Posted at 12:19 PM ET, 06/12/2008

Top Chef: 'The Thin Lisa Line'

Wow. Okay. Everyone visiting here knows -- so this shouldn't be a SPOILER -- that Steph won, fulfilling pretty much the popular consensus from forever. And that Richard -- who looked to be the favorite early -- "choked," by his own description. Am I the only one who thought that the teaser from last week with Richard just saying what had to be said at judges' table was going to be a repeat of Season 1, when Tiffani got called out for being evil? I seriously believed he was going to trash Lisa. Major kudos to Richard for being gentlemanly to the end and trashing himself instead. And big smile when he talked about having the baby on the way -- given that he finished the earlier kid challenge by saying he wanted to make one. Still, a little Lisa-trashing would have brought up a grin.

So, let's get to Lisa. Much ado on the "Top Chef" discussion universe last week about how perhaps that tagline about producer input was invoked to keep her. As in: Antonia was better but Lisa made for TV-inducing controversy and the panel bowed to the powers that be to keep her. Um, I have to say (protecting myself with elbows up) that I think the far more likely producer-induced interference came tonight. Not that I'm not happy about it. As Richard aptly put in the beginning of this show, there is still confusion on how Lisa made it this far. And, again, when I interviewed Tom C., he swore that being told whom to eliminate had never happened except over the Cliff-trying-to-scalp-Marcel thing. But Tom C. also swore that the judging was on the individual competition, and had no reference to previous performance. So, just wondering: Was Steph's lamb really that fantabulous?

To recap: The final challenge is always making your own menu, which would lead me to believe that the cheftestants (at least at this point) are home-practicing and perfecting the entire time between the main show arc and the finale. If anyone comes in at this point without something they want to showcase, what's up? This time, though, the ingredients were more limited (in fact, this does seem to be a trend). Instead of just making whatever they want with a huge vat of stuff to pick from, they have to pick the stuff in front of the corresponding sous chef (the celeb sous chef being the new trend from Season 3, which I actually like way better than bringing back the recent losers) and have a defined progression of courses: Fish, Poultry, Red Meat, Dessert. DESSERT. Ha!

Unlike Hung from last season almost killing his win because he chose a dessert (and a ridiculous chocolate cake thing, at that), Season 4 chefs MUST make one! Because, you know, actual people who go to dinner and pay for four courses would like one!

So in the first knife to Lisa, the choice of sous-chef and protein goes to the person who has won the most previous challenges. Which would be a tie between Richard and Steph, with Lisa somewhere clinging by her fingertips to some plankton.

Steph pulls the final No. 1 knife from the knife block and takes Eric Ripert, and it's really uncertain whether it's about the protein or the man (um, chef). Richard goes for Dan Barber and Lisa gets April Bloomfield, which immediately makes one wonder whether April is going to get hazard pay from Bravo.

Only this week we have Happy Lisa! Fun Lisa! Bond with my chick chef Lisa!
It's as if she watched herself in previous episodes and said, um, okay, I have to have a personality transplant. Which works right up until the traditional Lisa arms-crossed scowl-a-thon takes place at Judges' Table, but I digress.

Anyway, Lisa decides to make a totally Asian menu, Richard has a theme-a-thon I never really get and Steph wants to be kinda simple and clean (is there any show in "Top Chef" history that doesn't use the phrase "simple and clean flavors"?)

On to the course-off:
FIRST:
Lisa does a shrimp thing (of course, it's called "prawns," being that "prawns" are all more exciting in theory unless you're dealing with a bad takeout Chinese menu) with spicy spicy to start. Richard does scallops and Steph some red snapper.
SECOND:
Lisa goes for a Tom Kha Gai soup that is a staple of Thai delivery menus but upgrades it with her own special dumpling. Richard goes with guinea hen and about nine other things and Steph does quail.
THIRD:
Lisa: Wagyu beef
Richard: Pork belly (the undoing of Casey in Season 3, alas)
Steph: Lamb
FOURTH:
Lisa: A black rice Thai pudding
Steph: Ricotta poundcake
Richard: That banana scallop thing AGAIN (really, is that going to win you any points, no matter HOW good it is?) and bacon ice cream. Yes, bacon ice cream.

This is one of those times where you wish you could taste straight through the TV screen because while I'm all about bacon (and, very briefly, actually liked Lisa for her bacon-syrup heaven earlier this season) it's really, really hard to imagine wanting bacon in my ice cream.

So on to Judges' Table and here's where it gets messy. Lisa describes her menu as reflecting the fact that she is a "spicy kind of person." Because, you know, when she earlier describes herself with words that include "sweet" and "sour," the whole viewing public laughs until their Coke comes up their noses. Richard tries to explain his thesis; Steph just stays on the same keel.

Steph kinda gets credit for winning course 1, but there is a clear divide and Mr. Wonderful Ted Allen actually is very up for Lisa's shrimp. Lisa's soup runs away with the competition for course 2, and in fact gets some of the most positive comments of the night. Course 3, Lisa's lamb, is decribed by Eric Ripert as the first time the word "love" is used to describe the food. And the dessert course is a Lisa win again, with Steph's essentially a failure. Richard, meanwhile, is a total nonentity in all of this despite teaching Eric Ripert how to use liquid nitrogen on his ice cream.

Everybody gets a chance at Judges' Table to put in a last few words and Insecure Steph second-guesses her dessert and Lisa does a version of the Titanic "I'm King of the World!" speech, which just makes you want an iceberg to rise up and sink her. Then Richard -- in that much-hyped moment -- declares himself to have choked. Which would be dramatic if we weren't already in the point in the show where it's very very clear there's going to be a first-ever woman winner.

So, as they tell us, the whole who-wins discussion takes forever and ever until the birds start chirping in the morning. Which, back to the original point, is probably understandable. Because, um, Tom C. consistently makes the point that it's about the best dish/meal of the moment. And, um, if you digest the analysis, it would very much seem like Lisa "killed" on two courses, all but tied on another but lost to Steph on best dish of the night (that lamb thing
with braised pistachios, which everyone couldn't stop raving over so make them for your next dinner party). But Steph truly crashed-and-burned on dessert. And Lisa didn't crash-and-burn on anything. So, it SEEMS like the "best meal" assessment came down to whether Steph's lamb was so incredible it aced out the fact that Lisa's cohesive progression of undeniably solid courses -- save for the disappointment of the Wagyu beef.

It did. And, like the voting public, in the poll, who wanted Steph to win at 60 percent and Lisa at 4! (Seriously, Lisa, are you listening? You must open one of those restaurants with the open kitchen, then you'll get customers who come to gawk at the devil in a chef's coat. It's really your only hope of capitalizing on this experience.) Steph took the crown. But, really, don't you wonder what Tom, Gail and Ted would say if told they could only have one meal out of the three? Sounded to me--at least from the way it was cut -- that they would have gone down the Lisa path. Of course, then they might have burned in eternal hellfire and all. And Bravo might have, um, lost more than a restaurant full of viewers.

