Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Top Chef’ offers heat, not light

March 12, 2008


I am always mystified by viewers who can make the migration from the just completed "Project Runway" to "Top Chef" (9 p.m., Bravo). There's simply no comparison.

My interest in fashion extends to glancing at old Lands' End catalogs. So why was I glued to "Runway"? On the other hand, I like to cook and do so every day but find "Top Chef" annoying and uninteresting.

While many of us assume that the fashion business is going to be shot through with "Zoolander"-level pretension and outlandish egos, the folks on "Runway" often turn out to be gentle souls and relatively decent human beings.

The contestants on "Chef" take the Roger Clemens approach to competition. Both male and female chefs seem dosed with high levels of testosterone. They frequently drop the f-word with near psychotic abandon.

One of tonight's contestants, a New Yorker who seems to have been raised by foulmouthed wolves, teeters constantly on the brink of some kind of manic episode.

I'm familiar enough with Anthony Bourdain's books and TV routine to understand that the professional kitchen is a special world, a battleground of egos and a dark demimonde of semi-criminal and rarely sober misfits. But at least Bourdain (who appears as a guest judge tonight) can channel his punk attitude into subjects other than himself and teach us a thing or two about food, cooking and other cultures and cuisines.

In contrast, some of the preening egotists on tonight's "Top Chef" just aren't that bright or experienced. The notion of homemade mayonnaise seems completely foreign to one wannabe. And another added breadcrumbs to his Chicken Piccata! Hey, that's just wrong.

Overboiling with attitude and devoid of any practical culinary information, "Chef" always offers more heat than light. And as they say: If you don't like the heat, get the $% out of the kitchen.

¢ Known for his blowtorch approach to topical humor, Lewis Black hosts "Root of All Evil" (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central), a faux debating club that asks rival comics to make the case for their particular brand of "evil." Tonight's mock debate takes on Oprah and the Catholic Church. Loud, obvious and often crude, "Root" lacks the subtlety and passion of the similar Showtime series "Penn & Teller's Bull----."

Tonight's other highlights

¢ Karaoke and kickboxing mix badly on "Wife Swap" (7 p.m., ABC).

¢ A therapist faces deadly force on "Law & Order Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC).

¢ A contestant's swan song is sung on "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox).

¢ A cookie business crumbles on "Supernanny" (8 p.m., ABC).

¢ The corpse of a supermodel is discovered in a giant martini glass on "CSI: NY" (9 p.m., CBS). Sounds like "CSI: Poconos."

¢ Lara Flynn Boyle guest stars as an aggressive reporter on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).

¢ Jane yearns for media exposure on "Men in Trees" (9 p.m., ABC).

Cult choice

Striving performers (Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds) try to make it in a cruel New York in the 1960 drama "The Rat Race" (7 p.m., TCM). Don Rickles plays a heel.


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