Friday, September 24, 2010

Rainbow Brite: The Project Runway recap

One day, I want a camera crew to follow around all my friends so I can find out what they really think of me.

I’ll walk away from what I thought was a meaningful and loving conversation with my friends and one of them will turn to the camera and say: “What a bitch” or “Could she be more into herself?”

Come to think of it, maybe I don’t want that.

Unfortunately, if you’re Michael C and Valerie, you have no choice in the matter.

So Michael C will find out that Andy, the man he’s been spilling his guts to about how nobody loves him, does not, in fact, love him. (“It’ll be good to have Mondo and Christopher in the house,” Andy reports. “It’s nice to have people I can trust.”)

And Valerie, who felt very loved when she was consoled by Ivy and Gretchen in the bathroom, will come to learn that Ivy thinks she’s whiny and immature. (And Gretchen was just there for the camera time.)

Challenge time. But first, today I introduce a long overdue feature to maxthegirl’s PR recaps. It’s called Mondo’s Awesomely Mondolicious Look of the Day ™! How I waited 8 weeks to institutionalize this feature, God only knows. But better late than never.

Today’s Mondo’s Awesomely Mondolicious Look of the Day ™! is inspired by many things: Raven Symone from her That’s So Raven! days, Bea Arthur in Maude, Mayim Bialik (TV’s Blossom), and of course the Morton salt girl.

There is an acid washed denim cap fastened with a little bow, under which is a lilac purple head wrap. There is a Hawaiian nurse’s hoodie resplendent with palm trees and stars. There are the obligatory short shorts (black or possibly navy blue), the de rigueur dog tags, and a pair of knee high bright yellow galoshes.
Today’s outfit deserves our highest, most Mondoriffic rating of: 5 stars.

The challenge this week: Design a high fashion garment that somehow relates to L’Oreal eye shadow (yeah, it’s a stretch) and will appear in a L’Oreal advertorial.
Plus a Project Runway first! The winning designer gets $20,000. That buys a lot of eye shadow.

They all pick their inspiration word and Mondo picks bright (shocker!) and April picks matte and Gretchen picks velvet, even though Tim Gunn warned that it’s a notoriously difficult fabric to work with.

“Risking big could come with a big pay off,” says Gretchen. Also, a stitch in time saves nine.

They have a $300 budget and two suspiciously long days to work with. Everyone cheers, “hooray! 2 full days!” except for April who is clever enough to notice that every other stinkin’ challenge has come with a surprise twist. You gotta wake up pretty early in the morning to fool that April (10 am or earlier.) As for the rest of the designers? Don’t bother. Just sleep in.

So Swatch’s popularity has really gone to his head and he’s being a total diva at Mood, barking and trying to get some snout time. He is totally going to be sent to his trailer without any kibble tonight.

As the designers go back to the studio, I want my neighbors to turn down the snappy, beatnik jazz music they have playing in the house next door. Oh wait? That music is on the show? Huh.

So Gretchen is working in her normal plummy palette and Michael C is working in a similar hue.
Naturally, Gretchen assumes that Michael C has stolen her color scheme (and possibly her social security number. . .and her breath.)

“I don’t feel threatened by him, I’m just insulted that maybe some boundaries were crossed,” she moans.

(It really never occurs to this nutcase that Michael C may just like the same color.)

“Somehow I’ve created a monster,” Gretchen says. Yes, and the monster is within.

So everyone is having the normal stresses: Mondo’s bodice doesn’t fit so he has to start all over again, Ivy’s wave dress is looking pageanty, Valerie is running out of time.

And Tim Gunn walks in looking stricken.

“I’m loathe to tell you this, but for this challenge you will be creating a second look”—in this case, a ready to wear piece to go with their couture look.

Groans. Utter shock. Feelings of stunned, ineffable betrayal.

Speaking of feeling betrayed, has anyone caught any of Tim Gunn’s vlogs? My buddy Reapy forwarded them to me and they’re. . .eye-opening, to say the least. In the most recent one, he goes on and on (and on) about how inane and confusing the Jackie Kennedy challenge was, and gripes, hilariously, about how he wasn’t able to call her Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis because of some sort of contract dispute.

Between his fearless taking on of the sacred Anna Wintour (I mean, he’s been relentless!) and these unbelievably candid vlogs, Tim Gunn has lately been acting like a man who only has a year to live and has decided to call everyone out on their bullshit. It’s. . .awesome.

[This just in! Tim Gunn took the vlog down! He took it down! His insubordination has consequences!]

Back at Mood, Swatch is chomping away on what appears to be a bagel. New York dogs are just. . .different.
Everyone gets their new fabric, but some with a little less gusto than the others.
“I’m just lost,” Valerie admits.

In the studio, there’s talk of what people will do with the 20 grand.
Gretchen will get the creditors off her back.
Mondo will buy booze.
April wants to pay off her student loans and. . .buy a miniature pony.
Now I have to say, I didn’t see that coming. A whip, maybe. A coffin, perhaps.
But not My Little Pony.
It’s actually kind of endearing.

So Valerie is spazzing out more and more and realizing that she doesn’t have time to complete her look.
Tim comes over and tells her that she has to let go and create a new look.
“I’m releasing you from your look,” he says, in a very queenly way.

Instead of being comforted by this, Valerie has a little breakdown, and this is the part where everyone rushes in to help, while secretly thinking that she needs to grow up and stop feeling sorry for herself.

I actually love Valerie but I will say this… when she’s sad? Her annoying uptalk? Gets particularly irritating?

Runway time.
The guest judge is designer Naeem Khan and he’s a very reasonable, articulate fellow who doesn’t seem at all cowed by Heidi and co. Clearly, he’ll never be invited back.

As the pair of looks come down the runway, here’s what I jot down:

April-Rocked it.
Ivy- Her mermaid dress is a mer-don’t.
Gretchen-Like everything else she designs, it looks like it came off the loungewear rack at Anthropologie.
Andy (whose dress is pictured, above)-For the Gaga of the Black Lagoon collection.
Mondo-My my my, that’s a shitload of color.

