very high concept—reimagine a dish from Top Chef past—that turned into another even higher concept when guest judge Chef Grant Achatz announced: “We’ve decided we’re in the mood for soup.” (The next time I eat out, I’m totally going to instruct my entire table to dramatically put down their menus and say to the waiter, “We’ve decided we’re in the mood for soup.”)
Anyway, some yummy looking soups were being concocted from some very unlikely ingredients—tuna tartare? falafel? bacon and eggs?—but it was Leah who won, despite her bold declaration that she hates white asparagus. Also, lest you're still not convinced that Carla needs her own line of Hallmark cartoon greeting cards, this week she told us the special ingredient in her soup was “love.”
So Leah picks the teams for the Feed the Foo challenge and it’s basically Team World Domination (a.k.a. Team SexyPants) versus Team We Can’t Boil Water (a.k.a. Team Cougar), so naturally I was rooting for the underdogs.
Off they went to the supermarket, where Stefan and Fabio’s raging manlove manifested with a tender forehead kiss at the checkout line (their brand of hetero-passion cannot be contained within a kitchen.)
Then, more curveballs thrown their way: They have to cook outside. They have one burner. They have no refrigerator. They have a boatload of microwaves. Hey, were they trying to give the Foo Fighters botulism or something? And then, as pretty boy Jeff put it blandly, “God made it rain.”
Actually, Jeff was the only semi-hateful character on Team Oh Crap I Burnt the Toast. Despite the fact that he hasn’t won a single challenge or even gotten an honorable mention in a Quickfire as far as I remember, the boy thinks he is all that. (Oh, and by the way, the man is a chef for the Dilido Beach Club. I said Dilido. Get your minds out of the gutter.)
Somehow, Team We Don’t Know What Sous Vide Means Either put Ariane in charge of making the turkey—only the most important element of a “Thanksgiving Dinner”—and, in an even more unlikely turn of events, it worked. Yay, Ariane. (Oh, but honey, look up cougar. It doesn’t just mean sexy, it means on the prowl for younger men. I’m sure Jeff thinks you want him bad.)
One thing I noticed about the Foo Fighters, they say “fuck” a lot on the buffet line. I guess cause they’re rockers.
So the two meals were pretty much neck and neck, with everything Jeff did for Team We Forgot to Add the Salt pretty much sucking. Of particular note? His parfait that one of the waggish Foos referred to as “barf-ait.”
So, damn, Team World Domination Wins. If only they knew how close they came to losing to Team Fallen Soufflé. (No actual winner this week? I guess it just wouldn’t be in the spirit of Thanksgiving in August.) Cut to the dorkiest group of humans ever to rock out at a Foo Fighters concert.
In the end, it comes down to Jeff, sweet Richard, and that peanut-butter-dripping bandit himself, Danny. Jeff may’ve made barfait and dry spoonbread, but at least he showed leadership qualities (and also, Padma still wants to trade haircare tips with him)—so he’s safe. Danny seems fairly useless, but he and Jamie hate each other, so that bit of lesbian-on-Guido action ain’t going nowhere—he’s safe. Richard is loveable, but he made sucky smores (how is that even possible?)—so he is packing up his knives and going home. Don’t cry on the way out! Whoops.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I want to start this recap by pointing out the awesomeness of the fact that, at this very moment, the Top Chef website has a banner ad for Campbell’s string bean casserole. Yeah, you know the one: With the cream of mushroom soup and the onion rings from a can baked into creamy white-trash goodness. Ahh, bliss.
But I digress, possibly because I just want to avoid the unfortunate topic at hand: The premature ousting of my Baltimore homegirl Jill. Now maybe we here in the Baltimore region were getting a little cocky, what with Christian Siriano’s big win on Project Runway. No, we’ve never had a Real World—Baltimore. No, there are no Real Housewives of Baltimore County. But perhaps, we thought, we had some secret Bravo TV reality mojo. We thought wrong.
I began to suspect as much when Jill proved to the be the only chef who didn’t even attempt to make a hot dog or sausage for the New York hot dog challenge. (By the way, the show’s admirable restraint in not using a hotdog challenge lasted all of one episode.) Her sliced hot dog sushi screamed “wiener!” not “winner!” to me. And I was right. (Nice, however, to see Radhiki win for her sausage kabob-y thing. She seems sweet. Also, any competition that puts Stefan in the bottom three—as veins of fury bulge from his bald Finnish cranium—is fine by me.)
I next suspected that Jill was in trouble when she chose a soft-ball sized ostrich egg for the challenge, although she had never worked with an ostrich egg before. General rule of thumb: If you don’t know how to open your main ingredient, it’s probably not wise to cook with it. Luckily, Fabio and his trusty chisel were available, and she eventually popped that sucker open.
Of course, Jill wasn’t alone in questionable food choices. Hosea wanted Dungeness crab, but settled for crab-in-a-can—the Spam of the sea. Self-sabotaging Ariane volunteered to make a lemon meringue martini, although, by her own admission, she’s no pastry chef. Padma’s napkin would apparently agree.
As for Melissa’s choice to make a chilled cream of corn soup? Fabio may have scoffed it for being too simple, but did he learn nothing from butternut-squash soup-gate from last year? These judges love them some simple cream soup.
I thought it was positively diabolical for the show to invite rejected contestants to judge the meal at Craft, although I do wonder: What’s was in it for them? Sitting around a table insulting people on a show that you unsuccessfully auditioned for doesn’t make you look cool, it just makes you look petty. It’s not like I was watching that and thinking: “These people were clearly robbed!”
Ultimately, it was Fabio, Melissa, and Carla (who made apple tarts with a random piece of sweaty cheddar cheese on the plate but somehow stole the judges’ hearts) who were the top three. (One last thing about Carla: Don’t you feel like the cartoon version of her should show up on a line of Hallmark greeting cards? Maybe it’s just me.)
The elimination process got lost in translation as Fabio began pissily defending his beef carpaccio dish. “I don’t even know why I’m here,” he barked. “Because we liked your dish,” replied Gail, the words “you moron” clearly implied. Fabio immediately demurred, and turned into Borat: “I’m glad you like it, that’s why I make it.”
So Fabio is our winner. (And off he went to gloat to the object of his fiercest rivalry and most passionate man crush, Stefan.)
Bottom three: Hosea, Ariane, and Jill. Although Ariane was saddled with the awkward knowledge that Padma hocked her meringue into a napkin, it was Jill who failed the simple Q&A portion of our elimination.
Indeed, not since Sarah Palin faced off with Katie Couric has someone looked so blindsided in an interview.
“How can we be sure you won’t make this mistake again?” Gail asked.
And here is Jill’s answer, sadly, verbatim:
“Um. . .I think. . .I understood the mistake that I made. . .but the pressure of the time and um. . .I had an idea and um. . .tried to execute it the best I could.”
Cut to the judges, all looking like they just swallowed some of Ariane’s meringue.
It was at that moment that I knew homegirl was toast. Oh well, Jill. You’ll always have your fans in Baltimore. I’ll look for quail egg on the new Red Maple menu.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I truly believe that everyone, at least once, should build a Mini Cooper.
And when I say “build” I don’t mean, ya know, in a factory somewhere. I mean online, at Miniusa.com.
Sure, you can go to your local Mini dealer, wander the lot, and find a Mini Cooper that roughly meets your specifications, but that is not the way the car gods intended. To properly buy a Mini Cooper you must build it from scratch, considering things like: What color should the exterior be? What color should the roof be? Should there be chrome details? Fog lights? Driving lamps? (No, I’m not sure what they are either, but they sure do look nifty.) Stripes? If stripes, should the stripes be white, black, or silver? Should there be jazzy details like Union Jack flags on the roof or checkered mirror caps? Should it be a Sport model? A convertible? If you’ve got kids, maybe a Clubman? Should the interior be leather or fabric? If leather, should the leather have trim? Should there be a roofrack? A spoiler? And on and on and on. . .
