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What I Watched Last Night

By Scott Buckner

If you've been feeling lately like Fox has been neglecting its commitment to the verbal torture of the lazy, the clueless, and the inept, you might be happy to know that Chef Gordon Ramsay is back with a sixth season of Hell's Kitchen, a show that had become predictable in just about every way ranging from the cheftestants themselves, the head-to-head competitions, and the stinking or menial chores the competition losers are forced to endure.

So why did unappreciative ingrates like me keep tuning in every week? For the gasket-blowin', meat-throwin', trash-can-kickin', bitch-slappin' verbal abuse nobody else on TV has tried using as a motivational tool since Gunnery Sgt. Hartman met Pvt. Leonard Lawrence and his fellow worthless maggots in Full Metal Jacket.

The show's producers must have realized this because the new season began this week with back-to-back episodes featuring 16 cheftestants who have absolutely no clue whatsoever how to cook. Seriously.

We're not talking the usual Hell's Kitchen can't-cook-risotto or can't-master-scallops bad. We're talking can't-cook-nuthin'-no-way-nohow bad. We're talking so bad that Ramsay fires one cheftestant - a diner owner named Louie who was exactly what you might expect out of a guy named Louie who owns diner - on the spot without even the dignity of the show-closing Take Off Your Jacket/picture-burning ceremony.

We're talking so bad that Ramsay brings back Season 5 cheftestant Robert, a profusely-sweating mound of walking flesh who dropped out when he developed a heart-related medical condition, to replace Louie. As the night progresses, it becomes apparent that whatever cooking skills Ramsay admired in Robert (who Ramsay refers only to as "big boy") last season have evaporated.

And they all just keep getting worse from one episode to the next. Nobody's seasoning any of the meat before cooking it. Tennille attempts to "kill a pregnant woman" with raw shrimp. Tony (who keeps reminding me of Rick Moranis) doesn't know how to slice a grapefruit. Lovely starts overcooking things even before the restaurant opens, tries cooking things on a stove that isn't even lit, and wanders off to a corner like a wounded elephant to sit on her ass for 45 minutes in the middle of dinner service because she's dying of hunger or dehydration or typhoid or something. Amanda confuses a freezer with a refrigerator. Melinda's solution to her completely-acceptable appetizer dish that goes along with the scallops that Tek keeps screwing up is to dump it and start over until Ramsay digs a mound of wasted pasta the size of Mt. McKinley out of the trash bin next to her. Melinda, who works as a private chef on yachts when she's not wandering around with the same bug-eyed look you'd expect from a man getting a colorectal exam, gets bounced at the end of the episode for being the biggest space cadet Ramsay's ever seen.

It's not just me. When Ramsay shuts down the kitchen because nothing has gone out in almost two hours and serves the night's guinea-diners nothing but shrimp cocktail before sending them all home, you know things are batshit bad. "Congratulations! You've just turned my restaurant into a shrimp stand!"

We knew we might expect things like this, beginning at the point during the opening episode where the cheftestants present their signature dishes for Ramsay to sample. Melinda presents poached lobster tail that has no lobster tail. Amanda presents French toast with a side shot of tequila wine butter. Ramsay refuses to touch it, so Amanda grabs the shot and downs it right there. ("One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, four, gotta have a little more!" Amanda sings ditzily in her off-camera interview. I start to like her.)

This will probably mean that this season's grand prize - a head chef gig at Araxi, a restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia home page features what porn-movie soundtrack music could be if anyone in the porn industry gave a shit) - will be won by the first cheftestant able to cobble together a bologna sandwich without burning it. Whistler is a Canadian resort town notable for being populated by two of the worst names ever conceived for a newspaper and foraging black bears which have "learned to do things like open car doors or hold spring-closed gates open so they can reach food." Nevertheless, I'm guessing the wild bears roaming Whistler are more cordial than the ne'er-do-wells roaming Las Vegas who show up on Cops.

Still, I have to wonder whether anyone associated with Hell considered whether any of the cheftestants might actually qualify to live and work in Canada, but that's not really our problem. For all we care, the winner gets smuggled across the border in a car trunk or pushed out of an airplane flying low over the restaurant in the middle of the night.

This season also has two cheftestants with short fuses. One is Van, a fish cook - and I'm not sure what a fish cook is, exactly - from Dallas with a tendency to call everyone "bro" when provoked. He's becoming an I'm-going-to-strangle-you thorn in the side of Belgian maitre 'd Jean-Philippe, who takes a dim view of cowboys he can't understand in the first place because they speak Texas English sprinting all disrespectful-like through his dining room.

The second is Joseph, a onetime marine corporal on a mission that has more to do with kicking Ramsay's ass and telling everyone, "I'm not no bitch" than with actual cooking. Joseph is afflicted with more than just amped-up bad attitude; he also doesn't know how to answer a simple question. When asked by Ramsay at the end of the second episode to present two Blue Team cheftestants for elimination (Tony and Andy) and why, Joseph repeatedly refuses to answer the "and why" part with something simple and to the point, like "Chef, Tony keeps burning the grapefruit."

This leads to this fun exchange where Joseph - a man clearly haunted by flashbacks of his tour of duty as a USMC Food Service Specialist - tells a few of the other cheftestants to "shut your fucking mouth," tears off his cook's jacket, gets in Ramsay's face and issues The Chef his own kitchen challenge: "Let's go step outside, motherfucker!"

Up next week: A good ass-kicking, maybe! Disaster! Paramedics! Mayhem!

Notable cheftestant quote: "I thought bologna was illegal in California or something."

Notable Ramsay quote: "Look at this salmon! It's like a bison's penis!"

Around the Dial
Best lines overheard on TV this week:

"It's not easy to find a man who likes sauerkraut for breakfast."
- The Untouchables (Monday 7/20)

Ex-husband: "The next man that she dupes, good luck to him."
Ex-wife: "Bite me."
- Judge Mathis (Tuesday 7/21)

Plaintiff (to defendant): "You're hung, but it doesn't work. Get over yourself"
- Judge Joe Brown (Thursday 7/23)


Visit the What I Watched Last Night archives and see what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.


Posted on July 24, 2009

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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