So Christopher (whose dress I had forgotten approximately 2.5 seconds after I saw it) and April (who I thought deserved finals consideration) are safe.

Gretchen, Andy, and Mondo are the top 3
Ivy, Valerie, and Michael C are in the bottom.

They praise Gretchen for her bohemian chic and the surprising slits on her ready-to-wear look; Andy for his crazy pant-shoe and the clever way he hid the metallic under sheer fabric; and Mondo for his fierce hat and fearless use of color.

As for the Bottom 3:

Ivy’s dress is described as “nurse-y.” Heh.

Poor Valerie is forced to defend a dress that she knows sucks.
Michael Kors mocks the “metallic diamante hoop on her shoulder” and says that “the only possible accessory she could use with this is a wand.”
Nina Garcia says that she looks like “Miss Guatemala.”
At this, Valerie doesn’t know whether to be insulted or flattered.
“My family’s from Guatemala,” she stammers.
The horrified look on Nina’s face says it all: Be insulted.
“I didn’t mean to offend!” Nina says. (Too late!!)

Michael C. tries to explain himself and stops: “I’m sorry, I’m not used to this. I’m nervous. I’ve never been in the Bottom 3 before.”
And that, ladies in gentlemen, is the genius of Michael C contained in one sentence: Calculated information (reminding the judges he had never been in the bottom before) masquerading as sheepish sweetness. Well played, Michael C. . .Well played.

That being said, even Michael C. can’t escape Michael Kors’ mocking of his ridiculous, block-long train.
“You styled her like Scarlett O’Hara,” Kors quips. “She’s got all the curtains from Tara ripped off the wall and put into one dress!”

So. . .
Our winner is Mondo!
I really wasn’t that keen on his dress, which tasted all the flavors of the rainbow, but who could ever not want Mondo to win at everything?
Mondo for pope! Mondo for president! Mondo for regional county supervisor!

He goes back to the Green Room and cries and cracks that he now has $20,014 in his bank account.
April asks if he can buy her a pony.

Back on the runway, Gretchen and Andy are safe.
So is Michael C.
So it comes down to Ivy and Valerie. Besties who are only occasionally annoyed by each other’s neediness and uptalk.

“Ivy. . .I’m sorry, you’re out,” says Heidi.

“And Valerie”—the Project Runway tribal drum beat of doom is still playing—“you’re in.” (Whew!)

Valerie goes backstage, totally bummed.
“I am stunned,” she says.
“You’re safe?” asks Gretchen. (Ah that Gretchen. If there is a wrong thing to say, she will say it. Points for consistency, though.)
“I feel like she had more fight than I did,” says Valerie. Which is kind of true.

Ivy comes backstage and clearly couldn’t care less about any of her fellow designers.
“I’m really going to miss designing the most,” she says, which would sort of be like if Dorothy had exclaimed that, upon leaving Oz, she was really going to miss the ruby slippers most.

Valerie hugs her and says, “You really inspired me.”
And Ivy, figuring that there are no more camera confessionals in her future, tells the truth to Valerie's face: “Stay strong and stop complaining.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things are Hooking Up: In praise of Huddy

So they went there.
Last night on the 7th season premiere of House, the brilliant, iconoclastic, and cantankerous doctor, played to perfection by Hugh Laurie, “hooked up” with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), his longtime flirting and sparring partner and the hospital’s top administrator.
Almost the entire episode, the aftermath of last season’s emotional finale, was devoted to House and Cuddy exploring each other, both emotionally and physically. They had sex, they bathed, they played word games, and, most importantly, they stayed true to character: House over-analyzed the relationship to near strangulation, and workaholic Cuddy was distracted by hospital pages. It was a sexy, satisfying, cathartic hour of television, with the promise of more to come.
And I want to salute show runners David Shore and Katie Jacobs for having the cojones to take the risk.
The dangers of hooking up two main characters in a TV series have been well documented.
It was the death knell for Moonlighting (although it could be argued that show was on life support anyway) and it threw Cheers so horribly off-course, the lead actress (Shelley Long’s Diane) was forced to leave the show.
The general theory on successful TV shows tends to be this: Sexual tension = good. Actual sex = start looking for a new job.
And so, Mulder and Scully didn’t hook up until The X Files was on its last legs and, elsewhere on Fox, Brennan and Booth continue to pine without formal consummation. (Although, as was the case with House, there was a hookup-by-hallucination—in this case, brought on by Booth’s brain tumor.)
Of course, the other big risk of bringing a couple together is infuriating a huge chunk of the fan base. I’ve discovered that fans of television shows can be as passionate and unyielding as political foes. And through the magic of the Internet, they have many formats to air their grievances. (To see the depth of their ire, I suggest you visit the romance thread of TWOP’s forum on House, but venture with great caution, possibly with body armor.)
When it comes to House, we have the so-called “Huddies” (like me), who see a great, sexy chemistry between the two leads and agree with David Shore that, at some point, the years of verbal foreplay had to lead somewhere. (I also love that fact that the hot romance on the show is not between two strapping young things, but between a 50ish guy and a 40ish woman.)
Then you have the old school fans who fear that putting House in a romance—any romance—will be "jumping the shark" by ruining the essence of the show, which is essentially a medical procedural. (It’s hard for me to relate to those people. The medicine is only interesting to me as it provides a window into the intellect and character of House and the other doctors. If this show were strictly a procedural, I would’ve bailed years ago.)
Then there are those who root for other “ships” (i.e, relationships): In the early seasons, the idealistic doctor Cameron had a crush on House and they did share one kiss. (Fans of this union are chasing futility. The actress who played Cameron, Jennifer Morrison, all but left the show last year.) There are those that House should still be pining for his ex, Stacey (Sela Ward), although that ship sailed several years ago.
Finally, you have the most deluded of the bunch—the Tea Partiers of the “who should House be with?” discussion, if you will—who think that House should be with his best friend, conscience, and sometimes-roomie Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Except both Wilson and House are straight, and while they have one of the great “bromances” on TV (it is based on the model of Sherlock Holmes and Watson), it is strictly a friendship. Yes, one could argue that almost every great buddy film or TV series has a soupcon on homoerotic tension (and I do), but that doesn’t mean the guys are actually, you know, going to have sex with each other.
If last night’s episode was any indication, Shore and Jacobs know exactly what they are doing with the consummation of Huddy. It’s just another way to explore the inner workings of House, one of the most complex characters on TV. Last night, he was everything House would be in a new relationship—boyishly needy (as if afraid to break the spell, he didn’t want Cuddy to leave his apartment), trying a little too hard to be perfect (he attempted to gallantly slice open a champagne bottle with a sword, with predictably disastrous results), and almost sabotaging the relationship before it began with his self-loathing and doubt.
Next stop, Cuddy and House trying to negotiate the terms of the relationship at work (she's his boss). Should get interesting.
Bottom line: I have faith that Shore, Jacobs, Laurie and co. can succeed where others have failed. And what’s more, I love that they’re trying.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Funny Peculiar: The Project Runway recap