-- JENNIFER FREY


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Posted at 02:23 PM ET, 06/ 5/2008

'Top Chef': Hogtied in Puerto Rico

TV EDITOR'S NOTE: Perhaps it's only all too appropriate given this week's episode, but today's blog is being prepared by me, your sous-scribe for this week. Regular blogger Jennifer Frey will return as soon as the power to her storm-hit home does.

This week's run-up to next week's season finale is not for the squeamish. Not because slaughtered swine abounds in the cramped, shoulder-to-pork-shoulder kitchen, though that's not for the faint of eye, either. No, we mean because Lisa and her Sour Demeanor live on to linger in the Puerto Rican air. To pervert Jimmy Buffett's song: Since Chicago, there's been a change in latitude but no change in attitude. Even Richard flat-out snarks about the constant acid-rain cloud that is whiny Lisa, looming toxic over San Juan.

Speaking of Richard the Great, he and Stephanie continue to battle it out, having gone neck-and-neck for weeks like mid-primary Democratic candidates. Only we're not so quick yet to cast Stephanie as the de facto Hillary. We'd love to call Richard the presumptive winner (and our track record tabbing "Idol's" David Cook nine weeks out was accurate), but Steph keeps reasserting her presence. This week, she wins the fritter-filled QuickFire and, as such, also wins the chance to assign sous-chefs to each of the four competitors for the Elimination Challenge. For herself, she chooses Dale the Livid Locker-Puncher; Richard gets Spike, who seems to do porkpie hats better than he does pork; the resurgent Antonia gets Nikki; and Hurricane Lisa gets Andrew, who unlike some island swine still has his sharp tongue intact.

The chefs are asked to go the whole hog. Literally. They butcher each eyes-a-poppin' pig, and viewers who have soft spots for Wilbur or "Babe" surely blanch. The chefs each stab it with their steely knives but they're not so skilled with this beast. Lisa, in fact, is better at wielding irony, as she notes that she's carving up a porker despite being Jewish. The cleaver-happy Richard evokes memories of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" (then again, this island is expert in the ways of red Rum). Antonia, however, talks about popping out pork parts like she's an old porcine pro.

The challenge: Prepare at least three dishes for a swank catered affair, two of which must have pork. Antonia, Richard and Lisa all do takes on pork belly. Stephanie, on the other hand, is dealt a blow when Dale the Absent-Minded Confessor leaves their dry-rub pork bellies out all night, unrefrigerated. Give major props to Steph: On camera, at least, she's remarkably composed as she resolves to come up with another pork dish; Dale, meanwhile, rightly feels absolutely sick over his mistake; perhaps if he'd only brought handy-dandy labeling tape as Richard "Boy Scout" Blais did.

Antonia, seemingly preoccupied, miscooks her rice, and ultimately claims her undercooked pigeon peas (or gandules) are "al dente." Meanwhile, Richard "Inspector Gadget" Blais pulls out a demi-blow torch and fires it up toward the pig's feet. The man is nothing if not as well-prepared as his food is.

Ultimately, Stephanie serves pork satay, braised pork and plantain pancakes (a personal fave when done right) and fruit & proscuitto salad. Richard does belly, ribs and shoulder as well as ham (for his ribs, he notably uses Malta, that heavily malty drink that he remembers from his childhood, when "a Haitian kid" in his neighborhood drank it). Antonia does honeyed belly, curried pork with yuca (or cassava), plus her woefully underdone gandules. And Lisa's offerings include yuca rellena, an adobo pork (another personal fave, though we're longing for some aji caballero, to boot) and a citrus pork belly with a plantain mash.

Guest judge/famed P.R. chef Wilo Benet (Pikayo, Paya) has praise for elements of the work from each chef. Richard and Stephanie are in a class by themselves, however, and Richard looks sincerely stunned when he's awarded a 2009 Toyota Corolla for his Elimination-winning effort -- perhaps he's amazed by the brand-new car that's just been wheeled in, or maybe he's just ecstatic to have something on hand that can actually hold all his cooking gadgets.

Antonia and Lisa are next on the firing line, and both look nervous. Lisa's sins seem to be largely of execution, while Antonia's entire concept of going rustic appears to have resulted in her own BackFire challenge -- not to mention her bizarre plating, putting all her dishes together and making them, in Tom's words, almost indistinguishable from each other. Ultimately, it's Antonia's chances that receive the cleaver-blow. She's voted off the island, as it were, while Lisa's Acid Stormcloud continues to loom, like the kitchen hurricane that just won't blow over.

-- MICHAEL CAVNA,
TV Editor


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Posted at 02:14 PM ET, 05/29/2008

Top Chef: 'Big, Honking Hunks of Beef'

This episode determines which four chefs go to Puerto Rico -- the site of the finale -- and is it any shocker that this week it really turns into a battle for last between Lisa and Spike? Who will go home -- the whiny, annoying, finger-pointing complainer or the arrogant, obnoxious hat-wearing guy?

Hat Boy, aka Spike, starts off well, when the cheftestants get dragged to a butcher's warehouse, where they each have to cut and french seven chops from a monster dry-aged ribeye rack. The grandson of a butcher, Spike cuts a beautiful chop. (Stephanie, meanwhile, makes it look as though the beef is going to wrestle her to the ground). But that's not the end of the challenge. Then the chefs have to bring their mounds of meat back to the Top Chef kitchen and cook a perfectly done medium-rare tomahawk chop for Chicago guest chef Rick Tramonto.

Tramonto doesn't even taste any of the steaks when they are done; this one is all about how it looks, specifically level of doneness. A couple of chefs underdo it a little, their meat all dark-red and cool to the touch, but Antonia and Spike pretty much nail it, and Lisa, we must admit, isn't half-bad. Spike gets the Quickfire victory.

His prize? He gets to choose his proteins first when the chefs go to Tramonto's restaurant to each cook an appetizer and a main course for the dinner shift. And what an idiot Spike is on this front. Yeah, he goes with the tomahawk cut for his meat course -- everybody's doing beef because the place is a steakhouse -- but then he chooses scallops for the appetizer even though they are frozen. Frozen. Everybody else is initially a little disappointed that Spike snags the scallops, then utterly horrified that he sticks with them even after he knows they are a frozen mess.

Stephanie and Richard each take tenderloin, Lisa the N.Y. strip and Antonia the ribeye. Lisa decides to get all creative and make peanut butter mashed potatoes which, let's face it, sound absolutely gross. Much hope blooms at that moment over the possibility of her departure.

Joining the judges for dinner are Howard, Ilan and Hung, the first three "Top Chef" victors. They all give the cheftestants advice, cautioning them not to go shave anybody's head (remember Cliff's fateful decision to buzz Marcel in Season Two? Marcel kept his hair and Cliff lost his chance to keep cooking).

