Top Chef: Boston’s Bravest and Finest

TOP CHEF: 12.02 “Boston’s Bravest and Finest
Last week, I identified two early villains in this season; DoucheHat (Aaron, who wears the black baseball cap), and Adam. This week, Adam comes across as much more tolerable. He seems easy-going, energetic, and there’s not a whiff of misogyny in sight; of course, the emotional way he tells the story of his mother’s experience at Ground Zero in New York during 9/11 goes a long way to help the audience connect with him. Not so much for Aaron, who seems even more unpleasant and arrogant than last week. He seems completely unable to function in the group challenge, insisting on wasting most of his time making some kind of bullshit molecular gastronomy “gel” to serve to Boston Firefighters and Police Officers, a group which is probably not really into gimmicky, fancy, ultra-haute cuisine. Worse yet, he gets plenty of warnings from his teammates, particularly Keriann, who as the daughter of a firefighter insists that they shouldn’t get too fancy and stick with simple, well-prepared food with good flavors. Of course, he completely ignores her in the most dismissive way possible, earning him the misogynist card for the week, and nearly getting himself kicked off in the process. I feel bad for Stacy, the Boston contestant, who’s stuck in the middle of such a dysfunctional dynamic. Somehow she manages to deal with it, because her chicken is actually well done and apparently the only thing that keeps her team from being ranked on the bottom.Joy from the other team, unfortunately, is sent home for serving some undercooked veal chops. It’s disappointing, because I believe she had talent and I would have liked to see what she could do in future challenges, though given the nature of the mistake, it’s maybe not all that surprising. The judges seem to always be harsher on simple mistakes of execution, and undercooking veal is certainly that, than they are on failures of complicated concepts, like Aaron’s (Sorry, I mean DoucheHat’s).

To rewind just a bit, the opening quickfire featured Todd English as judge, and tasked the chefs with cooking surf and turf. They had to select their ingredients based on several lanterns lighting up at different intervals, a call back to Paul Revere’s famous ride; I may not have been paying close enough attention at this point, because this never really did make sense to me. Some fellow who I didn’t recognize from the previous episode came out on top, with $5000 for his victory. In the main challenge, competitors are split into five groups, assigned a time by which to show up to the restaurant they’re cooking at (I forget the name), where they will select a basket of ingredients. Of course, the best baskets go first. They’re all cooking and serving to members of the Boston Police Department and Fire Department. Aside from the dysfunctional nature of DoucheHat’s team, I thought the team with two people seemed to function pretty well together; despite being down by one hand, they seemed to be on the same page and produced some good food. The winner was Adam’s team; as I said above, this episode does a lot to rehabilitate his image, especially because Aaron comes across as such a raging misanthrope.

On to next week, and a meal underneath the Green Monster?

‘The 100′ Returns — And Everything’s Changed

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THE 100: 2.01 “The 48″

One of my most anticipated returning series of the year was The 100 from the CW. If you’re surprised, well, I am too. This was a series that I just fell into over the early summer, something that I had heard a little bit about (but not much), and since nothing much else was on, I thought I’d try it out. But I was instantly hooked — primarily because of its fascinating post-apocalyptic setting and because it did not hesitate to kill off both major and minor characters.

On the Ark alone last season, they killed off more than 300 people. On the ground, if we’re counting native armies, it’s more.

This season set all kinda of new gears in motion, and I can see that the theme of this season will be about two words: power struggles.

It’s funny. For some reason, we all saw the Ark coming down to Earth as a blessing. Suddenly, the 100 (or what’s left of them) weren’t alone anymore. They’ll have help, supplies, comfort! But we seem to have forgotten that the 100 are criminals in a rather oppressive civilization. The only reason they’re not dead already is because of their age — and the only reason they’re even on Earth is because the Ark saw them as expendable. As much as we like Jaha and Abigail (and even Kane…sometimes), they run a tight ship, and that ship doesn’t have room for error.

And with Kane now in charge, it seems that tough hand is going to continue, which will be a rather tough pill to swallow when people like Clarke and Bellamy have been running the place. Not only that, but Clarke and Bellamy know what they’re dealing with; the Ark does not. Sure, Kane very easily took down the big bad Grounder with his gun, but he’s only one of many dangers on Earth. They do not have everything under control as they’d like.

