Friday, December 10, 2010

ON TV: Top Chef All-Stars - Jen's parting is such sweet sorrow

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act 2, scene 2, 176–185
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

I set out to blog how, ON TV: On Top Chefs All-Stars, episode 2, Jen's parting is such sweet sorrow.
What I found, though, was: Patti Labelle has two titles that aptly describe the first chefs sent packing, Shakespeare eerily predicted Jen's crack of doom, and Jason Sheehan is my new favorite Top Chef blogger.
Top Chef Season 8's first All-Star casualty last week was Elia Aboumrad (who placed 4th in Top Chef, Season 2 ). I dedicate to her Patti Labelle's album: Patti Live! One Night Only...  To Jen, I dedicate Patti LaBelle's hit song "New Attitude".

Either the All-Star cheftestants OD'd on La LaBelle's lyrics, or the producers whipped them into a stiff, saucy frenzy for ratings' sake. To wit:  Last week, Elia landed on the chopping block for stubbornly refusing to update her losing dish beyond a mere tweak.  And Fabio Viviani (Season 5's Fan Favorite, who placed 4th), threw down the gauntlet with bitingly-brutal judge Anthony Bourdain

This season, Jen's anger, feistiness, and cockiness sharply contrasted with her mild-mannered demeanor during Top Chef Season 6 (she placed fourth, too - I see a pattern here).  Jen staunchly stood by her soaked pork-belly dish (which some said tasted like wet bacon) and so dissed the judges that her castmates (and some judges) rocked on their heels. I think one of her teammates gasped. (Although in the stew room, two-stitch Jamie Lauren (who placed 7th in Season 5) said about Jen's tirade: "She was good!")
Antonia Lofaso (who placed 4th in Season 4) asked Jen if she'd behaved that way in Season 6. Jen's reply: "Absolutely not. This is All-Star Jen."

Jen, Jen, why'd you drink that Kool-Aid?

This go-round, Jen's hubris in general, and cockiness about the Museum of Natural History challenge in particular challenged the gods of reality TV to take her down. Couple that begging-for-it setup with her alternately simmering and red-hot-chili-pepper temper this season, Jen's impudence at judge's table, and her shared confidence in the confessional (her father sez coming in second is still losing), and you KNOW she's cruisin' for losin' - if only to make good TV.

And good TV we got.  All that tough talk and the tirade at judge's table certainly was "dramatical" (to quote celebreality star Flavor Flav) and "drama-full" (to quote a young woman overhead gossipping on Manhattan's 6-train yesterday). But I'd bet my best cookware Jen never would have talked so tough if she'd felt vulnerable. 

But she was.  They all are. For all but one chef-testant, life upon this show is but a walking shadow, short-lived and soon-doused. 

Instead of listening to Patti LaBelle - or the producers - or her father - and breaking bad, Jen should have read Shakespeare's MacBethFor on Top Chef, to-morrows are not promised, and for all but one talented, lucky contestant, hubris, incompetence, and carelessness will light fools the way out, out! To be then heard no more.  (Until the Top Chef  holiday special or some other media opportunity.)

This course, Jen's candle was snuffed. Her strutting and fretting upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signified nothing. And so Tom Colicchio told her: he admired her standing up for her dishes, but that did nothing to improve her food. 

Given all Jen's bad-ass bravado and bluster, her elimination was painfully ironic. Padma's "Jen, please pack your knives and go" was tight-throated (as if it were hard for her to break the bad news). Tiffany and Jamie's reactions:  total shock (although Jamie's also reflected surprise she it was Jen - not she - who was sent packing). Antonia's reaction spoke for us all:  "Holy sh*t!" 
Even I, who found Jen's bravado and overconfidence unwise and her behavior at judge's table inappropriate, found her ousting hard to swallow.  (I pity the fool!) But what came next for this poor player was even harder to watch.

Not even a Machiavellian producer like Real Housewives' sleaz-evil genius, Andy Cohen, could have predicted Jen's priceless, cringe-worthy, emotional roller-coaster of a meltdown.  Jason Sheehan describes it well in his post: "Top Chef All-Stars, second course: Is Jen a dinosaur?