For appetizers, Lisa makes a cold shrimp concoction with lemon; unfortunately for her, everybody likes the lemon and hates the fact that the shrimp is not warm. Richard does a duo of hamachi and sweetbreads that earns raves, Spike has those scallops (which he had to dry, and dry, and dry, in a desperate attempt to keep them from falling apart), Stephanie does more sweetbreads and Antonia (who clearly has a thing for eggs) makes a salad with mushrooms, artichokes and a poached egg on top. No one is much impressed with the last one, save for the excellent poaching of the egg.

Then it's time for the parade of beef. Richard's filet is so rare it's still bleeding, which seems a bit off-putting to Hung. Lisa's infamous potatoes turn out to be not bad, but apparently she spent so much time making them she forgot to season her meat. Spike's tomahawk chop is fine, but his sweet-potato puree doesn't do him any favors. That leaves Steph and Antonia, who both get raves for their hunks o' meat, Steph's paired with mushrooms and an apple sauce and Antonia's with some classic potato gratin that Tramonto all but licks off his plate.

On to judges' table, where Spike gets called out for using the frozen scallops, given that any good chef would have sent them back where they came from. Unable to control his innate obnoxiousness, this leads Spike to lay the blame on Tramonto for letting them in the door to his kitchen in the first place. Smack! Tramonto is taken aback, as he should be, but quickly says he'll take the shot and Spike still shouldn't have used them. As Spike's idiocy sinks in, he makes a point of shaking Tramonto's hand as the chefs head back to the waiting area. There, Spike starts berating himself for what he said, while the others wonder out loud if it's going to cost him Puerto Rico.

Back in front of the judges, little time is wasted naming the three obvious finalists. Richard's in for the best appetizer, Antonia for the best main course, and Stephanie for the best overall performance, which earns her a brand-new kitchen. Off they go to open the wine and start planning for Puerto Rico. Richard and Stephanie, who have clearly bonded, are all happy-happy, and Antonia, who has had a nice implant the past few weeks, is also in hug-hug mode, so thus far it looks like a cheery old finale combination.

Of course, there still needs to be either a whiner or a jerk to round out the four. Tom points out that Lisa has been at the bottom of judges' table five times, which sounds awful until he also notes that Spike has been there seven. Lisa is criticized for poor technique and not much soul to her cooking (Tom calls her "apathetic," which is just what I want in my chef, you know?); Spike is criticized for choosing those *&$% scallops. In the end, though, Lisa's bad attitude isn't as damning as Spike's bad decision and she's off to Puerto Rico as well, where, judging by the preview clips, she's going to honor poor Spike by spiking her hair. Or maybe that's not the reason.

Anyway, look out on the island, because it's time for an unprecedented Top Chef chick invasion: three women in the finals, along with Richard and his pretty pink Crocs.

Time for a poll, me thinks.

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 09:48 AM ET, 05/23/2008

'Grey's Anatomy': The One Where Everybody Learns a Lesson

Shonda Rhimes has two hours to wrap up this strike-shortened season of "Grey's," so apparently the solution is an episode in which nearly all have a patient or relationship that parallels some mess in their own lives. And they all learn something from it! Who'd-a thunk?

Talk about a depressing start. We finally get to the deepest, ugliest roots of Meredith's Dark & Twisty personality. It's always been obvious that Mommy Dearest really screwed her up, but now we learn that Mommy Dearest slit her own wrists in the kitchen while Little Mer watched (at Mommy's insistence, apparently). And then Little Mer waited until Mommy passed out before calling 911 because Mommy instructed her not to, and Mer was afraid there would be some wire-hanger reprisals.

Yikes.

With all that Dark Twistiness already going on, it's pretty much imperative that Cristina gets out of her death spiral, so Mer gives her the surgery-stealing sparkle pager -- which, of course, is all it takes to turn Cristina into happiness and light.

There are two big cases this week: Cement Boy and Tumor Girl. Actually, that would be Tumor Girl AND Tumor Boy -- they are the last two survivors from their Tumor Support Group, and they are In Love. Only Mer and Der off Tumor Boy -- No. 12 in the clinical trial! -- in the first part of the show. But not before Mer and Der, bless their hearts, go behind Tumor Girl's parents' backs and let the Tumor Lovers get it on in a patient room (Theory: Everyone should get to lose their virginity before they die!) while they jointly guard the door. Hey, it's the least they can do before they kill the guy.

(Speaking of getting it on, the whole early scene with Callie and McSteamy doing it was really quite steamy, even for this show. In full Dirty Boy Mark mode, McSteamy is looking for Callie to dirty-talk about how she really wants to get it on with Hahn. My, my!)

Anyway, the Chief tells Mer that some important board is giving them one more patient to operate on, then pulling the plug on the clinical trial at midnight if they kill him. But Mer, who is mad at the chief (foreshadowing here, people!), decides they should operate on both Tumor Lovers before midnight, and lies to Der about clearing it with the boss.

Meanwhile, Cement Boy arrives at the hospital, having let three jerk-wad guys from school talk him into lying in a vat of wet cement to impress the hottie Mean Girl who secretly likes him (and whom he not-so-secretly worships). The idiots leave him congealing in there for like an hour before calling 911 and by the time he arrives at Seattle Grace, he's got about a ton of drying cement around his body.

And who knew (!) how many truly horrible things cement could do to a body. I mean, you think you just have to sandblast the poor sap out, but his skin is burning from the inside out! And the cement is leeching the water from his body! And toxins are building up! And his leg is so something-or-other that Callie has to pull that move from a few seasons ago when she throws down the betadine and just slices the puppy open to relieve the pressure. Ewwww.

Cement Boy, it turns out, is Bailey's special episode alter-ego. New, softer, Bailey is trying too hard to Do. It. All. She decides to do a very un-Bailey-like thing and promises Cement Boy he won't die while he whimpers and blubbers about how Mean Girl is going to think he's an idiot and now he's going to be Dumb Cement Boy for life in her eyes (if he even lives). Bailey gives him the Big Speech about how this is only a tiny mistake in the big life picture. (This involves a very detailed comparison to Han Solo's life trajectory, so "Star Wars" geeks, feel free to call out if she got anything wrong). Anyway, no shocker here -- later in the show Bailey realizes that *she* needs to look at her own big life picture. So she turns over the clinic to Izzie (who gets another pathetic mini-storyline this week, we're happy to report) and goes happily home with little Tuck to presumably try to win her husband back.

Meanwhile, Mean Girl is Callie's alter-ego, given that she knows what she wants -- to kiss Cement Boy and be his girl -- but is afraid to do it because of what other people (like the twit boys she hangs out with) will think. Callie gives her the Big Lecture and then realizes -- shocker! -- that she's doing exactly the same thing, being afraid to kiss Hahn even though she really is all hottie-hot for her. So she ambushes Hahn in the parking lot and they have a long, deep lip-lock. Needless to say, McSteamy is watching in the shadows. Luckily for us, McSteamy needs no big revelatory parallel-life moment. He just gets to be as much of a Dirty Boy as possible (in the guise of unselfishly helping poor Callie expand, um, her sexual experiences, of course!).

