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America's Next Great Restaurant: "Episode Six"

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You remember the first couple of weeks we covered this show, when there was someone in comments who kept asking if I could just write a handy list of the different restaurant concepts because they didn’t watch the show and that would be a great use of all of our time? I hope that person watched tonight’s episode of America’s Next Great Restaurant, because the first 10 minutes of this episode? Were literally that. One of the judges would be, like, “Well, Joey’s got this meatballs concept and a creepy drawing of his grandmother, and we’d have cut him weeks ago, but we’re contractually obligated to keep him around because he’s an entertaining lummox who’s necessary to the producers being able to come up with wacky montages of him staring in confusion at computer screens and stuff,” then the other judges would nod, and continue on with the next contestant, right down the line. It was inelegant and weird and pretty much just a way to kill time because the producers couldn’t think of anything better to do.


This is too bad, too, because it got an episode that could have been truly awesome in its train-wreck-iness off to a boring start. This episode was all about the various contestants having to run a food truck, thereby dipping the show’s toe into the waters of “making a profit.” Indeed, part of the challenge WAS to make a profit. And when the episode came to an end, who had been able to recoup their investment of $300 (or thereabouts)? No one, of course. Everybody failed at this challenge. Everybody failed, and everybody failed spectacularly. I don’t know about you, but I would love to watch an episode of reality TV where everybody fell on their faces. What’s more, I was really excited about how all of this would turn out when it was revealed that NOBODY—except Sandy, who was booted, of course—seemed to have ANY idea how much it cost to make a single plate of their $6 food.

Sadly, though, this episode was lacking in almost every single way, from that really awkward opener to the fact that the show spent far more time focused on the graphic design of the food trucks than it did on the contestants breaking the bank in their attempts to get the business aspect of the game off the ground. There was so much potential drama in seeing these folks purchase groceries (where the show could have better set up the fact that both Jamawn and Stephenie used canned vegetables), then attempt to come up with food on a budget, THEN attempt to figure out a way back to profit. Instead, it was as if the show didn’t want to embarrass any of these people (uncharacteristically) and decided to shy away from the business end of things. So that meant yet another week of the judges wandering around and talking to the contestants about their food. Sigh.

The only two groups who seemed to have any idea of what they were doing with the food truck thing were Sudhir and Greg and Krystal. Perhaps realizing that food truck week was the perfect week to test Steve Ells magnificently weird idea of Indian tacos (an idea Ells came up with while he was casually showering in the blood of thousands of innocents and contemplating which other cultures’ foods would be better wrapped in a tortilla), Sudhir came up with a couple of these bastardizations of the cuisine his ancestors spent centuries developing (one of which involved cauliflower!) and apparently did a good job of it, even if he always seemed vaguely embarrassed by what he was doing.

Let’s sidebar: At this point can ANYONE beat Sudhir? I’ll admit that Greg and Krystal appear to be peaking, somewhat inexplicably, but I can’t imagine that they won’t be defeated at some point by designing some sort of cartoon moonshiner mascot that is simultaneously not condescending and just condescending enough (let’s be honest with ourselves here!). Stephenie used to seem like someone who might figure out a way to win it all, but she increasingly seems baffled by most of the concepts of the restaurant business, suggesting that she has eaten at exactly one restaurant in her life but she had a really great time there and she keeps trying to recreate it from half-remembered memories and the children’s fun-time placemat she saved as a souvenir. Joey is clearly being kept around now because he’s an entertaining manchild who tosses together images onto his various visual designs as quickly as he can think of them, suggesting someone who’s just discovered the clip-art folder in MS Publisher. And finally, Jamawn is probably the single greatest threat to Sudhir, but he’s been floundering for a couple of weeks now, even though I sort of think Soul Daddy would be a bigger success as a chain than Spice Coast would. Sudhir is just too good at food preparation, at making big decisions, and at kissing ass, and that’s going to deliver him to the win.


Anyway, where was I? Oh. Right. Greg and Krystal. I’m finding these two vaguely more entertaining, particularly Krystal, and I love their gradual, dawning realization that, shit, ANYthing can be grilled (they seem very excited by this revelation, and I sort of expect them to start singing about it). Anyway, they had virtually no idea how much a plate of food cost tonight, both making wildly different estimates, but apparently, their corn and chicken sandwich thing was pretty good. (It and Sudhir’s tacos were the only foods the investors seemed to like even a little bit.) This meant those two wandered into the next round, while Sudhir coasted and Jamawn got in by virtue of having made the most money. (Let’s be honest with ourselves here, though: Soul food food truck? Almost certain moneymaker. So this wasn’t a surprising result.)

The bottom three, then, were Joey, Sandy, and Stephenie. I’m kind of pleased Joey gets to stick around, even though he’s the very worst kind of reality show save (clearly kept around because the producers enjoy torturing him). I can’t get enough of the guy’s general lack of graphic design skill and inability to grasp any simple concepts the judges dish up to him on a silver platter. He doesn’t make for great TV or anything, but I’ll take him over Sandy, who wasn’t nearly as entertaining as her reality show template—older earthy woman who tells it like it is because she’s LIVED IT, man—would have suggested her to be. And while I’ve previously liked Stephenie, her restaurant has gotten so buried under trying to please the judges and having basically no idea what people do at a restaurant that when she finally goes, it’ll be a mercy culling. And that might be why this show is flagging the longer it goes on: The more it becomes clear this is all about Jamawn vs. Sudhir (with Joey’s manic crayon scribbling kept around as long as logistically possible), the less intrigue it holds for anyone watching. The competition should be heating up this late in the game. Instead, the show is leaking air.


Stray observations:

  • Tonight’s episode was brought to you by hats, thanks to the jaunty little numbers worn by Bobby Flay and Ells (who often appeared to be terrified of the sun, a strange beast he had never seen before or simply had yet to figure out how to defeat).
  • Seriously, who are these graphic designers the show drug up from the bowels of high school yearbook design hell? I am a terrible, terrible designer, yet I’m pretty sure I could do better utilizing an ancient copy of Quark.
  • While I’m complaining, that opening is really starting to irritate, particularly since the contestants who have lines are almost all contestants who have been cut. Fran asking, “Who wants a sports wrap?!” should be followed by Ells’ giant head popping up and bellowing, “NO ONE!” sending her flying through the opening credits void.
  • The judges are right. Having food trucks by the Arclight in downtown Hollywood should lead to MASSIVE sales. Instead, nothing seemed to happen. I can’t believe how much this episode elided that simple fact, for the most part, choosing to show us the aftermath than the actual math.
  • "And also I put a salad on there, to show that we do have a healthy option."

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