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What I Watched Last Night

I'm not sure what did it last night: Flavor Flav's really awful new sitcom Under One Roof on WPWR/Channel 50 or ABC-TV's presentation of the Democratic debate, which by this hour has been denoted as a tourist attraction on every new Philadelphia city map as "The Twenty-First Gigantamous Mountain of Droning Bullshit." Either way, I found myself afterward developing an odd affection for ABC's Men In Trees.

Make no mistake: Men in Trees has nothing at all to do with men. Or trees. Or men abandoned by their women to figure out how to live in trees without bar soap or household cleaning services. But still.

This is a show that could be easily described as Northern Exposure meets Thirtysomething, except with an ensemble cast that, for the most part, is easily more forgettable. I'm not sure why, but ABC seems hellbent on finding a way to resurrect the spirit - if not the ghost - of its groundbreaking whinefest Thirtysomething. Yet, with Men In Trees, the network has managed to do just that without making us also think of of that whiny clusterfuck called What About Brian (Motto: "A series so bad we didn't even bother to tack a question mark onto its name.") However, the basic difference between Thirtysomething and Men in Trees is that I didn't spend a whole hour last night just wanting slap the whiny hell out of everyone.

Plus, there are moments in Men In Trees that make you at least chuckle. Thirtysomething never made you chuckle. It just made you depressed over the brick walls decent marriages and hookups smack up against when people with everything they've ever wanted in life end up spending every waking moment being far too unsatisfied and introspective for their own fucking good.

I'm also tempted to suggest that Wednesday night's influence of Flavor Flav also led to me to hallucinate a three-hour block of my prime time life. That's because at some point between 7:05 and 7:20 p.m., there were back-to-back commercials for Edge Energy shaving gel involving a crowd of miniaturized hot babes shooting thick cream from futuristic backpacks all over sequoia-sized chin whiskers followed by another crowd of miniaturized hot mentholated babes flying up some guy's nostrils on jet packs to dance, dance, dance!

Yeaahhhh booyyyyy! Thank God someone in charge of the Edge ad account had a boyhood where some kinda-sorta Swedish babe invited every man in the nation to "Take it off. Take it all off."

Yet, jeez - if everyday midgets can have their own bar in south suburban Worth, what sort of commentary is it on big-city life when the only outlet available for miniaturized hot babes up for a little clubbing is the lining of some guy's schnozz? It took me a few seconds to figure out the point of the new Edge Energy commercials, but I was surprised that none of that time involved tiny hot babes being disemboweled by the blades of a giant razor or miniaturized babes getting entangled in nose hair, dodging flaky boogers, or getting snot all over their space boots once they landed and fired up the voompa-voompa music.

Anyway, I found something extremely warm and inviting about Men In Trees - a show I paid little notice to maybe twice last year - even though I was doing something else at the same time and had no idea what was going on beyond several separate groups of off-kilter people in the off-kilter burg of Elmo, Alaska, having the same off-kilter life experiences on two or three different levels. I kind of followed CBS's Northern Exposure before it got all stupid by becoming more interested in flooding the planet with T-shirts and plastic lunch boxes, so I could reasonably say that Trees is a clone of Northern Exposure all the way down to the same warm and folksy "what everybody learned" narration at the end of the show by the same sort of warm and folksy narrator, and the fact that the social center of town is a tavern furnished straight out of the Wisconsin Northwoods.

Yet I won't say that, because Men in Trees has no nutty Alaskan Indians wandering about looking for free-clinic medical care, the white-folk characters are not nearly as uncomfortably strange, there isn't a single moose to plow your car into, and Anne Heche is genuinely likable for reasons beyond an incredibly nice rack, which was displayed quite prominently at least once during Wednesday's program.

Yeahhhhh boyyyyy - if only my rack looked that great back when I was 40 years old.

While we're at it, I completely blame Flavor Flav for leading me to find something endearing about Cynthia Stevenson (Hope and Gloria, Dead Like Me) John Amos, and Lauren Tom, who voices Minh Souphanousinphone on King of the Hill.

* * *

Tuesday night, Chef Gordon Ramsay was "looking for a complete service" from the clueless collection of Hell's Kitchen

Since nobody knows how to cook, someone setting shit on fire makes the hour seem worth it. It's fun watching someone on the women's Red Team try to extinguish a grease fire by trying to blow it out instead of, say, tossing a box of baking soda onto it. It's even more fun when Chef Ramsay decides to chuck the whole flaming mess into the sink. But it's three times better when the sink is full of standing water and you just want some wiseacre in the bunch to go, "Fire, fire!! Are you threatening me? I am Cornholio - I need TP for my bunghole . . . "

Random highlights and observations from this week's episode:

How do you imagine Gordon Ramsay autographs his 8x10 glossies during Chef Ramsay Fan Appreciation Day?