Did we mention that Cement Boy lives? Ah, yes. And Mean Girl goes and kisses him, etc. But not before Cement Boy's surgery also gives us the Big Moment of truth for Hahn and Cristina. With Hahn out of the O.R. and Cement Boy crashing, Cristina (who stole the surgery from Izzie with the sparkle pager power -- how great is that?!) starts some super-cool surgical thingamagig that Burke taught her to save him. Hahn comes back in and flips and the Chief decides to back Cristina. Then later he gives Hahn a smackdown lecture about how residents are puppies and she needs to teach and not just break their spirits and Hahn is all miserable (don't worry, that parking lot kiss is still coming). Cristina overhears and realizes that *she* hasn't been the best teacher, either, and so she lets Lexie learn that running whipstitch Burke taught her on a banana.

Speaking of Lexie, we've got two more storylines (yes, yes, we'll get back to Mer and Der in a minute) that are clearly there just so Lexie, Pitiful George, Alex and Izzie get to be in the show. Lexie breaks into the files in the Chief's office, reads all about the current residents, discovers Pitiful George only failed the intern test by 1 point (oh, and that Alex made up a story about having testicular cancer that cost him one of his "tangerines" to explain away his bad med-school grades). She tells Pitiful George, who first gets mad, then decides to confront the Chief. Blah, blah. So the Chief tells Pitiful George he can take the test again. Blah, blah. Trust me, it wasn't even worth that much recap.

Meanwhile, Rebecca/Ava has reverted to a childlike state and Alex is trying to feed her and change her and take care of her like an infant, but she decides to slice open her wrists with a butcher knife in Mer's kitchen (more foreshadowing here, people!). He brings her in to the hospital and Izzie wants her to get a psych consult and Alex freaks out and says no, no, he can take care of her. This is all about exploring Alex's Dark & Twisty insides, because he had to clean up and feed his sick alcoholic mommy when he was a boy and that's what turned him into the mess that he is. Izzie stands up to him (really, it's not even nearly as good as it sounds), Rebecca/Ava gets packed off to a mental hospital and Alex would almost be like old Alex -- begging Izzie for sex as a way of muting his pain -- but he's all glassy-eyed and crying and sad in the process. Which apparently doesn't much turn Izzie on.

Now, back to Mer and Der. Der is all upset about killing all these patients and how it makes him feel (and how bad it is for his professional rep) so he projects it all onto Mer and gets all cranky and tries to talk Tumor Girl out of becoming Victim No. 13. But Tumor Girl insists on still getting surgery even though it just killed her boyfriend. And, no surprise here, it finally works! Tumor Girl wakes up and her tumor is shrinking! Time for Mer and Der to finally drink that Champagne!

Meanwhile, though, Mer has been running back and forth to the hospital shrink, because now that she's finally confessed the Dark & Twisty moment of her childhood, it's time to solve all her multi-layered psychiatric twistiness in one day! Guess what? She's mad at her mom for being all miserable after the Chief broke her heart and left her! And she's mad at the Chief for permanently messing up her mom! And her mom really wasn't trying to kill herself because she was an *extraordinary* surgeon and any *extraordinary* surgeon would have known to cut the carotid artery rather than waste time on that stupid wrist-slitting exercise! (Something Mer figures out after going home and finding all Rebecca/Ava's blood in her kitchen in one of those flashbacky-kinda moments). What her mom really wanted was to make the Chief come back!

So Mer confronts the Chief on this and he gives this whole unrepentant speech about how he didn't know about the suicide thing and that despite screwing her mother over and lying to his wife and all of that he is a Good Man. A Good Man. Which really just makes you want to slap him silly. Then, later, he goes to his wife and gives her a whole unrepentant speech about how he just made this one little "mistake" 20 years ago, but he's really a Good Man. A Good Man. And she takes him back, which really makes you want to slap her silly.

Anyway, the upshot of all her super insta-therapy is that Mer realizes that when Mommy Dearest told her to be *extraordinary* she didn't really mean to push away love and be a closed-off, tequila-whore superstar surgeon! She meant Mer should go for it ALL!

So Mer runs off to Der's trailer to find him. And Der runs off to Mer's house to find her. And they miss cute, blah, blah. Then Der finally finds her up on all that fantabulous land of his, where she's somehow managed in the middle of the night to find two zillion matching candles in glass jars and has used them to make a layout of the house she wants to build with him after all. (Big awwww! here). And she's babbling on in that Mer way and he takes the big strides toward her and pulls her to him for the big kiss (insert swoon here). Only then, in a pitiful attempt to redeem all his total doggy-dog behavior toward Pathetic Nurse Rose the past few weeks -- because really, how can he be McDreamy if he isn't the anti-Sloan? -- he tells Mer to "wait for him" so he can go dump poor Rose in the middle of the night. You know, so he can jump back into the sack with Mer with a "clear conscience." And don't we just love him for that? So Mer is left standing in her candlelight darkness, waiting, until next season, for her McDreamy to return.

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 09:29 AM ET, 05/22/2008

'Top Chef': When Tom's Away, Anthony Can Play

I love Tom Colicchio. His personality is well-suited to the show, his comments are dead-on and he handles all the volatile personalities well....

...So do you sense a "but" coming?

Tom has a charity commitment this week ,so Anthony Bourdain steps in as head judge (oh, and for all you Washingtonians who love his restaurants, Jose Andres is in the standard guest judge spot). And Bourdain brings it. No holding back, totally ready to zing. Very entertaining. It made for quite a spicy alternate judges' table.

But first, the Quickfire. Tom (not yet off on his venture) wakes the cheftestants up at 5:45 a.m. to go cook on the line at a popular local diner. Seems as though 5:45 is actually pretty late for that kind of calling, but whatever. They all take turns trying to make hard eggs and soft eggs and poached eggs and Antonia wins, again. (She's got the Quickfire thing pretty nailed). Her prize: It's Restaurant Wars, and she gets to pick her entire team! Oh my, talk about an advantage. It's no shock here that she takes Stephanie and Richard, the two top contenders at this point *and* the two people who have especially played well with others in previous competitions.

That means Spike, Dale and Lisa have to re-team (it's a repeat of Wedding Wars). How delicious is that? You have to know at this point that there is going to be some major sniping.

Dale et. al. decide to go Asian fusion (duh!) and Dale and Lisa flip a coin over who gets the exec chef duties. Dale wins. Poor Dale. This is not a team one wants to be responsible for leading. Spike takes over front-of-the-room (the teams get $5,000 for decor and $1,500 for food. Hmmm. Am I missing something here?).

Lisa is going to cook a shrimp laksa (soup), which becomes a hot-button dish when they all find out that Bourdain -- who declares he's eaten about a billion laksas -- is going to fill Tom's role this week. The other first course choice is a pork dumpling. Main courses are scallops with butterscotch (!) sauce and braised shortribs. Desserts include Dale repeating the Halo-Halo he made in a previous Quickfire and a mango sticky rice.