By the way, I think Jason Sheehan should be a Top Chef judge.  To underscore my point, check out this post: "Note to Top Chef: Stop sucking."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

ONSCREEN: What's with Alicia Witt making love in lifts with men she shouldn't be with?

What's with Alicia Witt making love in lifts with men she shouldn't be with?  Well, not Alicia exactly, but some of the lusty, unfaithful characters she plays onscreen.
  • Exhibit A:
Consider her steamy elevator scene in Season 2, Episode 7 of The Sopranos ("D-Girl", 2000). Witt, as film development executive Amy Safir, begins an illicit liaison with her fiancé's mafiso cousin, Christopher Molitsanti (Michael Imperioli), in a hotel elevator and consummates it all over her room.

Chris, we already know, has no respect for the terms of engagement (his fiancée is Adriana La Cerva, played by Drea de Matteo). That's not surprising, since The Sopranos and the gangster fare that inspired it, whether fictional (e.g., Casino, The Godfather Trilogy, Goodfellas, The Public Enemy, Scarface), semi-fictional (e.g., The Untouchables), or true-life (e.g., the Decavalcante Crime Family), perpetuate the belief that most gangsters (and their wives) take having a comàre or three for granted. We also know Christopher has become disenchanted with the breakdown of Cosa Nostra values, and so he feels justified violating the taboo against airing Family secrets and bloody laundry (even in fiction).

But Cousin Greg (Dominic Fumusa), whom Amy and Chris cuckold, had introduced the pair in a win-win effort to help Chris make mob-oriented movies and Amy find marketable film projects. For Chris to sleep with that cousin's (ANY relative's) intended wife?  Madonn'! Chrissie clearly doesn't much respect family ties, either.  (Except, of course, when they involve Chris' cousin/uncle/mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Adrianna.  We see how Chris feels when he thinks the shoe's on the other foot in "Irregular Around the Margins" - Season 5, Episode 57 and in his movie Cleaver, aired in "Stage 5" - Season 6, Episode 79.)

Exhibit B:

I wonder if Witt's steamy elevator scene in The Sopranos inspired either her casting or the elevator scene in the movie, Last Holiday (2006)?  In this big-screen flick, Witt plays sultry secretary, Ms. Burns, who gets lovey-dovey in the lift with her married boss, Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton).  Later, a tete-a-tete with Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) in a hotel spa reveals Kragen has been stringing Burns along with promises he will leave his wife.  Burns feels stressed, trapped, and unable to leave because she has no education.  Byrd advises her (in so many words):  stop being a sucker (pun intended), go back to school, and take charge of your professional and personal destiny!

The Upshot:

Both stories end well for the women and badly for the men. 

In The Sopranos, sleazy Safir severs ties with Moltisanti and his film project (after, of course, her boss has stolen Chris' concept).  In a less-than-subtle symbolic scene, Chris confronts and insults Safir, calling her a "D-girl".  The Yale University graduate and doctor's daughter, Safir, leaves Chris standing at the bottom of a staircase (an "auto" lift of sorts) and corrects him (read:  puts him back in his place), while steadily ascending - "I'm a Vice-President, you moron!"  The experience temporarily wounds Christopher emotionally (he really liked Amy) and opens his eyes to the shark-like nature of the film industry (which is not unlike that of the mafia, but without the offscreen violence). But Chris' world doesn't collapse. Not immediately.  That happens after he makes another film (a revenge fantasy, which could have been subtitled, "Pork Store Killer's Revenge") with a little help from "friends of his" both buttoned ("made") and buttonholed (made to help). The film's message contributes to Chris' demise, and sometime later, Moltisanti suffers a tragic fate at the hands of Tony, who modeled the film's protagonist (in "Kennedy and Heidi" -  The Sopranos: Season 6, Part 2, Episode 83). 

In Last Holiday, Burns' status elevates while Kragen's plummets.  Burns takes Byrd's advice; she returns to school, graduates, and gets a better job at the Grand Hotel Pupp. In contrast, her adulterous, manipulative, self-interested former boss, Kragen, loses his money to his ex-wife and the Securities and Exchange Commission.