There's too much to cover to wax philosophical this week, but next time I'd like to say a few words about "reality" and the documentary tradition. (So there's something to look forward to.)

Hell's Kitchen
Now that this has become Fox's summer tentpole series, the network suddenly seems willing to acknowledge–if only a little bit–a larger reality to the Hell's Kitchen reality. This week's third season premiere opened with information about the show's previous two winners, and footage from the new contestants' submission tapes. (Apparently, they're not all local inmates on a work-release program.) And there was even a little product placement, for "Shoes For Crews" footwear. It's like this show actually exists in our world, and not on Earth-2. It's still too bad that Hell's Kitchen is packaged to make chef Gordon Ramsay look like a one-dimensional braying beast–when fans of his multiple BBC series know he can be more likable–but perhaps the fall Fox run of Kitchen Nightmares: U.S. will offer a necessary correction. Anyway, I'd hate to lose the fun of watching Ramsay scream and swear at petrified line cooks. This new season has come out guns-a-blazin', with some of the crankiest, least competent contestants we've yet seen on the show, and early meltdowns by Ramsay and crew. It's too soon to comment much on who looks promising and who looks useless, but in the meantime, the HK usual questions remain: Who are these people who line up to not get served in Hell's Kitchen? How did these 12 mediocre chefs-to-be make the final cut? And how much longer will the FCC let a show where nearly everyone smokes like a chimney keep airing in prime time? Oh, it's going to be a fun few months.
Line Of The Week:: "Would you mind wiping the snot off your face, before we serve chicken and snot?"

On The Lot
At this point, the only remaining fun of this show is seeing how it changes from week to week. Since no producers have been willing to comment to the press about what's going on behind the scenes, I guess we could pretend that all these course corrections were more or less part of the show's original plan, except that I know my DVR was set to record two episodes this week, and only one actually aired–which I know wasn't the original plan. Yep, the dire results show is gone. We have to wait until next week to learn which of this week's five featured contestants–out of the remaining group of fifteen–will be "off the lot," as it were. (Who wants to bet that they send two or three home, just to speed up the game?) Meanwhile, the five three-minute films we saw this week–which, according to Entertainment Weekly's site, were all "submission films," made before the contestants were selected to be on this show–were pretty lousy, with all of the commercial cutesiness and stereotypical characters of last week's films, and none of the fleetness. I did kind of like the musical about a baker in love with an employee who's in love with her job, and I thought the quasi-documentary about the gay comedian was handsome-looking, if confusing. (Was that dude supposed to be funny?) The hero of the week though, was guest judge Michael Bay. I cringed when the annoying hostess referred to "our young directors who want to be the next Michael Bay," and when she talked about how much she was looking forward to Transformers (and when she tried to build fake drama by treating the contestants like high school kids waiting to give oral reports). But damned if Bay wasn't pithy and spot-on with his criticisms, making Carrie Fisher and Garry Marshall's "everything you kids do is okay by us" spiel seem even weaker. Jeez, what a trainwreck this show is. And yet, I can't look away
Line Of The Week:: "I liked that the hero was a human and the adversary was a toilet."

The Next Best Thing
This is the second week in a row that we've seen an Austin Powers impersonator. Is there much call for that anymore? I can understand the multiple Borats, because that movie's relatively fresh–though I still don't get why I should be impressed by anyone's ability to broadly mimic another person's already-broad comic character. I also don't get the impersonators who impersonate famous comedians, only with lamer jokes. And is it me, or are the Donald Trump impersonators really doing SNL's Darrell Hammond's version of Trump? (I read a fascinating article once on professional impersonators, and how they sometimes "steal" each other's caricature tics. Like, when people impersonate JFK today, they're really doing Vaughn Meader.) Anyway that's all I've got about this show. And I mean forever. I'm done.
Line Of The Week:: Nothing. The judges' lines were all too scripted, which is one the reasons I'm out of here.