Meanwhile, Antonia is exec chef (since she picked the team and all). They decide to go with the theme of "gastro pub." They've got a beet (why so much love for beets this season?) and goat-cheese salad or a linguine with clams to start. Second course is trout with cauliflower or a duo of lamb dishes. And dessert is Richard repeating his Quickfire banana scallop thing or a gorgonzola cheesecake. Stephanie takes over the front of the house and puts on a va-va-voom cleavage dress, but also makes the cheesecake and is the architect of the linguine dish.

In the kitchen, each team gets a previously eliminated contestant to help. Dale chooses first and takes Jen. Antonia grabs for Nikki -- but before you get appalled, it's all because Steph is out front of the house and there is pasta to be made.

In the kitchen, lots of sniping and nastiness and cursing and dislike and whatnot between Dale and Lisa.

All zen happiness with Richard and Antonia.

Food comes out: Everybody's happy with Antonia's team. Salad is good, Jose Andres thinks the linguine is excellently done, they adore the lamb, they admire the decision to leave the skin on the trout. Dessert isn't a home run, but it's obvious they're all impressed.

On to service for the Asian fusion crew. It's already obvious from Spike and Dale's grimaces that Lisa's soup is a disaster. Dale's Halo-Halo looks icky, because the guacamole is brownish. The sticky rice turns into mush (Lisa's in charge there). Dinner is served and the judges are horrified by the butterscotch scallops. Bourdain calls it "like a Willy Wonka scallop." The desserts are universally panned (a shout-out to the guest diner who described the sticky rice as "baby food garnished with potpourri." Wowser!)

It's clear what team is going to lose. Meanwhile, Lisa is already doing everything possible to start deflecting and/or spreading blame. Has she become monumentally annoying or what?

At the judges' table, Stephanie wins the prize (a good one--a trip to Barcelona!) because she not only had a better front-of-house, but she also was responsible for two popular dishes.

Then Spike, Dale and Lisa come in and it's a Nasty-O-Rama. Dale doesn't even wait for the judges to finish a half-sentence before he is literally (!) gesturing to others in blame (or to himself for credit). Lisa does that arm-cross thing of hers (which Bourdain totally calls her out on during judges' discussion) and is pointing fingers so fast your head starts to spin. Dale tries to take responsibility for anything that worked (which would pretty much only be the shortribs, which were Spike's recipe). Oh, and Spike is smirking up a storm with the obvious knowledge that the other two are going to self-implode in some way and there's no possibility he's going home.

Bourdain, meanwhile, calls all of them out on their bull. Lisa on a total inability to take criticism, Dale on not running his own house, and Spike really gets nailed: "Through guile or luck," Bourdain tells him, "you were missing in action. It was a good day to be in the dining room." Oh, yeah, and wipe off that smirk.

The best line, though, is when Bourdain cuts off the Lisa/Dale sniping with this: "Okay, okay, you're not talking to your parole officer!" Ka-CHING!

In the end, Dale pretty much should kick himself for winning that coin toss, because as exec chef he took the fall, even though he and Lisa pretty much had equally crappy dishes and equally crappy attitudes.

So now it's down to five cheftestants, and it's hard to believe that three of the final four won't be Antonia, Richard and Stephanie. But who joins them? Smug, obnoxious Spike? Or whiny, defensive, fingernail-grating Lisa? (Meanwhile, who gave Antonia the personality makeover? Hmmm. Maybe it's just that downer Lisa was infectious...)

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 08:54 AM ET, 05/21/2008

'Dancing With the Stars': The Finale

Look at this: The finale actually has some serious drama going on.

Kristi has clobbered the competition almost all the way through. The girl lost only two weeks out of 10. How much better can a competitor do? But, hey, on this show, ya never know.

Quickly, one side note: Usher. Wow. The Man. Can. Dance. (And sing, of course). Excellent selection for the finale.

Onward. There isn't much waiting around before Cristian gets the boot. Which is a little sad, given how much he threw himself into this thing after getting hurt, but still, it's not surprising. For weeks, the only one with a real shot at beating Kristi has been Jason, who has the charisma, the body, the charm, the grace, the biceps, the charm...

All the other competitors return, of course, and Adam Carolla (insert eye roll) tries to get his few minutes of fame with his cracks about how the show is so perfectly apple-pie America. His bit is complete with lame Steve Guttenberg joke, blah, blah. Never have found the man funny.

Shannon tries to redeem herself for all her earlier whining about the judging with a "heartfelt" thanks. Blah, blah. Never have found the woman interesting.

There's a cute tribute to Jason and Cristian's "bromance" and a lot of chatting with former contestants (love Drew Lachey for calling the mirror ball a "hideously ugly trophy"). There is lots of pandering to the a-woman-should-finally-win theme. (Yes, a woman should, but because she kicks butt, period).

The showdown set-up plays off the athlete theme, with the "football hero" pitted against the "Olympic champion." There seems to be much effort to reinforce just how teensy Kristi looks standing beside Mr. 6-Foot-6 Football Hero.

When it finally comes to the actual competition, Kristi dances first. She--no surprise here--chooses the jive she did in Week 5 that earned her first 30. There's a "gasp!" moment when she catches her heel in her skirt, but wow, does she manage to shake that puppy loose and move on without losing her concentration for even a moment. Bravo. So bravo that the judges cite her brilliant composure and it seems clear from the minute they all speak that there's no way that little faux pas is going to take away her final 10s. Which it doesn't, of course, so Kristi gets a grand slam 90 for the two nights.

At this point, even perfection puts Jason well in the hole on the judges' end, so it's all about the viewers. And let's face it, viewers do love the football heroes. (Emmitt over Mario Lopez, anyone?). And what's not to love about this guy? Except, perhaps, the fact that he just isn't as good. Sorry, Jason, but it's true.

That said, he goes out afire, repeating the quickstep that gave him the win over Kristi in Week 7. Remember how Len told him after that dance that it made him worthy of the finals--then refused to cough up the 10, leaving a disappointed Jason with a 29? Ah, well, this time Len not only gives him the 10, but he also states the obvious (but awkward) fact that "Kristi may be the judges' champion, but you're the people's champion." Crowd clearly agrees, from the cheering. Bruno declares Jason and Edyta "heavenly bodies" and Carrie Ann calls him a "force of nature" and acknowledges it's a showdown of a night.

After some feet-dragging and intentionally tense moments, the winner is...Kristi! Jason is a totally class guy, says she deserves it, smiles and looks all gracious. (Don't you wonder, though, if Edyta -- who has been on all six seasons and never won -- isn't home weeping in her Vitamin water?) The boys (as in Jason and Cristian) hoist Kristi on their shoulders and carry her around, then Derek decides to do the same for Mark, and the confetti rains down and it's over and out.

Anybody out there want to dispute that this was the only fair outcome? Log on to chat live today at noon on washingtonpost.com.

-- JENNIFER FREY


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Posted at 08:47 AM ET, 05/20/2008

'Dancing with the Stars': Girl Power!