Maybe right now you are thinking, “Geez, Max. You sure are shallow.” To which I might respond: You’re just noticing this now?
Yes, people who love Minis, like myself, are something of design fetishists. My friend Travis made an apt analogy: The Mini Cooper is the Apple Computer of cars. Part of the reason we so love our iBooks and iPhones and iPods is because they are designed beautifully—sleek yet cute; modern yet homey. Also, there’s also something positively tactile in their appeal—you’re not sure if you want to gaze at an iPhone or caress it. And of course, going Apple instead of PC says something about you—that you’re urban, artsy, a little alternative. (Yes, I’m aware of the evils of forging a sense of personality identity through brand identification, but I don’t really want to kill my Mini buzz. I’ve been seduced by design and marketing. So sue me.)
Okay, back to my Mini. Here’s the joy of “building your own.” Once you’ve sweated out the details and built the car EXACTLY as you like (assuming that money is no object, or a minimal object, or in my case, if you’ve decided to ignore the object and hope it goes away) you bring it to your dealer and they order it for you.
My Mini order went a little something like this:
Model: S hardtop
Color: Pepper white
Interior color: Tuscan beige leather
Chrome Exterior: Yes
Chrome Interior: Why the hell not?
And then you wait.
But you’re not passively waiting. Oh noooooo. You’re involved. You go back to trusty Miniusa.com and you check into the Owner’s Lounge and you click on Where’s My Mini? The first thing it says—and for weeks, it seems stalled in this hated designation—“In production.” Then, one glorious day, you click on Where’s My Mini? and it says, “At the dock.” Then a few days later, “En route.” Now, let me tell you, en route takes a eternity—or so it seems, as you check the website once, twice, even three times a day. Then—oh glory—it reads: “At the dealership.”
But don’t expect your car just yet. If you’re like me, you added some snazzy dealer add-ons, like those checkered mirror caps and driving lamps. So you wait a little longer. And then, finally, your car salesman Benn calls you—or, in my case, you send him so many annoying emails inquiring about your car’s status, he eventually just caves—and your baby is ready for delivery.
I have to say, I’m not one for delay of gratification. It’s not my thing. Ask anyone.
But there is something to be said for laying your eyes on your new Mini for the first time, the car that you bought, that you named, that you pined away for and charted the progress of as though you were some sort of modern-day Magellan.
Yeah, everyone needs to buy a Mini at least once. Or at least play with the build a Mini feature online—it’s a lot cheaper that way.
*Pictured: Me and Spike. . . MC Sparky, you will be missed.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Poor what’s-her-name. I’m referring, of course, to the Top Chef wannabe who got booted before she even got to pull a knife from the block, don a single apron, or see the damn Top Chef kitchen. I’m talking about a girl who, no doubt, had an elaborate bon voyage party back in her home town, who packed enough recipes, spices, and culinary dreams to last a whole season, who had visions of Padma Lakshmi sighing with pleasure and Tom Colicchio licking his plate clean dancing in her head.
And now she’s gone.
What’s-your-name, we hardly knew ye.
Of course, things didn’t go much better for her culinary school buddy Patrick. He was a member of the gay posse, Team Rainbow, and I was extremely confused that there were only three members of Team Rainbow, until I remembered that this is Top Chef, not Project Runway and they’re not all gay. Anyway, Patrick was cute but oh-so green and I was totally worried they were going to send home fretful, insecure mother of two Ariane before him (she needs this so much more than he does), but they cut him loose. Deservedly so, that piece of salmon beached on that bok choy with gummy squid ink noodles was so NOT fierce. (Sorry, it may take me a while to make this whole Project Runway to Top Chef transition.)
There is also Team Euro, featuring our villain of the season, the fiendish Fin Stefan.
“A vinagrette is NOT an emulsion,” he said snootily, and several times, rolling his eyes with elaborate European contempt. Fabio, his Italian buddy, nodded in sage European agreement.
And playing the role of the Ugly American? That would be Long Island’s Danny, Guido extraordinaire. “They think they’re so great,” he said (or something to that effect.) “They’re my back yard.”
And with that, the entire progress of the Obama election was snuffed out.
The first challenge featured the different ethnic neighborhoods of New York, which was cool, although I would’ve bet good money that at least the first Quickfire would involve hot dogs or pretzels from a street vendor. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.
I left my notes at home (the blogger’s equivalent of an 0-4 on Opening Day), so I’m a little sketchy on the rest of the details. I sort of like Carla, but she has one of those “I just plugged my finger into an electric socket” type way about her—whippet thin; large, surprised eyes; Crayola-box attire; gravity-defying hair. Still, she seems sweet.
Major demerits to Jeff, not only because he doesn’t know how long it takes to plate food, but because his silky, shiny, Breck girl hair is so much nicer than mine.
Of course, I’m rooting for my home girl Jill. Represent, Baltimore!! (That’s all I have to say at this point. Her personality didn’t really “jump” out at me.)
I find myself drawn to the underdog of the season, Gene. I love the fact that he has no formal culinary training, works on instinct, and managed to accidentally whip up one of Padma’s favorite dishes from home. I also appreciate that, even with all those “menacing” tattoos, he’s about as threatening as Miley Cyrus.
When Tom pointed out that the winner of the first challenge has gone on to win all but one of the Top Chefs, I was chanting, “Gene. Gene. Gene” under my breath.
But no, it was that damn folicle-free Fin again. (If last year was the season of the lesbian faux hawk, this is the season of bald men.) He’ll definitely be one to watch (and hate) this season. C’mon, Team America, take him down!!!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Earlier this year, Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer Prize for an article about the absence of grace in a subway station. He put internationally acclaimed concert violinist Joshua Bell in a D.C. Metrorail station and watched as most pedestrians—rushing to work, distracted, perhaps too cynical to appreciate beauty in our daily lives—walked right on by. These subway denizens had an opportunity to be part of something truly extraordinary and they missed it.
Yesterday, the American public had their chance for the extraordinary—and they seized it.
I am so proud of my country right now, I can just about burst. We saw what was happening to this nation—the loss of civil rights, the mindless patriotism (which is no kind of patriotism at all), the isolationism, the impediments to medical and scientific progress, the corporate greed, the kind of neglect of our own that leads to a monstrosity like Hurricane Katrina—and we said, “Hell no, that ain’t us.”
Readers of this blog know that I supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. And I still love and respect Senator Clinton, but I now realize that I was wrong. It’s not that Hillary isn’t formidable, impressive, an agent of real change herself—but she isn’t what this country needed.
We needed Barack Obama. To the people who say that America is racist and jingoistic, that we only elect white men with last names like Bush and Clinton and Reagan—we showed them who we really are. To people who say that we are cocky cowboys who don’t want to be part of a global community—we showed them the truth. To people who say that we are easily swayed by the politics of fear and divisiveness—we said, no, not us.
Barack Obama is exactly what this country needs at this pivotal moment in history. He’s a genuine agent of hope, of change, of real progress. An extraordinary man needed for extraordinary (and extraordinarily challenging) times. We didn’t let the moment pass us. We weren’t too cynical, too narrow-minded. We said, Yes We Can.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
But since certain people—you know who you are—have been clamoring for recaps, I thought I’d give a late season report.