Have you ever been the only sober person in a room full of drunk people? That was sort of the way I felt watching last night’s Project Runway.
The designers were positively cracking each other up.
The very utterance of the word “tran” or “tranny” sent them all into giddy peals of laughter.
There were ongoing skits about puritans and wheat fields and S&M.
Valerie went so far as to proclaim Michael D to be a “barrel of laughs.”
It was designer’s open mic at Giggles: The Comedy Factory. And they were bombing.

Michael C. started the show with this waggish (and let’s face it, moronic) observation:
“Ivy uses two colors: cream and opaque.” A beat: “Well, opaque isn’t a color, but if it was, it’s name would be Ivy.”
Try the veal, ladies and gentlemen!

This week’s challenge is to design American contemporary sportswear inspired by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Most of the designers seem pretty stoked and I’m fairly sure that only a couple of them had to do a Google search.

Ivy, however, admitted that she was a little lost.
“Fortunately, I do have a color palate in mind: Black and white or navy and white.”
(Yes, once you’ve established a risky color palette like that, the dress pretty much designs itself!)

There’s a lot of talk about what sportswear really is and who really knows how to design it.

You’ll never guess who thinks she has this sportswear concept on lockdown?
“I’m worried about Mondo’s look,” says Gretchen, the first of her many grave expressions of concern for the other designers. She’ s so caring.

For his part, Andy is making the most unfortunate pair of parachute/cargo/clown pants I’ve ever seen.
Yes, that Jackie O: Slave to trends. Also, down with the juggalos.
“I kinda hope he keeps going with it,” giggles Valerie, looking sideways at Andy’s pants. “Just keep going.”

April, who is pretty much the only actually funny one left, had this assessment of Andy’s pants: “It’s more Jackie Yo than Jackie O.”

Back at Giggles, Michael D. has this take on Mondo’s outfit:
“If you took Jackie Kennedy to the desert and gave her some mescaline to eat, you’d have Jackie Kennedy plus Mondo, does that make sense?”
(Maybe after a few cocktails.)

This is the comic interlude portion of the show, where there are many jokes about designing for the First Tranny, and Prairie Home Sex Shop, and smacking each other with wheat.
If there was a gong in the vicinity, I would’ve sounded it.

Back at the house, Michael C. is really encouraging of Andy and his crazy-ass clown pants.
“I think if Jackie Kennedy was alive today, she’d wear those pants. Because she’s a risk taker!”

I wrote in my notes: He’s totally full of shit, right? (Later, I’d have confirmation of my suspicion that Michael C is, to quote Brit-Brit, “not that innocent.”)

In the studio, Tim has an announcement to make: They will not do a runway today. Instead, they will have one more day to design an additional item: outerwear!

Valerie is understandably freaked out.

“If the garment we created is already a jacket, can we make something else?” she asked.

“No,” Tim said, not even hesitating. (I thought maybe he would at least consult with the Austrian judge.)

“But I feel like it will be bulky,” Valerie moaned.

“I don’t disagree with you,” Tim said. “I was surprised you made a jacket.”

Yes, if she were Nostradamus—it would’ve been a surprising move on her part.

At Mood, a stretchy camel fabric catches Michael C’s eye. He hovers over it, considering it.

“I’m actually going to use that fabric,” says Gretchen. And damned if she doesn’t swoop in and take it, like a buzzard.

(In fairness, the fabric was jutting out, so maybe Gretchen had pulled it, considered it, and walked away. The key phrase there, though, is walked away.)

“I could’ve been a bitch about it and take the fabric, but I rise above that kind of stuff,” says Michael C. (Or more accurately, I pretend to be the kind of guy who rises above that kind of stuff. A fine line.)

In the studio, Michael C makes two (or maybe 3) dresses and two (or maybe 3) jackets.

“He has no conviction or vision in these challenges,” Gretchen says, concerned.

Tim makes his visit.
He can’t believe that Michael D. has continued with his Tranny Home Prairie skirt, or whatever it was.
“I had it on my model and it looked good,” Michael D. insists.
“The skirt?” Tim asks, incredulous.
“Uh huh.”
“It did?” Still incredulous.

(When Tim can’t even wrap his mind around the concept of your skirt looking good on the model, it should set off some sort of warning bell, but Michael D. remains unmoved.)

Tim, who had surprisingly little in the way of criticism for Andy’s pant fiasco, is however worried about the crotch.

“Jackie Kennedy would not have camel toe!” Tim announced.

(And with that, Tim has officially just won the Search for a Rising Star comedy challenge. Thanks for playing, everyone.)