It's about time a woman won the glitter ball, you know? Oh, you don't know? Well, you'll surely know after night one of this two-night finale.

Welcome to the Kristi show (with a side dish of Jason's South Beach sex appeal). Whether you think her skating training has given her too much of an advantage, this first night of the finale is all about hammering home how much better she is, hands down, than anyone else who has stepped on the floor.

For the night's first dance, there is a new challenge: All three couples dance the cha-cha-cha, in succession, to the same music, each performance blending seamlessly into the other. It's an excellent challenge, actually, because it makes it so much easier to compare levels of performance. From the get-go, everyone feels bad for Jason, because the guy is so far and away more commanding in the ballroom numbers that he's immediately put at a disadvantage by the dance choice. The teams draw balls to see in what order they'll perform and Kristi pulls No. 3. So, hey, at least the guys don't have to follow her.

But, um, getting shown up by her in the aftermath is pretty much just as devastating. Cristian leads off and he's shaking his booty and it's pretty impressive. Then Jason comes along and is all elegant and strong, but not so cha-cha.

Then out bounces Little Ms. Shy, who decides to kick her reputation for being reserved to the curb by opening with a mouth-on-mouth kiss with a stunned Bruno. She and Mark then do their routine with so much more complicated choreography that it's a no-brainer. At the stage when it's imperative that judges are judging the competitors against each other, not just against their individual standards, Kristi is so good that the judges feel compelled to hand out four first-dance 8's (one to Cristian, three to Jason), just to indicate how big a gap there is between what they can do and what Kristi can (she gets all 10's, of course). And in case anyone misses the point, Carrie Ann declares it "Ladies' Night."

Round Two is the famous freestyle, and this time Kristi is up first. Which, it turns out, is even worse for our poor boys with the fabulous pecs. She comes out in PJ's (Mark is in a robe) and rips 'em down like a world-class stripper to reveal sneaks and a sequined, pin-striped pants. Then she does the lifts, she does the hip-hop, she shakes, she spins and spins and spins and SPINS. Again, the choreography is tremendously complicated, the pace is incredibly fast and the performance is pretty much jaw-dropping. Carrie Ann--who is clearly thrilled to have a legitimate reason to be on the chick bandwagon this late in the competition--first points out that this show tends to have a history of crowd-pleasing men ("not tonight, girl," she crows), gives a big "girl power!" shout-out when she holds up her 10. It's another perfect 30 for Kristi.

Which means, poor boys, that at this point no one believes you can possibly top her, all you can do is try to be kind of as good. (And, from their faces, Jason and Cristian clearly know that).

Jason redeems himself in his freestyle (set to a Miami Beach theme) with lifts that Carrie Ann declares the most ambitious in the show's history. And Bruno almost wets himself when the performance ends with Edyta stripping off Jason's wife-beater to reveal all that perfect pro football chest. (Poor Cristian. He dances BOTH his numbers with all his buttons undone, and it's Jason's five-second flash that inspires the drool). Bruno compares Jason and Edyta to centerfolds; and Len horrifies everyone by remarking that he could "see us in South Beach, you in your Speedos, me in my thong." Jason gamely attempts to keep on a non-horrified face, while Carrie Ann buries hers in her hands.

As much as they like it, though, the judges roll out the 9's across the board.

Last up, one-armed Cristian (whom we're told is getting surgery on Friday) uses his Latin flavor to spice it up, and tries to moves his butt enough to make up for the fact that he can only use one arm. He has to face it, though: He's at a handicap here. The judges give him the Marlee Matlin version of an assessment...aka, You never gave up, I'm so impressed by what you've accomplished, etc., etc. Definitely sounds like a kiss-off.

In the end, though, it's only Len who dishes out an 8, leaving Cristian still one point ahead of Jason.

Of course, he's also 8 points behind Kristi. So unless the voters are in the mood for the upset of all upsets, a woman will be going home with the sparkly glitter globe this season, for the first time since Kelly Monaco's first-season win (a win with an asterik, that is). Tune in Tuesday night for the coronation, sparing a disastrous final-dance collapse. Or a text-message rebellion.

The scores:
Kristi: 30/30=60
Cristian: 26/26=52
Jason: 24/27=51

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 11:44 AM ET, 05/16/2008

'Grey's Anatomy': The Girl-on-Girl Kiss

Did that headline get your attention? The act in question certainly got Sloan's. After taunting new-leaf McSteamy with suggestions of a threesome, Hahn goes in for the deep kiss in the elevator, leaving McSteamy begging Callie to follow up with him in an on-call room and Hahn flouncing away, quite self-satisfied. Callie doesn't know what to make of it (stunned and confused pretty much sums it up), but it clearly has her turned on, too, even if she does finish the job with Dr. Boy Toy rather than her new BFF.

This whole Hahn-Callie thing is one of the better storylines as we careen toward the end of this abortive season. For the second straight week, Izzie is relegated to a virtually nonexistent role (yay!), while George is a pathetic people-pleaser and Alex's newly discovered heart takes a beating but continues to grow.

Oh, and Meredith continues to be her same indecisive, emotional basketcase of a self, only now that she's got a therapist to point this out, we all get lots lots more of her self-analytic whininess and not as much Cristina slap-down. Sigh.

Turns out the Rebecca/Ava pregnancy is a hysterical one, so she's not evil, just crazy. And Izzie--in one of her brief turns on screen--is the one shoving the ultrasound in her face, trying to make sure she gets it already. Alex doesn't get mad -- he decides he needs to take care of Rebecca, which apparently requires borrowing girl-clothes from Izzie. Rebecca is clearly out of it and in need of a psych consult, which made this viewer wonder whether maybe Shonda could give her a big fat brain tumor and let her be the next person Mer and Der kill in their clinical trial. Wouldn't that be worthy of a season finale? Alex could shed big, fat weepy tears when totally "in sync" Mer/Der viral-inject his plastically reconstructed, already-married love babe, only to have her die in his arms. Mer cries too; and since Derek still can't open that bottle of champagne he's saving to have with Mer when they actually save someone, he uses Rose for another night of substitute sex.

Yes, poor Rose. She's fading away pitifully. Now that she finally slept with Derek (and he told McSteamy he was thinking about Mer the whole time), he totally fails to live up to his McDreaminess and uses work, work and more work as an excuse to totally blow her off the next day. No calls, etc., etc. But what can she expect? He really is too busy with work, given that a very nice and not-actually delusional woman comes into the hospital to be clinical trial victim No. 3 or whatever, and refuses to go into surgery until her Prince Charming shows up. Everybody decides that new Perfect Boyfriend is a Cinderella fairy tale, a figment of the poor dying Tumor Woman's brain, and that train is being led by--who else?--Meredith, who can't possibly believe that anything works out for anyone in the relationship category of life. So Tumor Woman goes off to surgery, weeping and wailing pitifully at having been convinced by Der and Mer and her sister that she really is a pathetic old spinster and must have made up her Prince. Then he shows up, in a great suit, all lovey-dovey. But, ha!, too late--Mer and Der have turned her into permanent Coma Woman.