•First of all, I was very touched by the whole Isis storyline, not only because it shed some light on the still-in-the-closet subject of transgenderism, but because I loved how the other models went from “icky poo, she’s a dude!” to being draped all over Isis during giggly late night slumber parties. But bottom line, Isis just wasn’t pretty enough. And she also fell prey to a Top Model cliché—the club girl who finds out that there’s more to modeling than just vogueing fabulously in pictures.
•I still think Brittany went home way too soon. I’ve never really understood the “too pretty to be a model” phenomenon. Yeah, I get that that the three As—awkward, alien-like, and androgynous—are where it’s at right now, but there’s still room in this world for good old fashioned pretty. Brittany brought the pretty.
• I think Marjorie is a good model—she has an uncanny ability to transform from wallflower to superstar in front of the camera—but seriously? She seems more autistic than Heather, the autistic chick from a few seasons ago. And by the way, being French is no excuse for being painfully shy and mousy. French women are actually known for being fierce.
• I don’t agree with McKey that Elina is ugly on the inside, but she does have a no-bullshit, Eastern European reserve that is hard to warm up to.
•Samantha seems like a cool chick but she has no chin and is no model.
•Every season Tyra casts one girl who is basically a drag queen. A few seasons ago, it was Jade. Last season, it was Dominique. This season, it was Sheena.
•Analeigh is my favorite. Not only does she seem like a sweet girl, her look is very in right now—kind of jailbait chic. I can see her doing H&M ads.
•McKey kinda freaked me out with that chainmail vest she was sporting. Her personality hasn’t really come through yet (but if that vest is any indication, maybe that’s for the best). She’s pretty, but in a 90s, Linda Evangelista way. I still think the high cheekbones, legs for days thing is over.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Since the final 3 were bunched up this close, I found myself looking for signs.
Sign number one: Kenley had a breakthrough. (Of sorts.)
It went something like this. Kenley told Tim that she was going to have her model wear the wedding dress as her signature look, because, as she trilled, “The judges LOVED it!”. Tim, in his droll, Socrates-meets-Armani way, responded, “That was your interpretation?”
Kenley demurred, slightly, acknowledging that maybe, kinda, sorta the judges thought she had ripped off her dress from Alexander McQueen, and then she worked herself into a lather, saying, “It’s insulting that they thought it was a knockoff!” And Tim Gunn walked away with a look that all cultures could universally recognize as, “Bitch please.”
But then, something truly remarkable occurred. Kenley. . . changed her mind. She actually agreed with Tim Gunn. Tim was so thunderstruck by this turn of events, he blew Kenley a tender kiss. There is hope for peace in the Middle East.
Sign number two: A dog pooped next to Leanne’s gown. I’m no Miss Cleo, but that can’t be good, right?
Sign number three: Korto decided to make two extra dresses. What? It’s one thing when Tim Gunn has you “gather round” and then he breaks the soul-crushing news that you have to make two extra dresses. But to do it voluntarily? As Kenley said, “It has to be impeccably made, or you’re out!” Cut to a rather janky looking hem on one of Korto’s dresses. Rut ro.
Sign number four: Kenley has a loveable rags to riches story! Last year, she snuck into Bryant Park and got kicked out! The editor in me can’t wait to write the lead on that story when Kenley wins. (On the other hand, it does sort of fly in the face of Kenley’s “Oops, I knocked off a designer who’s work I’ve never even SEEN before” excuse. If the little lassie is sneaking into the tents, she’s a dedicated follower of fashion.)
Sign number five: Korto gives the following inspirational speech, “Shine in your moment, ladies!”—and promptly trips. So much for shining.
Sign number six: One of Leanne’s dresses has a collar that looks something like the thing I put on my mutt Harriet’s neck when she’s not supposed to bite her stitches—and it’s saggy. And floppy. Leanne has to make a last minute switcheroo.
Sign number seven: The cooler-than-thou fashion world hates Kenley, too. At one point, as she screams a little too boisterously when she gets a zipper up on a model, an army of hungry hipsters turned to Kenley with looks that all cultures could universally recognize as, “Bitch please.”
So let’s add it all up.
Leanne has 2 bad signs (poop and saggy collar.)
Korto has 2 bad signs (janky hem and janky inspirational speech)
Kenley has 2 good signs (Tim Gunn lovefest and loveable rags to riches story) and one bad sign (like everyone else, models hate her).
Which means. . . Kenley wins! Uh, not so much. Told ya I wasn’t Miss Cleo.
As for the collections themselves:
I liked a lot of Korto’s dresses, especially the one green mini dress with the mustard-colored belt, but I'll just never dig those dojo-master silhouettes she does with the flared sleeves.
Kenley had some of my favorite individual pieces—loved her signature look with hot-pink and navy-striped lining—but her collection didn’t congeal—it did, indeed, sometimes look like a Holly Hobby explosion.
As for our big winner Leanne’s collection? Impeccably made and dull as the dirt you plant those petals in, if you ask me.
A few more thoughts. . .
•Do none of these designers watch America’s Next Top Model or, for that matter, their own network’s Make Me a Supermodel?
I noticed Dani, Bianca, Naima (poor dear wasn’t cast) and the tall drink of water from Make Me a Supermodel and the only model they recognized was . . . Morgan from Season One of Project Runway? (So somebody does know those damn model’s names, after all.)
•Heidi bravely concealed her seething contempt for Jennifer Lopez, who, yes, cancelled at the last minute due to a “foot injury.” Yes, J Lo, Beethoven composed symphonies while deaf, but it’s impossible to judge a fashion show with a “foot injury.”
•Did anyone else notice that when Korto came back stage—thus sealing Leanne’s win—the little he-Leanne did a PeeWee Herman like jump for joy?
•Leanne and her model (Tia) seem unusually . . .close.
•For those who blinked and missed it: Korto won fan favorite. Yes, they announced it while you were fast-forwarding your DVR. How terribly anti-climactic. (I would’ve voted for cartoon character Blayne, who totally grew on me as the season progressed and looked so fetch in his little goth-Speed Racer getup last night.)
•Leanne, I command you to never say the following words again: “100 thousand dolla, drinks are on this brotha.”
So there ya have it folks. The season is over. Too bad Bravo ended on a whimper, not a bang.
Next year, look for challenges in cross-stitching, tea cozies, and mom jeans on the Lifetime Network. See ya there.
(P.S. I’m going to attempt to recap Top Chef this season. So do come check it out.)
Monday, October 13, 2008
It’s very easy to dislike someone from afar. I for one, have always disliked Laura Bush, put off by her all around stiffness—stiff hair, stiff smile, stiff body language. She’s always seemed robotic to me—a kind of Republican Stepford Wife, hiding her contempt (for who? Democrats? feminists? her husband?) under a bullet-proof veneer of hairspray, navy blue business suits, and steely perfection.
But the truth is, no one is equal to their public persona—least of all politicians or their spouses. And you would probably find that if you were to meet even your most hated political demon—Cheney, Rumsfeld (although I draw the line at Karl Rove)—they might actually tell a good joke, or share some common interest with you, or have an endearingly close relationship with their aunt (or dog or whomever) and you’d find some glimmer of humanity in them that would make it impossible for you to go on disliking them.
In short, Curtis Sittenfeld has made it impossible for me to dislike Laura Bush. (Damn her!)
In interviews, Sittenfeld has said she’s a left-leaning Democrat and I believe her. But she’s also, by her own admission, obsessed by Laura Bush, the modest, middle class librarian who married a charming, if n’er-do-well scion of a political dynasty, only to watch in stunned amazement as he got sober, found God, and became first a governor and then a two-term U.S. president.