So here we already have on distinct power struggle between Bellamy (who’s already arrested, while Murphy runs free — metaphorically, of course, given his injury) and Kane. To Kane, Bellamy’s just another bad seed, the one who shot Jaha. But we all know he’s more than that. And I’d rather be in Bellamy’s guiding hands than Kane’s.

Meanwhile, Clarke is separated from her friends at Mt. Weather, facing her own power struggle with President Dante Wallace. Clarke is 100% sure that Dante is keeping information from her (and I tend to agree), feeling like a prisoner in this underground world that seems to have everything they need for not just survival but a happy life (enter similarities to Mockingjay here, but I won’t go into that). At the most basic level, Dante is telling Clarke that there are no other survivors that they’ve found; we viewers know that’s true. But there’s also something strange about the fact that they can’t even open the door. What is the real reason Dante doesn’t want anyone to get out? How does he know so much about Clarke? And if no one was to get out, what made them leave to come find Clarke and her team to begin with?

Also, did anyone else notice that new girl Maya said she wasn’t “pressing charges”? If the Ark floats their criminals, what will this underground society do to its wrongdoers?

Speaking of, Mt. Weather is an interesting place. Parts of it seem lost in time — particularly its clothing, music, and decor (by the way, if you’re curious about the art at Mt. Weather, you’ll probably enjoy reading about the real Mt. Weather). But this society still has no experience with the ground. Just like Clarke in the first episode, pining over an opportunity to one day plant her feet onto the Earth from space, this new world has her within it, still unable to smell the air and run free. It really is a new prison below, instead of above. I’m incredibly curious to find out what really does go on there.

I’d last like to mention Jaha, who I was worried about in the finale (I’m going to skip over Octavia, as I can’t quite remember what happened to her in the last episode, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going yet). Jaha, I was sure, would be taking his last breath in this episode, with the final “Jaha out.” But what happened next made me audibly gasp. Could there really be a child left — a baby, at that — in the Ark? I have three possible hypotheses:

  1. Yes, there is a child. She’s a child like our own Octavia, who was illegal and hidden, and when the Ark fled, the poor thing was left behind due to headcount rules. At which point, Jaha will do everything he can to see this child live a life on Earth (and hopefully get there himself).
  2. No, there is no child. His grief over Wells and lack of oxygen is making him go crazy, and we’ll see him slowly dissolve in what remains of the Ark, which will, in essence make my heartbreak and I will possibly flood the planet N’oreaster-style with tears.
  3. No, there is no child, but the possibility of one will suddenly awaken his zeal for life, and he’ll make his way to Earth somehow anyway.

I hope for #1, it could be #3. Please don’t let it be #2. I’m not sure I could take it. I hear that we’ll find out more in the next episode (Disclaimer: potential hints or spoilers at the link provided), so I guess I won’t have to wait too long to find out. Either way, with all of these power dynamics at play, we’re in for an exciting season.

Gotham: Viper

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GOTHAM: 1.05 “Viper”

Oh, Gordon, Gordon, Gordon. What have you gotten yourself into?

Well, let’s just say that Gordon is certainly in the thick of it now. Not only does he have to pretend that he’s in line with Falcone and Fish, now he’s going to be controlled by Maroni. This is what you get for keeping the moral high ground and not killing a weasel. (Though, to be fair, I don’t think I’d want to see him kill a weasel anyway.)

This pull and tug should be an interesting one to watch Gordon maneuver. How he’ll be able to successfully play both sides while still staying true to his moral code should be…well…frankly impossible. But I’m sure it’ll be something he can do at least for a while.

What I found interesting as a slight side note in this vein was Bullock’s reaction when Gordon returned after his “lunch” with Maroni. There was his usual off-the-cuff comments about Gordon’s behavior, only to be followed up with genuine interest and care about what kind of personal matter would have held Gordon up mid-case: “Is it Barbara?” Could it be that Bullock is starting to actually care for Gordon, beyond the general “let’s not get killed” attitude? Interesting development.