1) "Fuck off!"
2) "You donkey!"
3) "Shut it down, you miserable pile of shit!"


As their reward for winning a chicken-cutting challenge, the women's Red Team gets all dolled up by shaving their legs in the bathroom sink for a Ramsay lunch outing at a restaurant called The Saddle Ranch. They are greeted by horribly-failed Hell's Kitchen Season 3 cheftestant Aaron, the big Asian guy Ramsay kept calling "the Chinese Cowboy." Aaron greets everyone with his chunky butt on the Saddle Ranch's centerpiece: a mechanical bull.

Ramsay seems somewhat genuinely surprised to be greeted by Aaron, his portly frame stuffed into a Western shirt Marty Robbins or Porter Waggoner probably wouldn't want to be buried in, waving his big cowboy hat and shouting "Yee-Haaa!!" Aaron is beaming like a madman and appears to be in high spirits. This leads me to think he's recovered from whatever mystery ailment that made him cry uncontrollably, faint a lot, and spend most of his time having to sit down.

The show's Voiceover Guy says Aaron is "a regular" at the The Saddle Ranch, but he fails to mention whether being a regular involves eating sides of beef, washing dishes, or spending endless days on the mechanical bull as a fun way to weather unemployment. You know, kind of like how we were never clear exactly how Norm managed to fritter away 22 hours of his day as a Cheers regular.

Still, when Chef Ramsay goes booking lunch at a joint with a mechanical bull, you have to wonder whether he's running out of taste, running out of restaurant choices in greater Los Angeles, or simply whether he just doesn't like women all that much. Last week, Blue Team got lobster and caviar on a yacht. This week, the Red Team got lunch lookin' for love in all the wrong places with the ghosts of Mickey Gilley and Debra Winger.

Up next: The captain's table at Hooter's.


Maybe it's just me, but there was something slightly kinky in Chef Ramsay putting Vanessa "on meat" and proclaiming Rosann to be "from the backstreets"? Discuss.


On the other hand, there was nothing at all kinky or provocative about the plan hatched by the Red Team to shoehorn without shame some of the fugliest heiffers of their whole bunch - Corey, Christina, and Shayna into loathsomely small two-piece swimsuits and stick them into a hot tub to tempt the sleepier members of Blue Team with barbecue chicken, beer, and cigarettes to narc on each other so the Red Team can find a way to psych out the Blue Team.

Forget that the two teams don't even interact in the same kitchen; there's just something fundamentally wrong about sucking the marrow out of chicken bones and dripping BBQ sauce and cigarette ashes into the same water you're soaking in.

Cheftestant Ben might not be able to scrape up a medium-cooked salmon to save his life, but he's totally onto the Red Team's evil plan from the beginning. Not so for misogynist dillweed Jason. In the blink of an eye, he goes tripping/flopping into the hot tub like a wounded sperm whale to spill the beans on his teammates long before any of the women even mention beer or chicken.

The scheme may have been the most brilliant tactical plan ever hatched outside the walls West Point Military Academy: "If you ain't gonna fuck 'em, might as well feed 'em."


As punishment for losing the chicken-cutting competition, the Blue Team is forced to pick peppers in the blazing sun in clothing modeled somewhere between the prisoners on Cool Hand Luke and George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, except with big floppy hats sometimes seen on donkeys.

Meanwhile, Louross calls the blue, broken-down bus with a weary engine transporting the Blue Team to the 100-acre pepper farm "ganky-looking." It looks exactly like the bus used by the big Baptist church from Hammond, Indiana, to prowl the streets of my Southeast Side neighborhood looking for souls to save 30 years ago. Same shade of blue, too.

The hard-labor pepperfest causes Jason to comment: "There are two reasons why I'm chubby: Number One, I like food. Number Two, I don't work like that."

Or reason number three: You just don't give a damn. Especially when you can still find women of some sort that'll invite you into their hot tub.


At the end of the show, Ramsay tells Jason to fuck off for good, meaning we don't have his misogynistic ass to kick around anymore. Before skulking off, Jason asserts his un-pansiness by proclaiming, "I'm a man. I'm not gonna cry about it. I am gonna go get drunk, though."

Hoooooo-ah! You go, dude!


Notable cheftestant quotable: "I want you to work like a fucking Comanche."

Notable Ramsay quotable: "That's not a saute pan! That's a furnace!"

Bonus notable cheftestant quotable: "Don't tell me to shut the fuck up. I'll knock you out."

Bonus notable Ramsay quotable: "Jason! You're on desserts! Don't eat any!"


Up next: Crisco Inferno, Edward Cinderhands, and food-poisoning your own family instead of complete strangers.


Check out the rest of the wide wonderful world of What I Watched Last Night.

Posted on April 17, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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