Sittenfeld’s Alice is based on Laura Bush in so many ways, it’s hard to tell where the biography ends and the fiction begins. But her journey into the inner life of this character is so complete, so filled with insight and detail, it paints an incredibly convincing picture of what Laura Bush could be like.
In the book, Alice has a larger-than-life grandmother—a feisty, intellectual (and lesbian!)—who fears that Alice, while studious and dutiful, might just be a bit boring. (The character of the lesbian grandmother is presumably made up.)
Sittenfeld suggests that, indeed, Alice might have lived a life of stoic, Midwestern normalcy were it not for the gloriously disruptive presence of her grandmother and a defining life tragedy: When she was 17, Alice, like Laura Bush herself, struck and killed a male classmate with her car. In the novel, the boy was also the love of her young life.
Sittenfeld sees this as a moment where a life of bland comfort and predictability veers violently off-course, giving Alice a kind of permanent melancholy, plus a fatalism and toughness she would carry into adulthood.
After the accident, Alice doesn’t demand much from life. She remains unfailingly kind, generous, a lover of children and literature—but the expectations of “normalcy” (whatever that really is) have eluded her. So she is 31, practically nearing spinsterhood, when she meets Charlie (aka George W.) at a party.
He is, just like the real George W., a handsome, rapscallion, overgrown frat boy. Always quick with an inappropriate joke or a chummy remark. Where she is quiet, he is boisterous. Where she is cautious, he is reckless and carefree. Where she is modest, he is vulgar. Also, where Alice sees the world in shades of gray, Charlie has the certainty and confidence of a man who has led a charmed life of privilege—yes, he sees the world in black and white.
Charlie pursues Alice doggedly and she finds that his brio and joie de vivre are so forceful, they take away her sadness.
She doesn’t really think he’s a man of substance, but she loves him, despite herself.
A few more words about Charlie: He’s not a villain in this—just a fun-loving lightweight in way over his head. Don’t get me wrong, he’s hardly a hero—Sittenfeld shows him to be vain, shallow, and possibly even racist—but he’s not completely unappealing. (And oh yes, Sittenfeld goes there—if you ever wondered what the president’s, uh, manhood looks like, Sittenfeld describes it in glorious detail. Indeed, the sex scenes in this book are so vivid, I marveled at Sittenfeld’s chutzpah. The Bushes are, after all, still in office.)
As I’ve told friends, Laura Bush comparisons aside, Alice Lindgren is an amazing literary heroine. (Her tough-cookie-meets-tough cookie run-ins with the intimidating Barbara Bush character, Maj, are particularly satisfying). And the book is an absolutely spellbinding page turner—with insights about class and privilege that are Sittenfeld's specialty.
Of course, there’s a reason Sittenfeld calls this book American Wife, not First Lady. What she’s saying is that all marriages—heck, all lives—are filled with moments of soaring joy, as well as those of compromise and disappointment. Sittenfeld reminds us that to view people as anything less than rich and complex, rife with nuance and contradictions, is to adopt the world view of, well, George W. Bush. And, really, who would want to do that?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Tim Gunn got choked up over this bunch? For real? The most seriously uninspiring group in the history of Project Runway and Tim Gunn is verklempt? Oh Tim . . . you really do love all of your children equally, don’t you?
I mean, take the home town trips—please.
Usually, this is our chance to see that, say, Christian is living in a postage stamp, or Jillian’s mother is Cruella de Vil, or that Rami already has a fully equipped studio befitting a professional designer of his unsurpassed taste and caliber.
These guys? Suffice it to say, when the highlight is a bicycle built for two, you know it’s a weak episode.
We start with Korto, who clearly means business because she has hidden her signature ’fro under a black head scarf. I miss her hair. Her designs are very Korto and they have a certain Georgia O’Keefe, womanly, feminine—okay, I’m just going to say it—vaginal quality about them, that—unless my ears deceived me—Tim Gunn referred to as “a snatch shot.” (Can you even say that on commercial TV?)
Next, Korto takes Tim home, where she plays the drums in an attempt to show him the little known intersection between Arkansas and Africa (hey, they didn’t call Bill Clinton America’s first black president for nothin’). I’m not convinced. However, her daughter and husband are totes cute.
Speaking of cute, Leanne is up next, in Portland, Oregon—and we meet her boyfriend, a geeky, shoe-gazing He-Leanne, who immediately and dutifully vanishes. Tim is impressed with Leanne’s collection, which has an architectural quality and is inspired by waves. The work is impeccable, but I never really “feel” Leanne’s designs, ya know?
Next, Leanne “spontaneously” suggests a bike ride and Tim makes some quip about his insurance policy and the whole exchange has this rehearsed, that-was-the-40th-take feel to it. Off they go to the Portland rose gardens in the aforementioned bicycle built for two, with Tim clutching his helmet and squealing, “Whoah!” It’s all too precious for words.
From there, the Tim-mobile heads to L.A., where we get a glimpse at Jerell’s collection. We also meet Dave, who Jerell amusingly refers to as his “love interest”(this is clearly a sign that Jerell has been living in L.A. too long). Jerell’s collection is a bit of a mess. Tim Gunn calls it “a lot of look”—one of my favorite Tim-isms, but rarely a good sign. Then, onto the stunning revelation that Korto is Jerell’s mother! Well, no not really, but they are sporting the exact same black head scarf.
Finally, it’s back to Brooklyn to meet up with Kenley. I want her apartment.
Mostly, Tim loves her collection, but he questions a dress with a rope detail around the neck that was meant to be an homage to Kenley’s tug boat driving dad. “Doesn’t it make you think of hanging yourself?” Tim asks nervously. No, Kenley had not thought about that. (Somewhat surprising, after the events of last episode. . . I kid, I kid . . .)
Then Tim and Kenley say good bye and. . . that’s it? We don’t get to meet Tug Boat Harry, or whatever her dad’s name is? We don’t get to meet Kenley’s bratty kid sisters, cause you know she has them? We don’t get a chance to play amateur psychologist and try to figure out how Kenley got to be so. . . Kenley-like? I feel cheated.
Back in NYC, Kenley is the last to arrive to the hotel and she kind of gets an awkward silent treatment until she finally, breezily says, “I’m sorry for being such a bitch!” and all seems to be more or less forgiven. (If only we could solve the world financial crisis with such apparent ease).
At Parson’s Tim tells the designers to “gather round.” Rut ro. Indeed, after slaving away over their collections for three months, they now have one whole day to make a bridesmaid dress that will determine their fate in the competition. Sounds fair to me!
Jerell brilliantly surmises that, since bridesmaid dresses are ugly, his dress should be ugly! (This is foreshadowing, folks.)
Korto and Leanne both make short bridesmaid dresses, but Kenley thinks they’re copying her, because, like, no one ever thought to make a short dress before in the history of design.
Down the runway they come—bride and maid. Here’s how I rank them.
Leanne’s wedding dress is fabu, but her bridesmaid dress has one of those pastel-y Leanne colors that I don’t like.
Kenley’s wedding dress is a bit too Alexander McQueen (or so say the judges, and Kenley looks kinda busted) but her bridesmaid dress OWN’s Leanne’s.
Korto’s wedding dress is overworked. Her bridesmaid dress is a cute cocktail frock, but doesn’t read bridal. (Not necessarily a bad thing.)
Jerell’s wedding dress looks kinda messy and funky, like everything else he’s designed. His bridesmaid dress is, as promised, ugly.
So Jerell is . . . out. Which kinda sucks because not only is he the sweetest contestant standing, didn’t he win the challenge last week? Dag, I knew this was going to happen.
I suppose it’s for the best, because Korto would’ve needed a defibrillator if she had been auf’d—that girl puts way too much pressure on herself.