At home, Mondo is wearing the most extraordinary outfit—part Nazi Youth, part Joel Gray in Cabaret, part Little Lord Fauntleroy. (He claims to have been inspired by The Cotton Club, for what it’s worth.)

Allow me to describe: He has on a pair of tight black short shorts, a white wife-beater t-shirt festooned with a black pom-pom ivy motif, herring bone knee socks, dog tags, and suspenders.

Michael D asks him to do a little tap dance, and, shockingly, he obliges.


A few minutes to go before runway and Gretchen’s concern runneth over.
“Maybe 50 percent of the room I’m nervous for,” she says sadly.

The guest judge is January Jones, from Mad Men. She does dress really well on the show! Oh wait. That’s the wardrobe department. She is awfully pretty, though.

The looks come prancing down the runway and they are truly sad. I hate to agree with Gretchen, but she’s right. I can imagine half of these people going home.

Mostly they were done-in by outerwear.
Christopher’s otherwise chic dress has the kill-of-the-day slung haphazardly over her shoulders.
Michael C’s swank blue dress has on a jacket that looks like something you keep in the office for cold days.
Valerie was right: Her bulky vest over her jacket looks like a fat suit.

Michael C, Gretchen, and April are called forward. They are safe!
They mosey back to the green room. While April and Michael C. are just glad to be out of the woods, Gretchen is clearly pissed that she’s not in the Top 3.
Didn’t they notice the fact that she was the only designer who truly grasped the concept of sportswear!

Michael C is consoling her.
“I think Jackie set trends, so I can imagine her in your look,” he says.
Gretchen nods sagely. Finally, she and Michael C are seeing eye to eye.

Cut to confessional: “When I said it was an honor to be there with Gretchen, it was total bullshit. I don’t think Jackie would ever wear any of those pieces that she sent down the runway,” Michael C says. And the jig is officially up.

So if the designers were in a particularly giddy mood this week, the judges were in a particularly evil mood.

First, Heidi wouldn’t let Valerie get away with claiming that her jacket could double as a blouse.
Then she called Christopher’s throw a “dirty old rug.” (they otherwise liked his dress.)
Michael Kors called Michael D’s outfit “An old lady on top and a cheerleading skater on the bottom. It’s insulting.”

But they reserved the harshest criticism for Andy.
“I want to crack up,” says Heidi. “I feel like I’m on a different planet.”
“Really?” says Andy, still not quite getting it.
“It’s a trainwreck.”
“I wanted to take a risk,” says Andy.
“Oh, you took one,” says Michael Kors.

The judges did, however, like Mondo’s fab purple houndstooth skirt with striped shirt and Bolero jacket and Ivy’s chic white blouse with palazzo pants and sheer gray jacket. (Heidi wasn’t wowed by the jacket, which she deemed too busy. But all agreed it was a quantum leap forward for Ivy after last week’s hospital gown.)

“They’re in bad moods today, man,” says Valerie, when she gets backstage.
Andy is still in shock.
“They hated the boots, they hated the pants, they hated the top and they hated the vest,” he sighs.
(But besides that Mrs. Lincoln. . . .)

Decision time.
“Mondo you’re the clear winner of this challenge. Congratulations!” (Have they ever deemed someone a clear winner before? I think that was a first.)

Ivy safe. Christopher safe.

Andy. . .safe!?! (It’s clear that in the world of Project Runway, if you must fail, it is better to fail spectacularly. The judges will mistake it for creative genius.)

So it comes down to Valerie vs. Michael D.
I have to say, I would’ve been really bummed if Valerie had left. While I agree with Nina Garcia that darts and pleats do not a couturiere make, I like the girl. And think she has promise.

Whew! Valerie is safe. That means Michael D is out.

“One more little bubble of laughter is going away,” sighs Tim Gunn.

One can only hope.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sock it to Us!: The Top Chef D.C. finale recap

Season 7 of Top Chef will be remembered for many things.
Tiffany’s late dominance (and shocking eviction). Kenny, the man of a thousand self-aggrandizing nicknames. Frenemies Angelo and Ed and their ongoing (sexual?) tension. Pea-Puree-gate and all its ramifications.
One thing it won’t be remembered for? It’s eventual winner.
With all due respect to Kevin, did anyone see this coming? Ever?
If, 10 years from now I am still doing these Top Chef recaps (shoot me now) I will need a Wikipedia search and a Google image search and some sort of deep brain stimulation to remind me who Kevin was.

But hey, he did seem to cook his heart out last night. And he obviously had the (stealth) skillz. (Look at that perfectly executed rouget and cuttlefish noodles, above. That is no joke, people.) So congrats to the champ.

Anyhow . . . . when last we saw our 3 finalists, they were being summoned back to the judging chambers. (Yes, even you, Ed.)

Out marched past champs Hung, Michael V. and smug twit Ilan—they will serve as the sous chefs for the final meal.

Knives were drawn and everything worked out according to plan.
Kevin got his old buddy Michael V.
Ed got saddled with smug twit Ilan.
Angelo got fellow Asian (in his mind) Hung. Or, as Angelo put it: “In Asia. In the finals. And I get Hung. This is the trilogy.” (I’d like to attribute this bit of nonsensical wisdom to the delirium brought on by his mysterious ailment. But, of course, Angelo always talks that way.)

The challenge is to make the meal of your life, in four courses.
The first course is a vegetable.
The second course is a fish.
The third course is a protein.
And the fourth course is, yes, the dreaded dessert.

But here's the twist: Eric and Tom will be going to the Singapore market and picking their proteins. (Can they make a reality show out of that?)
“I hear monkey is in season,” says Tom mischievously. (Oh you.)

Tom asks our host Seetoh if he has any words of wisdom for the chefs:
“Sock it to me!” says Seetoh. (Either American TV has just hit 1967 in Singapore and this is what he considers to be a very hip Laugh-In reference or it’s some sort of sake pun. . .)