Meanwhile, the case this week was just disgusting. It’s a good thing I watched Fringe all those years, so I could be warned about some gruesome deaths. Watching these people’s bones just crumble beneath them (starting with their skulls and jawbones), was just awful. I guess, based on the last few episodes, we better get used to some brutality in Gotham. It may be at an 8:00 time slot, but it’s not holding anything back. (And next week’s Halloween episode looks suitably creepy.)

Once again, though, the bad guy wasn’t necessarily trying to be a bad guy. I mean, he was because he was trying to kill people. But like the Balloonman a couple weeks ago, he was just trying to do good by exposing the bad. He wanted to stop people from making the drug; they wouldn’t so he took matters into his own hand. I’m not quite sure yet how Bruce Wayne Enterprises would have funded such a project — I suppose that corruptness has yet to be discovered, and our new “middle manager” is holding the secret to that.

Speaking of the Waynes, Bruce actually had a role this episode. I’m a little nervous about Bruce’s role in the series, actually. I don’t mind his scenes, but I just don’t think that there’s any room to grow. Or actually, there’s a ton of room — years before he becomes Batman. The only problem is that the series will try to speed up the process to avoid his becoming boring, and that could prove problematic. (If it were my pick, I would have started the series a season or two before the Waynes were killed, so we could really get to know this empire — and then the deaths would have had that much more impact, and Bruce’s determination would have aligned with our own.)

As for Fish…eh. In the first scene with Fish, I could tell she was training her little girl to be Falcone’s new dish, so she has a mole and, potentially, a way to kill him. So I found the last scene to be no surprise. Well, except for maybe her transformation. She looked stunning with her new makeover. Kudos to the costume, hair, and makeup department. A classic beauty. So classic it reminded me of an earlier era — probably the one in which Falcone’s mother lived.

*Photo by FOX

What’s on Tonight: ‘Big Driver’ on Lifetime

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You know me. I’m a sucker for new Lifetime movies on a Saturday night. And tonight, Lifetime combined two of my guilty pleasures: TV movie thrillers and Stephen King.

If you don’t know the story of Big Driver, which is based on a novella by King, here’s a quick summary:

Top Chef: Boston, Episode 1

TOP CHEF: 12.01: “Sudden Death”

As I mentioned the other day, I’m very happy to see Top Chef return to the tube, not only because it’s my favorite reality show (albeit, perhaps also the only one I watch), and not because I’ve been watching it since the second (or third, I forget) season, but also because this year it’s set in the Boston area, the region that I currently call home.

It was exciting to see places I’ve been on the show, even if they didn’t throw in too much local color in the first episode. The most we saw, really, was the Whole Foods (which I think is in the Fenway?) and the “Top Chef Food Festival” at the Museum of Science; we didn’t even see the house the chefs will be staying in yet. But I’ll say, the guest list at the Museum was pretty impressive, full of Boston culinary superstars like Barbara Lynch, Ming Tsai, Jasper White, Jamie Bissonnette, Todd English, and others.

This early in the competition, it’s tough to get a sense of all the chefs because the field is so big. Right now, I’ll be rooting for the Boston girl (I forget her name, but she’s from Regal Beagle in Brookline; unfortunately, I think I moved out of that neighborhood before it opened so I’ve never been). I have to feel for George, who got eliminated in the new-look Elimination Quickfire (which I’m not sure I like; it seems too abrupt), and who seemed like an earnest and likeable sort of guy. I also like Joy, who’s pretty humble and self-effacing, but who I suspect has some serious skills regardless, at least judging by the response to her food in the elimination. She didn’t make it in the top, but her simple grits, greens, and crispy chicken skin looked really good. Least likeable is Adam, who not only comes off as incredibly arrogant but also disgustingly retrograde when he refers to Keriann as a “beautiful blonde thoroughbred”; sure, she’s good looking, but comparing her to a race horse is thoughtless at best and misogynistic at worst and immediately left a bad taste in my mouth. Also in the running for early villain is Aaron (I think that’s his name), who comes across as completely full of himself and totally dismissive of his competition, despite the fact that he serves such a fatty piece of pork to Padma that she spits it out in front of him and tells him to get his shit together, though in a slightly nicer tone; he tends to wear a black hat (appropriate) in his face-to-face interviews, so I think I’ll be calling him DoucheHat from now on. Katsuji has an interesting backstory (Japanese, Kosher, and Mexican all together?) but his “petroleum shrimp” looked bizarre, and based on the reactions of the judges, it probably tasted bizarre too; I’d avoid adding the word “petroleum” to anything edible. Katie’s broccoli dish sounded like a bad idea from the start, and it was. Too simple, and ugly to look at.