Jerell took his dismissal with his trademark insouciance and humor: “If you want a basic white tee, get it from Michael Kors,” he shrugged. (Hee!)
Farewell to you, dear Jerell. Here’s hoping that you and your “love interest” have a true Hollywood ending.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I blame Uli.
Yes, Uli. Remember her?
She was a contestant three seasons ago and, going into the last episode before Bryant Park, she was clearly in fourth place.
Sexy, sultry (and sensual) Michael was in the lead. Neck-tatted scourge-of-the-universe Jeffrey was in second. Fertility-chic Laura was in third and Uli was clearly holding up the rear. It was only academic that she would not make it Bryant Park.
And then something unexpected happened: Uli designed a kick ass dress. It was chic, it was hot. It was undeniable.
So the Project Runway judges threw out all the preexisting rules and said, “To hell with it! They can ALL show in Bryant Park.”
But, as they say in the world of reality show rules, “once you go slack, you can never go back.”
So last year we had the slightly-less shocking collection-off between Drapey McDraperson (aka Rami) and bear extraordinaire Chris March.
And now this year we get the even-less-shocking-still four-way tie into the finale.
(By the way, how burned was Jerell by all this? He wins the penultimate episode but isn’t a lock to make Bryant Park? What’s up with that? For that matter, why’d they have to announce a winner at all? They should’ve just said, “Nobody wins and therefore, ironically, you all win.” All the designs were crap.)
Alright, back to the top.
As the show begins, our contestants—sensing the end is nigh— are getting a bit twitchy. Jerell talks to fruit. Everyone cries—a lot. And the gang decides to shun Kenley like she’s Sarah Palin at a NOW convention.
Today’s challenge? Design a dress inspired by the New York Botanical Garden! (Hi, Aunt Lois!).
Tim Gunn makes some totally obscure Joan Crawford-hates- gardens remark—this may be a reference to Mommy Dearest, but everyone knows that “NO WIRE HANGERS” is the only catch phrase from that film with legs—and the designers have one hour to photograph flowers (and dodge bugs—rumors of the demise of bumble bees seem to be greatly exaggerated if this tableaux is any indication)
Off to Mood they go, where Kenley—ominously—leaves behind a bag of tulle. (If I had a dollar for every time I left a bag of tulle lying around . . .). Korto notices the unclaimed bag and decides to do . . .nothing. Demerits to Korto. But trust me, she’s not alone.
Back at the studio, I keep waiting for Kenley to have a cow, but for the longest time she is blissfully unaware that she has a toolbox without tulle.
Finally, she notices it, at which point, we discover just how unpopular Kenley is. Because Jerell has extra tulle. And Korto has extra tulle (that she is now actively stuffing into a bag to hide from Kenley—I'm surprised no one was flushing their tulle down the toilet).
And Kenley ain’t gettin’ any of that tulle.
Not even a swatch.
Now, I am in the minority of home viewers (a 31 percent minority to be exact) when I say, they should’ve given Kenley some damn tulle. Yes, I know she’s a brat. Yes, I know she’s annoying. But how do these people look at themselves in the mirror?
Luckily, Tim Gunn to the rescue. It’s curious that everyone—including Kenley—assumed that Kenley was completely screwed and didn’t even consider the fact that she would be given the opportunity to go back to Mood and claim her bag.
The other designers were too busy smirking with schaudenfraudal glee to consider that option and Kenley herself was too busy freaking out.
Leave it to Tim Gunn to succinctly, fairly, and clearly tell Kenley that she should go back and get her bag. “I don’t want you to be handicapped,” he said. Keep in mind that just last week, Kenley was being totally, unacceptably snippy to Tim Gunn. This is why Tim Gunn exists on a higher plain of consciousness than you or I. We shouldn’t even try.
Various ugly dresses are being made—and I have a sad, nostalgic flashback to Daniel Voscivic’s orchid dress (these dresses couldn’t fertilize his orchid dress)—and then everyone goes home and freaks out and cries some more.
Down the runway they come!
Leanne’s dress is pretty, but I actually hate the lavender color. Also, the back is all “janky,” as Korto would say.
Jerell’s dress has some great ideas—about 8 too many, if you ask me. But it has a certain Betsey Johnson charm, even if I desperately want more fabric in the boobal region.
Korto’s dress is perfectly constructed but ugly. Also, gag me with that tangerine color. Combine it with Leanne’s dress and we have a shower curtain in Boca.
Kenley’s dress is . . .weird. As Tim Gunn said, “More oceanic than botanical” which seems a bad choice, what with this being the garden challenge and all. And when Heidi Klum tells Kenley it isn’t elegant, she snaps back: “I wasn’t going for elegant, Heidi!” (She was going for that trailer trash mermaid look.)
Then more misery for Kenley as everyone has to choose which two designers they’d like to join them in Bryant Park and Korto picks Jerell and Leanne and Jerell does a little ditty about “Korto and Leanne and Jerell in the tent” and Leanne says she only wants “good people” to join her in the finale (implied message: not you, Kenley) and the whole thing is pretty harsh.
Then the “shocking” announcement that they are ALL doing finale collections, but only three will make it to Bryant Park, followed by the most awkward group hug in the history of group hugs. (Is it really a group hug if the entire group doesn’t actually hug? Discuss among yourselves.)
Good lord, is it okay for me to say that I don’t like any of these people? I never thought I’d write these words, but Maxie misses Suede.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Maxie is confused. Maxie realizes that she didn’t really know Suede at all because Suede plays cello and Maxie plays cello, and that makes Suede and Maxie sort of kindred spirits and Maxie admits that she prejudged Suede because of his random tuft of blue hair and idiotic need to refer to himself in the third person (Maxie doesn’t know how Suede does it; Maxie is exhausted doing it for one paragraph) and now Maxie feels bad and Maxie would actually enjoy playing a Vivaldi suite with Suede one day, because as they say in the symphony world: “Cellos before hos!” (See note.)
Speaking of the hos—er, the lovely ladies on the show—I do feel that I was wrong about both Leanne and Kenley.
I thought Leanne was a mousy little design nerd, a wallflower, a bit of a doormat. In truth, she’s a cold-blooded killer. Seriously, did you see the way she snagged Suede’s model right out from under him? And not only that, left her own model a quivering mass of insecurity right there on the runway? And she did it with a smile on her face. (It’s always the quiet ones. . .)
Onto Kenley: I’ve expressed my ambivalence toward her in the past. I’ve always seen her as the Veruca Salt of Project Runway—a talented but spoiled little daddy's girl. Still, there was something appealing about her cheerfulness and outsized confidence. But lately, I’ve decided she is more creepy than appealing, what with the hyena laugh and the constant whining and the complete inability to accept anything even remotely resembling criticism. Bottom line: NOBODY is mean to my Tim Gunn. Nobody! Maxie no likey. (Yikes, that’s hard to stop. . .)
As for Korto, I’m so relieved that Jerrel mentioned her junk in the trunk. It really was turning into the 100-pound badunkadunk in the corner. I’m just glad that her ass is out of the closet so we can all go back to our lives.
Have the models become increasingly irrelevent on this show, or what? After the predicted model bloodbath, we find out that once again, the models are dismissed. Instead, the designers would be designing for each other; with each designer assigned a musical genre to channel. (Quick aside: Weren’t the designers who had to design for Jerrel and Suede at a marked disadvantage? I mean, how many times have we been told that designing for men is a lot harder? Who can forget the tragedy of Carmen’s swatch shirt from last season?).
Here’s how it broke down:
Korto was country (before country was cool) and designed by Leanne.