Meanwhile, Cristina is cleaning her apartment (well, vacuuming), which is code to everyone that she remains completely off her rocker in the delayed Dr. Burke grief-a-thon. The Chief's mentor shows up with a near-dead heart-condition situation, and Hahn carps a lot about how she's not going to cut the guy open and be known as the surgeon who killed this legendary heart guy. But she does, and she doesn't kill him, cause she's Hahn--who is, of course, the lesbian version of Burke. Only she has a wanna-be protege (Cristina again, of course!) who plays on Meredith's tequila whore team. Which brings us back to Callie, who is deliciously and deservedly getting her screentime upped this spring, now that she's shed pitiful George and has two hot doctors panting after her.

Bailey, meanwhile, is having it out with her husband in the hallways while her son is throwing punches at daycare. Hey, at least they've stopped calling her The Nazi and started giving her more of a personal storyline. And she still doesn't have to sleep with another attending to qualify.

At the end, whiny Meredith reveals to the therapist that her mother tried to kill herself after the love-of-her-life (aka the Chief) left her, and, oooohhh, maybe that's why she's turned out to be a self-destructive, no-man-trusting mess. (Not sure how much longer anyone can handle both Meredith and Cristina "in the dark place," as they put it). And torch-carrying Derek continues to use poor Rose, giving her this whole speech about how he wishes their relationship could just be "easy" and "fun." (Supposedly code for Not Like Meredith, but really, he just means easy in all its 1950s glory of the word). And Rose tucks her little pathetic hand in his and goes right on McDreamy-ing along.

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 08:40 AM ET, 05/15/2008

'Top Chef': It's a Lunchbox, for Goshsakes!

The show starts out on a high note when Season-2 hottie Sam is back as the guest judge. Talk about injecting some lusciousness into the program before we even get presented the food. As Antonia puts it: "Sign me up!"

Alas, the challenges result in food that is less-droolworthy than Sam. The Quickfire is to make a salad that qualifies as both "sexy" and as this millennium's Caesar, Cobb or Waldorf (not sure those two criteria go together, but that's what Padma said). Everybody gets 45 minutes, which is a lot of time to assemble some lettuce. Lisa is back in full-bore annoying-witchy-Lisa mode, whining about how there are still some cheftestants "who obviously don't deserve to be here" (hey, couldn't she just be happy that they finally sent pasta-only Nikki home last episode?) and kicking off the night with yet another curse word. Sure, Top Chef is on at 10 p.m., but does anyone else wish it was possible to watch it on DVR with children in the room? Really, cooking is a good thing for kids to see, right? Only the language here is generally abominable. Between that and crotch-grabbing Michael Jackson night on "Dancing With the Stars" this week, I'm at a loss.

So Stephanie and Richard -- who have to be the favorites at this point -- are both off their games in the early challenge, with Stephanie inexplicably incapable of plating her entire dish within the mammoth cavern of time she's given. So she puts out a pear thing with no artichoke chip. And Richard concocts a ceviche that's supposed to be all light and fresh, just fruit and veggies. And both end up on the downside. Lisa uses squid and lobster for hers, but with so much banana that it tastes like those smoothies where the menu says it's made from five fruits, but put in the straw and it's all bananarama in the end. Andrew is another fruit freak, with a Thai fruit salad with mango, strawberries and raspberries, which sounds (and looks) pretty good, but can hardly be the next Caesar. It's more like something that could dress up whatever else is already on the plate.

Dale poaches some chicken, to make something that could at least approximate lunch and Antonia puts a poached egg and mushrooms on hers (what's with all the poaching?) and they get thumbs-up, but the big win goes to Spike, who whacks a side of beef on the grill and serves it up with some pineapple, radish and cucumber.

On to the Elimination Challenge, which, sadly, is to create a "healthy" box lunch for Chicago police officers -- a meal that must include at least one whole grain, protein, fruit, and veggie. Wah! Really, as Spike will later whine, nobody want's to go home over a lunchbox!

But lunchboxes it is, and the creativity is absent. Spike's reward for winning the Quickfire now that the competition is in the no-immunity zone is that he gets to pick his protein, grain, fruit and veggie first, and no one else can use the ones he's chosen. So he decides not to plan his menu around the ingredients he wants, but rther he decides to counterprogram and design his menu around sucking up the ingredients that will handicap his competition. In other words, he sets the tone for a challenge that minimizes cooking fabulousness over strategic evilness. So let's just blame him from the get-go for the dreck that follows.

Spike's key ingredients are chicken, bread, lettuce and tomato. So, no lettuce-based salads and no sandwiches (!) for the others in a lunch challenge. Boo-hoo! And then he makes a medicore chicken salad with grapes and olives that only utilizes the bread, tomato and lettuce as a garnish because he has to. Seriously, the man trainwrecks the night for serious food junkies then produces something that looks as if it could be found in the deli case at Giant, next to the congealed potato salad and sad carrot-raisin combo.

What Spike does NOT do -- at least not on camera -- is actually sabotage Lisa, so all that preview teasing is for naught. Yes, yes, Lisa's brown rice is a disaster after being over too-high heat that singes the outside and leaves the middle crunchy, but it's just as likely it happens because she's so busy witching and complaining that she loses track of her food. Not that she isn't in to pointing fingers.

Antonia, who is clearly on the rise lately, makes curry beef with Jasmine rice, and Dale goes for wraps that are made with cabbage (since Andrew bogarted the lettuce) and showcase bison -- that healthy, healthy alternative to beef.

But Andrew is the one who wants to really win the healthy, healthy award, so he makes a sushi roll with salmon but fails to add any whole grain to the process (and fails to realize that cops will pretty much consider said roll a snack item on the way to the vending machines).

Richard whips up a "burrito" wrapped in rice paper (again, can't use the tortilla because Andrew has laid claim to the whole wheat thing) that seems forgettable and Stephanie makes mushroom and leek soup with meatballs. She also shows some spark this week, annoying with Lisa for wanting to play the blame game when she finds her rice burning in the kitchen.

The judges single out Stephanie's soup and Dale's bison as the top of the heap, and Sam picks Dale as the winner. Dale promptly points out that he's won 5 of 20 competitions, which seems impressive and all, but perhaps he should go back to the house and start doing the math on dear Richard.

At Judges' Table, we get Spike, Lisa and Andrew in the hot seats, which is easily the best mix for sniping and nastiness. Lisa is all about trying to save herself, so she does the nah-nah tattle-tale thing and hypes the fact that Andrew didn't follow the rules and use a grain (Hello?! Pot meet kettle! Does Lisa even remember her non-polish-sausage moment a few weeks back?). Andrew gets on the high-and-mighty horse about all his healthiness blah, blah. And Spike decides he wants to pick up a stick and poke it at Tom, which is clearly idiotic. Seriously, Spike wants to call Tom out and say that the cops are better judges of food quality (in his estimation, that is) than the head judge on the show he's competing to win? Duh. Lisa, meanwhile, also resuscitates her accusation that someone screwed with her rice (only she used a nastier word that had to be bleeped out, of course) as if that will redeem her for the shrimp in her stir-fry that Ted Allen out-and-out calls "nasty."