American Inventor
No one seemed to care much about this show last year, but I dug it for the reason I dig most reality contests: it lets me pretend to be an expert on something I know nothing about. Every time one of these poor slobs walks into the judging room with some rickety contraption, I get to scoff at their hopes and dreams–with the help of the editing and music cues that let me know whether I'm meant to think this invention is cool or stupid. The second season feels the lack of dumpy über-inventor judge Doug Hall, and the weepy "as a woman, I can identify with this crazy new car seat" judge Mary Lou Quinlan. But the producers have found a decent substitute in George Foreman, who thinks everything he sees is just really neat. ("That's the wave of the future…the iPod, the umbrella.") He even has a cool catch phrase already: "Keep punchin'." There weren't enough DIY geniuses or genuine street crazies on this week's installment, though a couple of folks did quit their jobs and spent a ton of money on products that have no definable market. (Hey, a bib for sloppy fast-food eaters! That's…great?) Still, I'm on board again, even though it appears that ABC is doing an abbreviated version this year.
Line Of The Week:: "I give a lot of parties, and a lot of people are afraid to go to the toilet."

Top Chef: 4 Star All-Stars
I debated whether I should include this one-off special in my wrap-up, since it's not really part of the new season. But c'mon…it's Top Chef! I was giggling with glee from the moment the hosts sprung a "quickfire challenge" on the Season One and Season Two teams, to determine their team captains. (They had to cook two eggs with one hand tied behind their back…and they all rocked it.) How cool was it to see Stephen again! And Sam! And Harold! (Oh, and Marcel I guess…jumping right back into his foam-producing, colleague-aggravating ways, complete with awkward rapping.) I wasn't sure whom to root for, because I came to appreciate pretty much all eight of these chefs during the first two seasons, so I mostly just rooted for the food. As much as I enjoy the junk food kicks of Hell's Kitchen, I prefer the fine dining that is Top Chef. It's the filet of reality TV contests, to quote a movie I like. I'm stoked about next week's Season Three premiere, featuring a batch of chefs reportedly more accomplished and competitive than any the show has seen before.
Line Of The Week:: "Okay, you're spilling shit. You're spilling shit."

Fast Cars & Superstars
In theory, I like the idea of reviving the Superstars/Battle Of The Network Stars concept, only with stock car racing instead of an obstacle course. But the first episode of this was deadly dull, putting Laird Hamilton, John Elway (not, as I initially thought, Gary Busey) and Serena Williams (not, as I initially thought, Brandy) through a half-hour of time trials, with the promise of three more time trial episodes to come with nine other athletes and actors. This show airs twice a week, for a half-hour only. Why? Two reasons: to leave room for the NBA finals, and because an hour of this would lull viewers to a fitful sleep, troubled by residual memories of semi-celebs in multiple layers of protective gear slowly pressing down on accelerators while their coaches mutter, "That's it, go," into their headsets.
Line Of The Week:: Nothing. Dullsville. I'm done with this show.

Pirate Master
I don't care what anyone says: this show may look stupid, but it's super-awesome. As I wrote last week, the structure of the game–with its imposed hierarchy and constant threat of radical change–really enlivens what could've been another "challenge, bicker, vote" reality contest. And how can you not like the TV-friendly trappings: The skimpy bikini tops that give new meaning to the term "rack focus." The dramatic insert shots of natural menaces that are actually nowhere near our contestants. And the "cutting loose" ceremony, in which each week's loser floats away on a ridiculously tiny raft. Even if everything about this show is fake–and leaving aside the fact that all reality shows are fake to a certain extent, this one could well be faker than most–it's still compelling drama to watch megalomaniacal captain J.D. manipulate everyone with money and chow. Watch yourself, J.D. You know what they say: Pirate power corrupts, and absolute pirate power corrupts absolutely.
Line Of The Week:: "How's your gold treating you, sleeping in your gold bed in your gold cabin. Whatever."

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