Leanne was hiphop and designed by Kenley.
Jerrel was rock and designed by Suede.
Suede was punk and designed by Korto.
Kenley was pop and designed by Jerrel.
Korto and Jerrel pretty much rocked it. And mad credit to Kenley for parading around in that pop onesy—not many women of her size would have the guts to do that and she looked pretty darn good.
But Kenley clearly has no idea what a hiphop outfit looks like. No, it’s not oversized—nice try, Tim—but it is fabulous. Think fur, and bling, and divalicious attitude. It didn’t help that Leanne gave the most diffident hip hop walk in the history of runways. (LL Cool J was appalled.) And, in Kenley’s defense, someone from De la Soul probably would’ve rocked her cropped leather jacket, floral shirt, and high-waisted jean ensemble—in 1991.
I actively despised Leanne’s country outfit because, well, it was ugly. Everyone liked her “palette” but on what planet does violet, doody brown, and gold go together? Planet Color Blind? I did love, though, how Korto turned into a living Nancy Sinatra song when she popped on those boots. Get down with the ho-down, girl!
Hooray, for Korto. Not only did she win—she did it designing menswear. And bravo to Suede for channeling his inner Johnny Rotten on the runway—even if he did look more like the forgotten designer from Heatherette.
Suede’s outfit really wasn’t so bad—and Jerrel looked Lenny Kravitz-licious in it. I truly think this was a case where Suede lost more for his body of work than for this particular outfit. In my opinion, both Leanne and Kenley failed far more epically than he did.
So there’s poor Suede, standing there like some horrible late 70s flashback, having to suffer the indignity of not just losing, but losing while sporting that hair.
Oh well, as Suede so eloquently said it himself: “Guys, you will see Suede rock it. Suede’s leaving.”
Next week: Everybody cries!
*Actually, celli is the plural of cello. But it didn’t rhyme with ho.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The opening monologue of last night’s Emmys was so painfully bad, I actually suspect sabotage.
Think about it: The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences must hate reality TV. I mean, they must despise it, right?
After all, it takes away jobs from writers and actors—and makeup artists and costume designers and stunt men and special effects coordinators and actor’s assistants . . . well, you get the idea.
They’ve been patiently waiting for the reality TV phenomenon to die a natural death—but it’s not going away!!!! (If anything, it seems to be multiplying—we are now stealing crappy shows from Japan.)
So this is what the Emmy masterminds decided to do: They decided to send those reality TV hosts out there without a life boat (i.e., no teleprompter)—just to show American how incompetent they really are.
“Just get on stage and, you know, riff for five minutes,” the producers told the gang, as Jeff Probst ran off to find a dictionary and look up the word “riff.”
“If things get really bad, you can always discuss the Bush doctrine,” they added helpfully.
But here’s where their nefarious plan backfired: Yes, it was as bad as you would expect it to be. Long awkward pauses. Howie Mandell “prattling” obnoxiously. Jeff Probst thinking dimples are a substitute for personality. Ryan Seacrest and Tom Bergeron looking vaguely pissed. Heidi Klum looking like a giraffe trapped in the headlights. But it went to some place beyond schaudenfraude— it was the kind of bad where you actually felt sorry for people you normally hate.
But wait! The Emmy producers had a backup plan: They decided to have Tom Bergeron finish the job, by killing Heidi Klum!
Seriously—was there any version of that drama/comedy bit that didn’t leave everyone’s favorite German übermodel black and blue? If you drop a statuesque German, does she not bleed?
Okay, so maybe Emmy wasn’t trying to kill the reality TV stars. But they clearly don’t “get” reality TV. How do I know this . . . ?
1. They didn’t nominate Kat Deeley from So You Think You Can Dance. I happen to be a bit of a reality TV “expert” around these parts. And I can tell you, she is the best host in the biz. She’s a gorgeous goofball who seems to really love her dancing charges. She once got on the floor—all 7-feet-in-heels of her—to fix a contestant’s broken shoe. Better still, she once popped a contestant’s tin foil grill in her mouth (“spit and all” she said gayly), just to make us laugh. And laugh we did.
2. That Howie Mandell guy does not host a reality TV show. He hosts a game show. Big difference. And while I have some vague recollection of him being funny back in the 80s, now he is just flat-out creepy. Make him go away.
3. They keep giving the damn award to The Amazing Race. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 7 times, shame on me. As Tim Gunn is my witness, every year I think Emmy is going to finally come to its senses and give the award to Project Runway. And every year, it’s the goddamned Amazing Race death march to the podium. Okay, I admit it—I don’t watch The Amazing Race. Friends tell me it’s a good show. But I’m sorry, The Amazing Race is not water cooler fodder. The Amazing Race is not of the zeitgeist. The Amazing Race is not nit-pickingly obsessed over by the New York literati. It’s about as hip as your average episode of Boston Legal. (Come to think of it, another Emmy fave.)
4. Jeff Probst. Really, Emmy? Probst? I was sure this thing was going to go to Seacrest. The guy hosts a live three-ring circus that happens to be the most popular show on TV. And he deals with the unholy trinity of snotty Simon, loopy Paula and useless Randy. For that alone, the man needs an Emmy (and perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize). What does Probst do? He wears puca shells and cargo shorts and repeats “The tribe has spoken, the tribe has spoken.” Seacrest, check your Slomin's Shield, 'cause you wuz robbed!
Oh well, we’ll always have Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Brace yourself: It’s going to be a model blood bath next week.
Not only did we lose two designers last week, but we didn’t use the real models this week at all. That means three—count em—three models are going home next week. Devastating! (Ha, who am I trying to kid? Nobody cares!)
Nope, instead of the regular models, onto the runway marched a bunch of middle-aged women. Or, as Leanne described them, “old ladies.”
Jerell, never one to ignore the obvious, immediately deduced that these couldn’t have been the mothers of the designers because, well, none of them were black. (Hey, I give the boy mad credit. Designers of past seasons wouldn’t have been so swift.)
Because while yes, indeed, these women were moms, they were not the designers’ moms. Instead, they were the mothers of just out of college young ladies looking to update and professionalize their look. So—whew!—the daughters were the clients. No mom jeans and Sarah Palin activewear in anyone’s future.
It was Joe who assessed the challenge most succinctly: “The problem with mothers and daughters is that whatever the daughter likes, the mother hates and whatever the mother likes, the daughter hates.” True enough. However, in classic Joe fashion, he had to repeat has little kernel of wisdom twice, just in case the cameras weren’t rolling the first time he said it.
Of course, I was immediately fascinated by Kenley’s mother-daughter duo, not just because the husky-voiced mother would have fit right in during the transvestite challenge (oh, c’mon. . .you know you were thinking the same thing) but because the daughter—a dead ringer for TV’s Blossom, Mayim Bialik—was also a bit of a Kenley clone, at least style-wise. Kenley totally lucked out.
Jerell lucked out, too, with an adorably androgynous mother-daughter duo, who seemed totally laid back and up for any of his flights of fancy. I think they were both high.
At Mood, Suede emitted the single gayest line ever uttered on Project Runway (and that’s saying a lot): “Ohmygod, Suede found a Pucciesque fabric in purple!” Hooray!
But back in the studio, Suede and Joe were totally laying eggs. Suede’s client was a photographer who favored pants (reasonably), but “Suede doesn’t do pants.” So Suede went with his Pucciesque purple dress and some sort of God awful Sergeant Pepper jacket. Good call.
Joe had a hip looking graphic designer, and decided to turn her into some sort of ’80s cliché in a power suit.
The girls all had makeovers and, when I say they were slightly better than those doled out on last night’s America’s Next Top Model, trust me, that is damning with faint praise.