Alas, Lisa seems to get rewarded for her efforts to throw Andrew "under the bus," as he puts it, because Ted calls him "arrogant" in judges' consultation -- and his failure to follow the rules, or even care about them (it can never be good to flippantly tell the judges you lost the instructions) annoys everyone. So it's unanimous--Andrew goes home and Spike gets to go back to the Chicago house and bemoan how he has no fun boys left to bunk with him. Although I'm sure the women -- now half the field! -- would be happy to send over Lisa and watch the fur fly.

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 01:57 PM ET, 05/14/2008

'Dancing With the Stars': From the Mouths of Babes

Call it a night of inappropriateness. The professional dance (a tribute to Michael Jackson's "Thriller") involves crotch-grabbing. Then Len comes up with a major case of foot-in-mouth disease. All of which fills the major minutes before the final three are revealed. This hour-killer, though, is better than most.

Again, love the kids! But this is a joke: There are two pairs of kids who look like tiny sprites and one pair of kids who look as if they don't need to be carded to get into an R-rated movie. Seriously, backstage with Samantha, it looked like four little ones with their duo of babysitters. The far, far more developed and older ones (that would be Brandon and Brittany -- Brandon being the one who said he's into the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders) are so skilled at their paso doble that Tom makes reference to how all three judges' jaws are on the table. It's a deserved compliment -- they were pretty amazing -- but then Len goes on to make a total jerk of himself by stating the obvious: "I know the other two were cute and everything else, but these two were the real deal." Um, yeah. It's like playing the JV team against the varsity and expecting a contest. Ouch.

And that isn't Len's only faux pas. After the finish by the littlest of the competitors, Aaron and Rashell, he comments on how well they moved their "little bums" around the dance floor. Moments later, while Bruno is raving about the performance, Len can be seen, head in hands, with Carrie Ann rubbing his shoulder. One can only assume he's realizing that commenting on the behinds of elementary-school children can only be problematic.

But you have to adore little turquoise-covered Aaron for his astute assessment of the whole process. As he put it: "No matter if we lose or win, we were still on TV!"
Yes, thank you, little man, for summing up this whole universe so efficiently.

As for the main competition, the elimination was a shock-free moment: Kristi, Jason and Cristian are moving on to the finals and Marissa's fan ride is officially over. Kudos to Marissa for going out with the same enthusiasm she's brought to the whole deal, and her parting remark: "Shake what your momma gave ya!"

Time for the finale poll.

-- JENNIFER FREY

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Posted at 02:37 PM ET, 05/13/2008

'Dancing With the Stars': The Semifinals

Not really any shockers Monday night. There are any 30's at this point. No fake butts, no shocking ambulance rides, no comments from Crotchety Pants about dropping trou in the grocery store. No carping from angry dancers about the judges. No costume malfunctions! Sigh. This week, we just get dancing and a double-dose of Bruno's bluster, as he continues to talk over Len to the point where Carrie Ann has to snap-snap those boys back into some kind of submission.

The final four -- Kristi, Jason, Cristian and Marissa (hard to believe, huh?) -- have to draw to find out what two dances they have. The highlights of that include Cristian getting crushed with the samba, the same dance that turned him into a one-armed man two weeks ago, and Kristi getsg a repeat of the jive, which is arguably the best performance all season.

Up first, with their ballroom number (foxtrot) are Jason & Edyta. She does a lame impression of a football coach laying out her "Game Plan" (key item: Stop being "friends" with Cristian) and then Dan Marino gives a little video encouragement in the form of "If you don't bring back the mirror ball, don't come home.') Emmitt Smith is in the house as well, giving Carrie Ann a chance to trot out another "twinkle toes" reference.
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The foxtrot is elegant and all the judges are overwhelmingly positive, with Carrie Ann once again raving about Jason's posture, but the only one to roll out the 10 is Len. Jason seems to catch himself in an effort not to show disappointment with his scores, but what he's seeing is the tone being set for the night. The judges have upped their expectations at this stage of the game.

Marissa and Tony show up next, with Stacy Keibler on hand to give Marissa some Tony pointers during the week's practices. Actually, it's not really "pointers" -- it's more of a case of the two women declaring him asexual on national television. Poor man.

Marissa has the quickstep first, and she makes the night's one glaring misstep: a missed jete in the big run. Carrie Ann notes that Marissa is the "unlikely contender," but everyone is pretty nice-nice tonight. She does get an 8 out of Bruno, though, which really isn't a number that anyone should be seeing in the semis at this point.

Cristian emphasizes how much he needs to up his profile with the viewers, then dances a lovely Viennese Waltz that gets a trio of "wow factor" and "very sweet" yada-yada from the judges, followed by a trio of 9's. Yes, the "10" paddles seem to be very much in cobweb mode. Can Kristi break the trend?

Yes and no. Her tango has a little bit more personality release (she gets advice during rehearsals along the lines of, "Feel like you want to breathe through Mark's skin") and Carrie Ann and Bruno reward her with 10's, but Len sticks to the 9.

On to the Latin round, which is prefaced by film clips of Len's usual visit to the contestants to help them work on their steps. (Mediocre "007" theme music and motif, etc.) Back in the studio, Tom Bergeron notes the audience presence of "The Bachelor," Brit Matt Grant, who may be on the same network shortly after but isn't getting any love from this show: "So she gets a diamond ring and you get a green card, is that how it works?" (the later show is a finale involving a proposal).

Jason's paso doble is in bullfighting mode, and he gets all positive reviews, and another set of 9's. Marissa does a rumba and gets another 8 (this time from Carrie Ann, who gets annoyed at her fellow judges for saying nice things and interrupts with a "It's the semifinals!" -- which reads like a "She's barely even worthy of being here, boys, shape up!"

Cristian's return to the samba is injury-free and Len declares him "hotter than a chili pepper" (unfortunately, this is what passes for quotable comments this week) and Samantha follows up backstage by interpreting Cristian's Spanish-language plea for votes with a request for a comment for the "non-speaking" viewers (then corrects herself with an: um, I meant Spanish). Len sits on his 10 paddle again, and 29 continues to be the top score of the night.

Last up is Kristi, trying to top her own fabulous jive. She's really good, but she's set her own bar so high at this point -- so has Mark, whose choreography is really complicated -- that Len feels as if he can nit-pick with a "just a little stiff" remark that brings on a houseful of boos. Bruno gives her a 10, but the other two don't. Still, it's enough to send her to the voting public back on top after ceding the leaderboard to Jason and then Cristian the past two weeks.

The scores:
Kristi: 29/28=57
Cristian: 27/29=56
Jason: 28/27=55
Marissa: 26/26=52

-- JENNIFER FREY

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