Back at the hotel, there’s lots of male bonding. Except Angelo feels “like garbage” and goes to bed. Poor guy.

“So who’s going to win?” asks Ilan.
“I think I will,” says Ed nonchalantly.
Kevin might have had some sort of rebuttal, but he was too busy picking his teeth to respond. (These guys do realize they’re being filmed, right?)

The next morning, Ed and Kevin are alone at the breakfast table. There's a sad empty place where Angelo is supposed to be.

“He got hit hard with whatever it was,” says Kevin. 
“Whatever it is,” says Ed optimistically.

And here, by the way, is a reason you can root for Kevin whole-heartedly.
Kevin truly, genuinely wanted Angelo to get better.
“I just hope he’s going to be alright,” he said. And I believed him.
Ed, on the other hand, was secretly tickled that Angelo was illin’.
“I thought it would’ve been cool if it was just between me and Kevin,” he admitted. (And again I ask: They do realize they’re being filmed, right?)

So Angelo is very, very sick. So sick that he looks like this:

 (Yes, I realize it looks like a bad actor pretending to be sick, but that's really what he looked like.)

And a doctor came to the hotel, carrying a little black doctor’s bag, just like they do in the movies.

Let’s call him Dr. Gloom and Doom.

“I give you a 20 percent chance of cooking tomorrow,” he says. (But on the bright side, he also gave Kevin a “12 percent chance” of winning Top Chef.)

So two-thirds of the finalists head back to the judging chambers, where Tom and Eric present them with their proteins.

We have rouget, cuttlefish, black cockles, and slipper lobsters for the fish.
And pork belly and duck for the meat.

Off to the market for food. For now, Angelo will stay in touch with Hung by phone.

As for Ed, he thinks Angelo should just man up.
“$125,000 are on the line. Tell your body, ‘f**k you’ and get out of bed!”
Oh Ed, you’re so tough. . . .when you’re talking about someone else’s crippling stomach flu.

At the market, Hung is communicating quite nicely with Angelo.
Michael is having a hard time playing second fiddle to Kevin (or anyone), but they’re getting along.
Ilan is being a smug twit (TM) and trying to tell Ed how to make his corn veloute.
“You are my sous chef, actually,” Ed reminds him.
Ilan looks taken aback. (The last guy who talked to Ilan like this almost had his head shaved in the middle of the night!)
“You tell me what to do,” he says snippily.
Oh, this is going to end well.

In the kitchen, Hung takes all the foie gras, which irritates the other chefs and confuses me.
Didn’t Hung buy the foie gras, at Angelo’s request?
Isn’t foie gras kinda . . .expensive?
Isn’t it a bit unreasonable to assume that someone is going to share their loaf of foie gras?
But Ed sees it as more Angelo subterfuge.
“Even though he’s sick, I have to watch out for Angelo.”

Meanwhile, Angelo really lucked out, because if there’s one chef who can do the work of two men, it’s Hung. He’s a madman. And he’s talking this shiz personally.
“Careful, my porkbelly!” he gasps at one point. “I mean, uh, Angelo’s porkbelly.”

Back at the hotel, Angelo gets a shot in the place where the sun don’t shine.
Being sick on national TV is not humiliating at all.

Dr. Gloom and Doom tells him that he should be “better in 3 to 5 days. Maybe a week.”

This guy’s getting on my nerves. Couldn’t they have brought in a fake doctor like Dr. Oz?

But the next day, the doc is back and he’s got some good news!
Lots of fluids and Angelo is cleared to cook! (Padma must’ve paid him off.)
And we’re off!

“Now it’s time to jump into my cape and be the chef that I am,” says Angelo. That metaphor died halfway through that sentence, but I get the gist.

In the kitchen, Ed makes the rookie mistake of letting smug twit (TM) Ilan handle the dessert.
Really? You’ve got four courses to make and you’re letting your sous chef basically take over a quarter of them?
Ilan goes for a sticky toffee pudding cake with salted whipped cream, which is
a. Not Asian
b. Not very sophisticated
c. Not Ed’s idea

Dinner is served. The kitchen is, as always, a very tense place.
Ilan, rushing around, shouts to Ed: “Come on! Let’s go! Don’t you want to win Top Chef?” Hate.

Angelo barks some orders at Hung.
“Oh, so now you’re not sick anymore?” says Ed, as if this whole fever/puking thing had been some sort of elaborate ruse.
“Sick of your attitude,” says Angelo. (Why don’t these two just screw and get it over with?)

Later, there’s some sort of brouhaha involving “white trash tongs” that is actually more baffling than the foie gras incident.

But the food, well, what can I say? It’s great.

Angelo’s bouillabaisse is silky and flavorful.
Kevin’s pork is cooked to perfection and his Singapore Sling is proclaimed the “new national dessert.”
Ed’s corn veloute is prepared perfectly.

The quibbles are small:
Angelo’s sour cherry palate cleanser was ill-advised.
Kevin’s veggie terrine was a little safe.
Ed’s sticky toffee pudding was pedestrian. (And not made by Ed.)

Back in the kitchen, they’re all tasting each other’s food and realizing that the competition is stiff.
“Don’t double dip!” I scream at Angelo. But it’s too late. The damage is done.

“That’s the second best food I’ve ever seen cooked on Top Chef,” says Michael V.

At the judging table, Ed has the lamest excuse ever for his dessert.
“I was going to do a lemon curd,” he explains. “But I could’ve screwed it up.”
(Thank goodness Ed isn’t a doctor: “I was going to try to remove the tumor. But I could’ve screwed it up.”)

The judges hash it out. They admit that it’s almost too close to call.
But they keep coming back to Ed’s lame dessert and Kevin’s delicious one.
“Literally, it was a fruit punch,” says Gail of Kevin’s Singapore Sling. “It punched you with fruit.” (Gail is really feeling her oats now that she has her own show.)