By far, the best makeover went to Jerell’s client, Caitlin. They gave her a dark, edgy, Sally Hershberger style cut that totally worked.
As for Jerell’s hat—a sort of shower cap for the Black Lagoon—it had no alibi. (Exclusive tip from Tim Gunn’s blog: Caitlin was supposed to wear that monstrosity. Thank God, Jerell self-edited. Nothing moves the needle from “you’re hired!” to “you’re fired!” faster than grossly alienating head gear.)
Cynthia Rowley was today’s guest judge. I’m sure the dialog bubble over her head read: “My eyes! My eyes!” Because I’m not going to lie: There was a whole lot of epic failure on that runway.
Korto needs to step away from burlap. Her jacket looked itchy.
Leanne regressed to old, frumpy self with her bulky cropped jacket.
Kenley was positively gloating when the judges praised her retro dress with the fitted belt and vest. It was quite hilarious, though, to see her face fall when they began praising Jerell’s brown top, pencil skirt, and over-sized cardigan.
Also hilarious? When Kenley’s Mini-Me pulled a Kenley and began laughing in Joe’s face when Michael Kors was making fun of his outfit. (Note to Big Sisters of America: If Kenley calls, pretend she got the wrong number.)
So Jerell wins again! Kenley fumes, but is safe, as are Leanne and Korto.
Inevitably, it comes down to Joe and Suede. It was hard for me to muster up much concern for either guy. They’ve both over-stayed their talent.
So Joe is . . . out. Wait, let me repeat that in case the cameras weren’t rolling: Joe’s garment sucked, so he is out.
Next week: Kenley and Tim THROW DOWN!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
You never realize how much you miss someone until they’re gone.
Unfortunately for us, we never got a chance to miss Stella, because she was back, along with the rest of the auf’d designers, for this avant garde, astrologically-inspired challenge.
Did this lead to a gratuitous shot of Wesley without his shirt? It’s Bravo, people, do you really need to ask? (These are the kind of things that keep me awake at night when I think about the switch to Lifetime. Will the breeders who run Lifetime appreciate the value of a gratuitous Wesley topless scene? I think not.)
Anyway, Heidi made it clear up front that the ousted designers weren’t in the running to actually win anything. They were just there to make life miserable for—I mean, uh, inspire—the final 8 contestants.
What Heidi didn’t explain, much to my annoyance, was why two designers were being booted tonite. Obviously, it has something to do with arcane Bravo scheduling conflicts (maybe James Lipton is to blame?)—but still. . . random.
I learned something new about Suede this episode. He’s the most insecure man in the history of the world to chronically refer to himself in the third person. I mean, why on earth would he lean on Jerry for his astrological inspiration? Jerry, who was the first designer given the boot. Jerry, who created a creepy lab costume that he thought was couture. For the love of Suede, ignore him, Suede! But no, Suede and Jerry were a happy little duo, as, remarkably, were Blayne and Stella.
I don’t know what’s gotten into me, but I realized that little Hoodie Spice (a.k.a. Blayne) has actually endeared himself to me. With his skater hoods, his emo-bangs, his perma-tan, and his automatically generated sound bites, he’s like the cutest little design avatar ever created. (Adorable moment of the show: Tim comes up and tells Blayne that his garment looks like “old women’s underwear.”
“Grannie panties?” Blayne responds cheerfully. Even in a crisis, the man has a catch phrase at the ready.)
Of course, Terri and Keith got reunited. I don’t know what kind of holding chamber the designers go to after they’ve been eliminated, but whereever it is, I can imagine that Keith has been sitting in a corner, repeatedly banging his head against a wall and moaning, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” That is one self-flagellating Mormon.
“I’m fragile,” he told Terri. Lamb, meet slaughter.
Kenley brought her dominatrix side to her partnership with Wesley. “He takes direction well,” she reported, and I could swear I saw a knowing glance exchanged between Wesley and Daniel, but maybe I was just imagining it.
Meanwhile, the mousiest clique of Mean Girls of all time—Leanne and Emily (they’re like Mean Girls who will totally ban you from their table in the library if you’re not careful!)—were hating on Kenley. It’s true Kenley is kind of loud and boastful and irritating, but that was a little harsh. I truly can’t decide if I love Kenley or hate her.
Once the astrological monstrosities—um, dresses—were created, the designers had to parade their models to the New York Planetarium where they were met—quelle surprise—by the ghosts of Project Runway past, who would be doing a preliminary judging. (Hi Jay! Still love you, even if Christian has supplanted you as Most Fabulous Project Runway Contestant Ever.)
Cut to every gay male designer sidling up to Daniel Vosovic. Hey, who can blame them?
Terri wisely took Christian’s advice to lose her Leo fur collar—“it was looking a little The Wiz,” she admitted—but would it be enough?
Next onto the runway, where my ambivilance toward Kenley’s garment mirrored my ambivalence toward Kenley herself. However, was Michael Kors on crack when he suggested that her poofy sleeved costume wasn’t avant garde enough? Really, Michael Kors? Last I checked, we weren’t wearing a John Galliano meets the Queen of Hearts creation at the local Piggly Wiggly. (Okay, so I’ve never been to a Piggly Wiggly in my life. . .but you take my point.)
So Jerrell wins, which is nice for him. His garmet was slightly above meh. I was pretty certain Leanne was going to win again. I’m sorry, her creation (pictured in place of the actual winner, because I’m the boss of this blog!) was all kinds of fabulous. But maybe they didn’t want to get too predictable.
Anyway, the bottom four were Kenley, Blayne, Suede, and Terri.
Kenley is safe.
Figures, just when I was starting to like the little whipper snapper, his garment pooped fabric and Blayne is OUT.
Now, it’s down to Suede and Terri. It’s true, Suede’s garment wasn’t avant garde (and was poorly made, if you ask me) but Terri’s garment looked cheap. Also, Terri is a stone cold bitch.
So Terri is . . . OUT.
I liked her designs but if she can’t play well with others, she’s not going to go far in this business.
Now can we start missing Stella? . . . Pretty please?
Thursday, September 4, 2008
It occurred to me, as Stella was handed her fate, and stood there, scowling at Heidi Klum, clearly about to say something defiant, that nobody has ever had a truly memorable send off on Project Runway.
No one has ever screamed, “Go back to the autobahn, frau-wench!” to Heidi or “get a real skin color!” to Michael Kors or “nice bitchface” to Nina Garcia.
Instead, they have dutifully submitted to their European double kiss, waved goodbye, thanked the judges for their inspiration, and skulked back stage.
Was Stella going to change all that?
Well, not quite.
“I had too big an ego for this, anyway,” she said, perhaps not the most gracious way to depart, but hardly fighting words.
But it got me thinking: Does Stella have a big ego?
In truth, I always thought of her as a lovable loser, an insecure street rat with stringy hair, an adenoidal defect, and a self-defeating attitude.
But when you think about it, she never once deviated from her master plan to conquer the world, one animal hide at a time. I kind of assumed it was because she couldn’t do anything else. But maybe she was just supremely confident. As she said in the end, “If you like my stuff, great. If not, screw you.” (Or something to that effect.)
Dag. It was all so maverick and independent, I’m surprised John McCain didn’t recruit Stella to be his vice president.
But I digress. . .
The show starts with Stella, puzzled and helpless as ever (this is what it said in my notes; of course, only later would I discover that she was confidently puzzled and gloriously helpless) as she contemplated the “cawfee” machine. “One tablespoon or two?” she said, holding up a scooper that was clearly 5 tablespoon’s worth. (Cut to Korto gagging down a sip of the coffee and remarking that it packs a punch.)