When it gets down to judging, it looks like this year all the chefs are going to be called into the same room at once, and they’ll all get to hear who succeed, who failed, and why. I like this approach a lot better than last year, when they simply piped the judge deliberations into the waiting room via TV. Mei wins, for making some kind of traditional rice porridge, and Michael goes home for putting fish eggs in a cold soup (eww). I have to say, I love that two-time former contestant and one-time winner Richard Blais is back as a judge. I hope he’s around for most of the season; he was my favorite competitor in both of the seasons he was in, and I like seeing him on the other side of the table. He gave some pointed criticisms to a few folks (in particular he was critical of some of the molecular gastronomy approaches that he was known for during his time on the show), but I wonder if he went a little easier on the chefs in general, since he’s been there before and knows what it’s like.

Anyway, it’s great that the show is back, and I can’t wait to see more locations around Boston. As I said above, it’s a bit too early to get a sense of the strongest and weakest links, and all the personalities, but I’m looking forward to trying to figure it all out in the upcoming episodes.

Marry Me: The Pilot

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MARRY ME: 1.01 “The Pilot”

There weren’t many shows I was really interested in seeing going into this new fall season. One was Gotham, which has piqued my interest and kept me coming back for more. Another was A to Z, mainly because of the cast; that one’s doing alright in my book but needs to grow into itself.

The last was Marry Me, solely because of who was in it and who created it. Ken Marino was great in Party Down, and both Casey Wilson and her off-screen hubby David Caspe won me over with Happy Endings (Wilson acted, Caspe created — just like they do in Marry Me). I didn’t know much more about the series, other than that it was about a recently engaged couple, and I suppose that after the pilot, we don’t know much more than that now either.

That being said, I enjoyed not knowing. The episode certainly had its ups and downs. Marino’s Jake was pushed very early on into a supporting role to Wilson’s antics as Annie. While I still expect Marino to hold the title of “straight man” to Wilson’s humor, I do think he is going to grow so that this engagement — and show — becomes a 50/50 partnership.

There’s also a little work to be done elsewhere. A few of the jokes were predictable (of course, Annie’s proposal would have some devastating ending, and of course Annie and Jake ended up at the same place afterward), and the characters were oddly introduced before we actually saw them. As someone new to the series, I didn’t hang on to every word of Annie’s rant, so while I got that she insulted all her friends and family, I was playing a little catchup to remember what she said about whom.

But, it’s clear that Jake and Annie have chemistry, and that’s going to be keeping me coming back. Marino and Wilson do a great job playing off each other when they can be their fast-talking, reactive selves (think of their off-shoots of conversation during the last, real proposal). And without some complicated reason for the show’s being (think A to Z‘s “story” of Andrew and Zelda or the horrible narration in Manhattan Love Story), it doesn’t have any issues with becoming another likable comedy that can define itself into whatever role it wants.

So I’m saying “yes” to Marry Me — at least tentatively. If it took three proposals to get Jake and Annie right, I think I should at least give it that many tries too for a solid commitment.

*Photo by NBC/Greg Gaynes

Top Chef: Boston

It’s important to note that Top Chef, my favorite reality show (or really, the only one I watch), will be returning tonight at 10 pm on Bravo. Even more exciting, it (finally) takes place in Boston, the area that Raked has collectively called home for almost a decade.

This is exciting! We are, collectively, swimming in a large swimming pool of excitement over here! The metro Boston area has become a great place for food, especially in the last few years when it has seemed like dozens of interesting restaurants open up each month and more and more young chefs from the area earn national plaudits. I hope to see some familiar sights, and I hope this provincial little “town” acquits itself well on the national stage. I’ll also echo Devra First, the Boston Globe‘s wonderful restaurant critic, and hope the show doesn’t lean on the cliches too much; please, try to avoid saying Beantown! No one actually says that here!

But anyway, we’ll be checking in again as the season progresses.

Until tonight, check out this preview.