Could it be that Ed’s dessert was his downfall?
We’ll never know for sure.
But. . .congratulations Kevin. You are Top Chef!
“I am?” says Kevin.
“He is?” say a million Top Chef fans at home.

“So Mr. Kevin is Top Chef,” says Ed. “I’m happy that he won.”
Translation: I’m happy that it wasn’t Angelo.

“I’m the first African American winner of Top Chef!” rejoices Kevin.
One million Top Chef fans at home: “Kevin is African American?”

And there you have it. Kevin wins. And congratulations to Selma McDougal of Sheboygan, Wisconsin—the only person in America to win the Top Chef office pool.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Last Resort: The Project Runway recap

Since we all know that life is essentially high school writ large, and that reality TV is essentially life writ small, it's fair to say that reality TV is basically high school with grownups on TV.

Never was that more evident than this particular installment of Project Runway. We started with the Mean Girls (Gretchen, Ivy, and, to a lesser extent, Valerie) accepting the artsy stoner girl (April) with a rather conspicuous display of team spirit. There were lots of hugs, a huge welcome note on the chalk board in bubble letters, and some sort of wreath of carnations that spelled out her name on her bed. (Did they think she had just won the Belmont?)
April, for her part, looked mildly nonplussed.

Later in the show the outcast (Michael C.) and the freak (Mondo) will realize that they have much more in common than they initially thought and come together to form some sort of super geek squad that is basically begging to be turned into a John Hughes film. (Featuring Turtle from Entourage as Michael C. and Elijah Wood as Mondo.)

On the runway, Heidi is wearing something from the MC Hammer/Aladdin collection that puzzles me, but why get into it? She tells the gang that they'll be meeting a very special guest for brunch at the marina. After two seasons of budget cuts, we already know that the “very special guest” is just going to be one of the regulars, perhaps in disguise.

Indeed, it's Tim Gunn standing next to a Michael Kors wax figure. Oh wait, that is actually Kors.

The challenge is for the designers to create a resort wear look that illustrates their point of view as a designer.

Mondo grumbles over this. He’s never been to a resort. “I wake up late and walk around in my T-shirt and underwear. That’s resort wear for me,” he sighs.

I’m not buying Mondo’s “I’m just a regular dude” bit for a second. We all know that Mondo has an Excel program that color coordinates his jammies based on days of the week and the seasonal palate, so why pretend to be a stained t-shirt scratching his junk kinda guy?

April, meanwhile, hears resort and immediately thinks sexy, black, and risqué. “She’s taking this resort vacation to this asylum,” she says of her fantasy girl. Alrighty then.

Casanova takes this challenge, like every other one, as a personal affront.
“This challenge is very Michael Kors. This is not my challenge,” he says. (Casanova's ideal challenge would be the "slutty grandma" look, but that is a very specialized challenge and he shouldn't hold his breath.)

Off to Mood. Tim Gunn commiserates with the always sharp French bulldog Swatch, the only one who truly understands him. And back to the studio.

Everyone commences work until Tim Gunn comes in, holding the velvet tassel bag of doom.
The gang knew this resort challenge was a little too easy.

Yup, the designers will be working in teams, with each partner acting as the other’s “personal sample room.” But here’s the twist: They’ll be judged on the piece they designed, not the piece they tailored. In other words, if your partner can’t stitch, you’re in a ditch. Immediately, 9 designers begin praying that they’re not paired with Michael C.

The partnerships go like this:

Valerie and Andy

April and Christopher

Casanova and Gretchen

Ivy and Michael D.


Michael C and … Mondo.

Mondo is pissed. He starts being all snippy and condescending to Michael C.
“Your construction is awful and the fact is, you have immunity,” he grumps.
But Michael C. has adopted the sweet learned helplessness of an abused dog. He remains so eager to please, so inquisitive and good-natured, that Mondo finally breaks.
“Sorry I was being such a bitch,” Mondo says later. “I have faith in you.”
(Elijah would KILL that scene.)
Now they are besties—arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders in solidarity. Soon Michael C. will be wearing jaunty little caps, bow ties, and color-coordinating his jammies, too—just you wait.

Frankly, the whole Mondo/Michael C. drama was just a misdirection. The real dramah is taking place stage left with Ivy and her very own illiterate man slave, Michael D.

I really don’t know who to blame for the flaming debacle that is Ivy and Michael D.
Yes, Ivy is bossy. Yes, she has an inflated sense of her own talent. Yes, she can bore a hole in your very soul with a single, well-placed glare.
But Michael D. is not exactly a superstar, now is he? He’s “20 percent” capable of designing a pair of paints? A pair of pants? And he actually had the nerve to accuse Ivy of designing something bland, when she had dumbed down her look to accommodate his remedial sewing skills?

That being said, when hasn’t Ivy designed something bland? She really wasn’t kidding when she said she was inspired by hospital gowns and curtains after her fainting spell. If April is designing the outfit the fierce bitch wears en route to the asylum, Ivy is content to design the regulation hospital gown she is issued when she gets there.

So Team Michael D. . . sort of.

Gretchen and Casanova have their own hilarious dynamic, with Gretchen doing the designer’s equivalent of shouting at a foreign person: She’s making sketches so large that Casanova could see them from Puerto Rico.
“She treat me like a retard,” says Casanova.
It’s not just you, darling.

Tim announces that another “esteemed guest” is coming to evaluate their designs. Who could it be? Georgio Armani? Tom Ford? Marc Jacobs?
Uh, it’s Michael Kors again. Why do they fool me every time?!?

His Royal Orangeness goes around and actually offers some very solid critiques.
In particular, he blasts Valerie for her color palate and tells Ivy that her print is “not taking me to the resort.” Take heed, Ivy! (Spoiler alert: She doesn’t.)

Ten minutes before runway, Tim Gunn tells the designers that they can take possession of their own designs.
Michael D. can not jump away from his sewing machine fast enough. Ivy steps in to immediately fix his top stitching and his stay stitching and his whatever-other-kind-of-stitching he screwed up.