Next, the oh-so-predictable model kiss-off. Keith’s model is out and Leanne’s model stays in. (Oh, how I miss the days of the mother-effing walk-off).
And then a big surprise from behind the curtain. .. Tim Gunn!
“It’s just me,” he says sweetly. (Oh, Tim.)
He takes them to the meat packing district to meet a fashion legend, who Blayne hopes is Mary Kate Olsen. (He’s joking, right? I choose to believe that he’s joking.)
But no, it’s real live fashion legend Diane von Furstenberg, who turns the designers, Blayne notwithstanding, into a bunch of slobbering groupies, particularly Kenley, who really needs to get a grip.
Their task is to develop an outfit inspired by Diane’s fall collection, as well as Marlene Dietrich and the Berlin-to-Shanghai movie A Foreign Affair. (“She’s from Paris, right?” later asks Stella of Dietrich, doing an incredible impression of a stupid person and not the boldly confident leather ambassador that she actually is. )
Despite the clear reverence they all have for Madame von F, the designers ransack her fabric studio like it’s Filene’s Basement on a clearance sale.
Back to Parsons they go. Most are opting for a layered look, in keeping with DVF’s fall collection. But Kenley decides to do a perfect, Shanghai inspired dress, which I think is pretty smart. I’m sorry, when you think of DVF, you think bold prints and, yes, dresses. If you really want to do an homage to the doyenne herself, that’s the way to go. (Not to mention the fact that doing one dress is a helluva lot less work than doing a vest, a pair of pants, and a magician’s cape.)
Somehow in the midst of all this, a Disney Channel special, featuring Leanne as a pint-sized spy, breaks out. It’s almost cute to watch Leanne play out her dorky spy game fantasies. Almost.
The usual paroxysms of cattiness take place in the studio, with Joe making gag gestures behind Kenley’s dress and everyone talking about Terri being a one-trick pony and no one quite certain what is happening with the back of Joe’s dress.
Best moment of cattiness? Stella calling out last week’s judge Rachel Zoe on her “oversized belt and mumu.” I can’t even make fun of that for it is awesome.
Some pretty fabulous stuff struts down the runway. One thing I really love about this season? There’s no clear front runner. On any given day, Terri, Korto, Leanne, or Kenley can totally work it out. (Sorry Blayne, Suede, Jerrel, and Joe, I’m not being sexist, I just don’t see you as frontrunners.)
I knew Leanne was going to win, because her violet dress and heather grey jacket were gorgeous (but she was totally saved by Tim Gunn telling her to crop that jacket, although maybe she would’ve figured it out on her own?).
But I admit that I kinda wanted Kenley to win, if only because she wanted it so bad. DVF did love her dress, and they had a little moment, which was nice. (And Kenley? I’m no Emily Post, but I suspect that interrupting Heidi four times in one sentence is probably not the best way to endear yourself to the host, mkay?)
As for Stella, she’d been bringing up the rear for weeks (I mean, uh, triumphantly thumbing her nose at the man!). But it was nice that she washed her hair (for the first time all season?) for the final challenge.
Don’t leatha door hit you on the way out.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The competitive Mormon reminds me a bit of those 13-year-old—I mean, 16 year old (wink, wink)—Chinese gymnasts. In the rare moments they screwed up, they looked like they bore the burden of a billion shamed Chinese.
So it was for Keith, who was in the bottom 2 last week. It seemed like all of Utah, and at the very least the entire Osmond clan, was hanging in the balance of his performance. The man was stressing. (Doubly ironic then, that his catch phrase of the week was “no worries.” Kid, you got worries up the wackadoodle, as Suede might say.)
“I want to change the way the world dresses!” Keith proclaimed. (Note to self: If the world starts dressing with ostrich feathers obscuring their asses, I’ll join a nudist colony.)
“Apparently, I have no taste,” he moaned at one point. Later, he explained that all the designers wanted to win, but he felt like he “deserved it more than they do.” Not wanted it more—deserved it more. Mmm-kay.
As the show started, the designers were given their marching orders to head to a rooftop at some unknown address. Naturally, they assumed Mariah Carey would be waiting.
But once they got to the address, it was a parking garage, not a swank condo, and they slowly made their way up the freight elevator, huddled together like the Scooby Gang, expecting to see something truly ghoulish once the doors opened.
Instead they saw. . . the Saturn Vue!
For a brief, nauseating moment, I thought their assignment would be: Design an outfit inspired by the Saturn Vue. That would be beyond jumping the shark—it would be getting mauled by the shark after you jumped.
But no, their assignment was to rip up the cars and make an outfit out of what they scavenged. Cool.
Spoiled Kenley seemed upset that her car was filled with car parts. Yes, Kenley, floor mats and seatbelts and carburetors. Not a taffeta ribbon to be found.
Back to the studio they went, where Keith’s brilliant concept was to design something with absolutely no style or point of view. Good plan, Keith!
Korto meanwhile was doing something fabulous with woven seatbelts which looked very “mod” as Tim Gunn said, until she decided to add the signature Korto dojo sleeve. I have to say, I was screaming at my TV, “nooooo!” (Shows what I know—the judges loved it.) But it did look a bit like a scarecrow. Still, this was no excuse for Terri to start ROFL with glee. Seriously: Rolling? On the floor? Because you thought a competitor’s design sucked? Classy. (Jerell’s response to this—“She’s got 2 faces and 4 patterns”—was a great line, only slightly spoiled by the fact that Terri isn’t two-faced, she’s just mean.)
Next, Stella got a phone call from her boyfriend Ratbones. I must say, if his name was Arthur, I would’ve been surprised. Ratbones—pretty much what I expected.
“I love you,” she whined, in the same nasal, Debbie Downer voice she always uses. Ah, sexy time.
Blayne, who might have some sort of catch phrase chip in his head, cheerfully quipped: “I had to kick it into high gear, Saturn Vue style!”
Oh, and there was also some drama about Kenley’s model dropping out that I didn’t really pay attention to because I was so obsessed with Keith’s self-sabotage. He snapped at the other designers for even thinking of using his sewing machine and, when he found out that his model had the temerity to sit in her dress—“I gave her one simple task!” (what next? the “simple task” of not breathing?)—he had a hissy fit. The man was clearly coming unglued.
Nina Garcia was off, so the replacement judge was—squee!— season three contestant Laura Bennett. She did not disappoint, wearing her signature sternum-bearing neckline. As far as I could tell, though, she was not pregnant.
Stylist Rachel Zoe was the guest judge.
I have to give credit where credit is due: I loved most of the designs this week. My favorite was Jerell, but I had no problem with Leanne winning. That mini dress was gorgeous.
For some reason, Terri seemed to be channeling Stella with her rocker get-up—if Stella was more talented, that is. She was safe. (But had to be smarting just a little bit that Korto was in the top three—burn!).
As for Stella, she outsmarted herself, Keith-style, and tried to show she could do classic elegance. This is like asking Amy Winehouse to do classic elegance. It just ain’t happening.
Stella was joined in the Bottom Three by Blayne, who had a cute concept (loved the shattered mirror pieces) but his garment was ill-fitting and there was way too much wickety wack. “I hate those car wash outfits!” Michael Kors quipped of the swatchy skirt.
(An aside: Did you catch that Heidi said that a broken mirror was “seven years with no sex”? Those Germans are hard core, man. )
Rounding out the bottom: hapless Keith, with his ugly, pointless outfit. The end was nigh—and inevitable.
Oh well, Keith. Look at it this way: You did better than any Mormon ever on Project Runway! So you got that. As far as changing the way the world dresses? Might as well start with Utah.