Hell's Kitchen
If I had known this last week I would've mentioned it, but all this week, BBC America has been running the original Gordon Ramsay reality series, Boiling Point, in five half-hour installments. (They've also begun showing series three of Kitchen Nightmares, but that's still ongoing. The Boiling Point run appears to be over.) At any rate, it's been fascinating to see how little Ramsay has changed in the past decade, right down to the little vocal tics like "c'mere you" and "you know that." The biggest change seems to be that he now says "donkey" instead of "dickhead." Also, I haven't seen him grab chefs by the apron and throw them around as hard or as often on Hell's Kitchen as he does on Boiling Point. On this week's Hell's Kitchen, Ramsay's cruelty was more "mean daddy" than "schoolyard bully," as he needled his hapless chefs with lines like, "Are you just going to stand there? Like a lonely little puppy?" This week was also a reminder of how much Ramsay–and diners, honestly–prefer simplicity to culinary pretension. Offering a well-cooked strip steak? Genius. Disguising macaroni and cheese as "cassoulet?" Bullshit. (Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't cassoulet a slow-cooked bean stew? In what universe can that be interpreted as "macaroni and cheese?") I doubt the Hell's Kitchen diners really qualify as "fine diners," so the results here may be skewed, but either way, our contestants this year are still barely skating by, even at this late date. Judging by the teaser for next week, we're due for an all-out meltdown before we get to the final four. Which has to make you wonder: How much will anyone who's watched this season want to eat at the Green Valley Ranch restaurant that one of these clowns is going to run?
Line Of The Week:: "I think I'm remotely good at what I do."

Pirate Master
Ghost pirates! Just when I thought this game was settling into the smarter, strategy-focused place that a lot of reality contests get to when the contestant pool empties out, the producers bring back the cast-offs to compete against the remainders as "ghost pirates." Unfortunately, the GPs proved to be a non-factor on the expedition as John, our much-missed "scientist/exotic dancer" dude, dropped the key they needed to unlock the treasure box. Rather than heading straight to the treasure site, our hapless ghosts had to spend an hour splashing around a creek, looking for something shiny that could be their missing key. (You know that feeling when you're late for an appointment and you can't remember where you left your wallet? It was kind of like that, only with thousands of dollars at stake. To quote the ousted stoner fireman JD: "Biggest bummer of my life, man.") The worst part of this week's expedition though was that CBS pretty much gave away the result last week, by showing a teaser scene of the crew contemplating mutiny–something that couldn't happen unless Captain Azmyth remained in power, un-deposed by ghost pirates. And even the mutiny talk came to nothing, for reasons I can't quite fathom, unless the crew really does feel that Azmyth's leadership is making them rich. (To be fair, Louie's continuing argument that Azmyth's black team has to be broken up before they pick off everyone on the red team doesn't really wash, since the only one permanently assigned to the reds is Louie. For everyone else, it's luck of the draw: They might get assigned to the money-making blacks.) Anyway, something has to give soon, or else we're going to end up with a "pirate court" where only three people get to vote, and then two, and then one, and then what? There'll still be six pirates left. Plus, we're getting to that part of every vote-based reality show where the contest takes a turn for the perverse. The best players–the ones who've used whatever power they acquired early on–become vulnerable, because everybody else wants a shot at being the frontrunner. There's probably a lesson in all this about how leaders should conduct themselves, but my head's too fogged with memories of ghost pirates to think of what it might be.
Line Of The Week:: "I've had it with her snotty little attitude. She thinks this is dollhouse play."

American Inventor
I admit that I scoffed at the woman who opened the show this week with her "invention," a song–"The Love Test"–designed to help people relieve stress. But then I spent the rest of the evening humming it to myself every time I started to get mad. Kids won't stay in their rooms at bedtime? Hum "this is your love test" to yourself a few times. Works like a charm. Give that lady a million dollars! After all, a lot of our inventors this week probably could've used a stress-relieving song, especially when they stood before our judges with a batch of gadgets that tried over-hard to solve non-problems. Like the toddler potty that makes music when the kid "makes a deposit," or the fingernail trimmer that's the size of a belt sander (and unaccountably features a little bedside lamp attached to the top), or the steak toaster that takes 45 minutes to cook a medium-rare hunk of meat. And I found that I needed "The Love Test" in my life every time one of these inventors brought out their sob story about how much they've spent on development to this point–most of it going to one of those rip-off patent-search services. I mean, fifty-thousand bucks spent on a sheet-cake cutter? It's a neat idea, but…argh! ("Love test," Noel. "Love test." Calm, calm.) Anyway, thank the heavens the pitch round is through and now we can get to the most interesting part of the show: Watching bright ideas get dimmed by the compromises of the production process.
Line Of The Week:: "The doors are getting more secure every day and people seem to be locking these things like they're in a vault. Just for that, I'm going to give it a vote of yes."

Top Chef
How about that Joey, roaring from worst to first and bringing the perpetually see-sawing Howie–his former nemesis–right along with him? It was obvious from Joey's "dark horse" comments at the top of the show that he was either poised to flame out or destined for greatness. I confess that judging by the sloppy appearance of his Elimination Challenge bean stew–and with memories of a pre-season teaser that shows Joey fuming at the cameras–I figured this week would be his farewell week. But I was way off, just as I was mistaken when I figured that Howie's short-cooked pork roast was going to do him in. As for the halved cooking time for the Elimination Challenge–down from three hours to 90 minutes–seriously, did no one see this coming? After the judges made a big deal about how they were going to be cooking for a TV production "where schedules change." Why won't these contestants pay attention to the way their episodes are edited? (Oh that's right…because they're in them.) Also this week, Tom Colicchio reiterated how good this crop of contestants is by saying that nothing they were being served was at a "spit it out" level. But it's unfortunate he had to offer that bit of reassurance to the super-defensive Hung, whose Arroz Con Pollo even looked dry in the "food porn" shot they took of it in the kitchen. I can only imagine how it tasted an hour later, after a steady blast of sterno. But if I were Colicchio, I'd be careful about how critical I'd get with Hung, especially after he pointed out "the way he runs around the kitchen with a knife in his hand." What else this week? More trios! And even some quartets! The "pie-crust" Quickfire gave the chefs too much time and too much product to work with, and as a result, they almost all overdid it, filling plates with multiple sweet and savory tarts. I didn't envy the judges having to sample what amounted to 10 full-course meals. Like Bravo's near-daily Top Chef marathons prove, it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
Line Of The Week:: "It's like an orgasm in your mouth."

Note: I'm heading out of town late next week and won't be able to see all the shows by Friday, so the next Roundup will either be incomplete or delayed. But I might add another show when I get back. I've got my eye on one I watched last year–one that rivals On The Lot for sheer awfulness. Lord help me, I want to see how they're going to follow it up.