Today’s very special guest judge is. . .Nina Garcia! Just kidding. It’s “stylish American actress Kristen Bell.” (Xoxo, bitches.)

Nothing truly inspiring comes down the runway. I did sort of dig April’s psycho baby doll coverup, although how Kristen Bell thinks it’s “wearable” is beyond me.

I also liked Christopher’s news-printy top with the khaki bermuda shorts. And Michael C’s “glammypuss” halter top with palazzo pants is surprisingly less tacky on the runway than I expected—maybe it’s the brown leather belt?

Besides that, a big pile of meh. The judges may’ve loved Andy’s bathing suit and coverup, but to me it looked like something from the Holly Madison collection at Fredericks of Hollywood.
The less said about Mondo’s look the better, although I suspect that if Mondo was an 11-year-old girl this is exactly how’d he dress.

Ivy and Casanova could do a special fashion show together for people who are offended by color, point of view, and style.

So. . .the top 3 are April, Andy, and Michael D.

And the bottom 3 are Ivy, Casanova, and Mondo.

You see what they did there? Michael D is on TOP and Ivy is on the BOTTOM. Producer manipulation for the win, people!

To pick up on last week’s theme, the phrase “throw under the bus” is like some sort of virus—or a potato chip maybe. You can’t say it just once.

So Ivy does, indeed, throw Michael D. under the bus.
And then Heidi tries to break the world record for an Austrian supermodel using the phrase “throw under the bus” the most times in 30 seconds (I counted 7) and then Kristen Bell, wanting to be one of the cool kids (it’s high school, remember?) also agrees that Ivy “threw Michael under the bus” and then Nina Garcia, trying on the quaint American idiom for size, also says it and it’s a freaking bus throwing orgy.
All I know is, if your name is Michael on this show, you WILL be thrown under the bus, so watch your back, Michael Kors!

April wins—yay! This is so exactly like when Molly Ringwald designed her own dress in Pretty in Pink and was the coolest most stylish girl at the prom!

And it comes down to Ivy vs. Casanova.
I really wanted Casanova to stay, because he brings the funny and has had a few hits (to go along with a whole lotta misses.)

But it’s Casanova’s time to go. They do a little Casanova’s greatest hits montage, because he’s such a wag, and then he pretends to hang himself on the door of the green room with one of his scarfs, which is just another one of his waggish moments for the finale montage.
And the truth is, I’ve never seen a contestant less upset about going home. Casanova is totally over it. Has been, frankly, since day one. It’s like he never realized there’d be challenges—and judging!

“I grabbed one ball off New York and New York grabbed one of mine,” says Casanova. (Laugh track!)

To keep my (now tortured) high school metaphor going, Casanova was the foreign exchange student who came for a semester, showed the boys how to rock a scarf, made a few good friends, and realized he much preferred it at home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can You Smell What the Wok is Cooking? The Top Chef D.C. recap

How could I have been so blind?
All this time, I was focusing on Ed and Tiffany (and to a lesser extent, Angelo and and his mail order bride) when I clearly should’ve been focusing on Ed and Angelo. Theirs is a bromance that dare not speak its name. All they do is fight, makeup, and obsess over each other. It’s totally hot.

I generally love these finale episodes because, invariably, someone has taken the downtime to get an ill-advised haircut (who can forget Fabio’s faux-hawk?) or gain an unflattering amount of weight.
But when they arrive in Singapore, the gang mostly looks the same. Maybe Kelly’s hair is darker? And Ed’s dropped a few lbs?

They get a tour of Singapore with a chap named Seetoh, who wears a jaunty little cap like Gilligan. They taste noodle dishes, and chili crab, and poached chicken in broth and I am totally jealous, considering that American street food is basically hot dogs and rubbery pretzels.

At one point, Angelo says to Ed: “Do you like black cockles?”
To which Ed provocatively replies: “Not as much as you do.”
(Just sayin’ . . .)

After this little gustatory tour is over, they run right into Padma, and something tells me it’s no coincidence.

Quickfire time.
Naturally, it’s to make a dish inspired by Singapore street food.

Then Padma drops a delicious little bomb: The winner gets immunity—unprecedented this late in the game!

“Sorry guys,” says Angelo. You see, he’s crazy with the wok, and, of course, “feels Asian 100 percent.” So he thinks he’s got this in the bag.

For the first of about a dozen times this episode, Ed expresses his desire to beat Angelo.
“I really want to beat Angelo,” he says. You don’t say, Ed.

Kelly, on the other hand, sees Kevin as her primary competition.
“When he brings it, he BRINGS it!” she says. (He must’ve done all of this alleged bringing of it during the commercial breaks because this is news to me.)

So they have this giant table of delicacies to choose from but nothing is labeled and all of the vegetables are hairy and have tentacles (or maybe those are the fish?). They have to taste all of the spices and run around like crazy people, sweating profusely into their woks. (Adds salt!)

Kevin, genius that he is, took the time to learn a bit about Singapore street dialect and even congee (the famous Chinese porridge dish), but didn’t bother to learn to use a wok.

Padma scolds him.
“What’s wrong with you? You’re coming to Singapore for the chance to win $125,000—did anyone tell you that?”
(Oh snap.)
“I don’t have a big enough burner for a wok,” he mutters after she walks away. Also, the dog ate his chopsticks.

Angelo, on the other hand, is such a wok-ologist that he knows about “wok-hay” —the fancy word for the temperature of the wok.

Ed likes to wok around on the weekends and is pretty confident about his stir-fry noodles with steamed lobster and black pepper dish.

And with good reason—Ed wins.

When this happens, a little piece of Angelo dies. You can see it on his face. He attempts a casual smile, which makes it even worse.
The Padma drops yet another bomb: The Elimination challenge is going to be a team challenge.
Angelo tries another smile. It freezes on his face like a death mask.

Food and Wine magazine’s Dana Cowin will be back as guest judge.
The challenge is to make a luncheon for Dana and 80 of her closest friends (who happen to be in Singapore) that highlights the many flavors of Southeast Asia.

The chefs huddle and agree to make one dish each. This seems like a very dumb idea.

Angelo drops one of his cheesy metaphors: “Everyone’s heart’s on the line. This could be your last beat.”
(The guy should seriously consider a collaboration with Michael Bolton.)

At the market, Kelly decides she wants to make fishhead curry. But since she’s never made fishhead curry before—and the store has no convenient frozen fishhead curry box to copy the ingredients off of—she asks the kindly vendor what spices to use. Shameless.

Ed decides to go ahead and make a second dish without telling anyone. (Impressively evil, Ed. Didn’t know you had it in you.)

Ed tries to squeeze past Angelo, who is blocking the aisle.
“Other people are shopping,” he says snippily.
Angelo looks at him funny. “Ever since you got immunity, it’s like you’re a different person,” he says.
The classic, “I don’t even know you any more” lover’s quarrel. Now boys, play nice!

Angelo is obviously totally jealous that Ed has immunity, but he does recognize that it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.
“You have to be motivated. I’m 100 percent on fire. The spark in the forest has been set and those flames are going to be burning.”
(I wonder what key Bolton would set those lyrics to?)

In the kitchen, Angelo is praying to his BFF Jesus and muttering to himself, but Ed is in a conspicuously good mood.
“Downtown Julie Brown!” he says, rushing by with a steaming hot pot. (Is that a thing?)
Angelo takes it as a sign of disrespect.
“It’s all fun and games, Ed,” says Angelo. (Until someone makes an outdated and random Downtown Julie Brown metaphor?)
“I’m definitely happy that I have immunity,” says Ed.
And I believe that Ed is happy to have immunity, but mostly I believe that he is happy that he can rub Angelo’s face in it. At this point, making Angelo’s life miserable seems more important to Ed than winning the competition.
“You’re an asshole,” says Angelo.
Mission accomplished.

Tom comes into the kitchen to check on everyone’s progress.
He can’t believe the bums have only decided to make four dishes.
“I’m already preparing a second dish,” says Ed, all teacher’s-petty.
Tom demands that everyone whip up a second dish.
“That was predictable, huh?” says Ed cheerfully. And it’s truly amazing that no one slaps him in the face.

Angelo finally says it out loud: “Immunity would be nice.”
“Immunity is for suckers!” replies Kevin. Heh.

Kelly is in such a panic that she slices open her hand, covers it in a latex glove, and keeps working, dripping blood onto the floor. Mas macho!

The gang heads back to the Hilton hotel, first stopping for a little lighthearted prawn fishing in the square.
It’s sad, really. Under different circumstances, in a different town, those crazy kids could all be the best of friends.

Luncheon day. The chefs will be preparing the food a la minute, which is basically French for cooked to order.

Angelo is using all the burners, even the ones he doesn’t need.
“It’s the All About Angelo show,” complains Ed.
Angelo ignores him and asks if he can borrow Ed’s spoon.
“It was a gift from my mother,” Ed says, handing it over reluctantly. “She gave it to me.”

He’s proud of his little lie: “I’m extremely sarcastic. People sometimes think I’m being a douchebag." Then he adds hastily, "With Angelo, half the time I am being a douchebag though.”

There’s chaos with the orders, because half the tickets are written in Chinese and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dom (i.e., the clueless pack of young waiters, who are dressed in unfortunate black-and-white striped shirts) don’t seem particularly motivated, but eventually everyone does get served.

And apparently, the food is top notch.
In particular, the judges love Kelly’s clever guava salad, Angelo’s silky lamb tartare, Kevin’s tapioca porridge (a risk that paid off!) and Ed’s banana fritters with chili, which Gail wanted a mountain of and Tom declared to be the perfect stoner food.

I must confess that, at the beginning of the season, I thought this was a subpar cast of chefs. But they’ve really stepped it up. When you’ve got Dana Cowin describing your food as “yummy,” you’re clearly on to something.

“Best food we’ve had all season,” says Tom.

Which, of course, makes the decision all the more difficult.
So the judges nitpick:
The flavor of Angelo’s spicy shrimp broth was a little too intense.
Kelly’s fish in her curry was a little rough in texture and the red curry could’ve had a little more heat.
Seetoh wanted a little texture in Kevin’s otherwise excellent congee. Maybe a peanut or toasted sesame nut.
Ed did no wrong in the judges eyes.

So it comes as no surprise that . . .Ed wins! Wow. Tiffany must be sending him some of her mojo.

“I’m in the final 3,” says Ed, adding the more important bit (in his mind): “I beat Angelo twice at his own game. I’m definitely happy about that.”

Kelly is convinced she’s going home. Angelo is convinced it’s him.

“Either way, I’m proud of us,” says Kelly. “We worked as a team.”

Indeed, it does come down to Angelo vs. Kelly.
Angelo stands there, tears welling in his eyes. Kelly is, as we established earlier, made of tougher stuff. She’s not crying.

“Kelly. . .please pack your knives and go home.”

With that, Angelo bursts into tears and Kelly makes the classic reality show mistake: Thinking he’s crying over her.

“Oh stop,” she says.

She handles her departure with great grace, thanking the judges for making her a better chef and hugging everyone goodbye.

So it’s down to the 3 Bro-migos. But Padma comes in with a final cliffhanger:
“We need to see all of you back at judge’s table.”
“Even me?” says Ed. Oh Ed. Don’t change.
And. . .scene.

This dramatic twist would’ve worked a lot better if we didn’t see in the previews for next week that the cheftestants would be working with the ghosts of Top Chef past: Hung, Richard, and my arch nemesis Ilan.
Also, Angelo gets sick. And not some metaphorical heart sick because his heart beats to the rhythm of a 1,000 Asians. Really sick.

To be continued. . .