The Hills: We’ll Never Be Friends
August 19, 2008

MTV, Mondays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Watch What Happens When MTV Stops Being Real And Starts Letting Producers Manipulate.

And we’re back.  I’ll say this much: the first scene involving LC and Whitney talking while “working” at People’s Republic gave me hope.  One of the funniest parts of this show was the “Whitney as sounding board” bit back at Teen Vogue.  You know, where she says “So, what did you do” and then LC recaps what happened in the last scene we just saw and then Whitney says “Wow, how did that make you feel”.  Its so obviously meant to be an expositional tool, and its the obviousness that makes it funny.

Lauren went on a date with an old friend.  She decided if the guy was interesting, she’d invite him to Audrina’s birthday party.  Apparently sitting across from each other and not saying anything for minutes at a time counts as an interesting date.

Heidi (who’s hair gets blonder every minute) knew her sister Holly was coming to crash at her apartment for the weekend.  Of course she wouldn’t mention it to Spencer.  What would they fight about otherwise.  Sigh.  Oh, by the way, in case you weren’t sure whether or not the Heidi-Bolthouse marriage was one of convenience before, the fact that she didn’t get fired in the wake of that ridiculous stunt in last season’s finale is proof enough.  And Holly looks like Heidi and Whitney’s lovechild.

Dear Lo: we all get it.  You want to stay on the show by being the witch and pulling LC’s strings.  The funniest part of Lo’s conversation with Audrina was that she pretty much cut off Audrina’s sentences just to make her own part.  As always, Whitney and Audrina remain the only bearable people in this “reality”.

Pretty much the same ole same ole.  Man, producers, if you’re going to manipulate things, at least manipulate things in a new way.

Final Grade: C

PS  MTV, what was up with all the mainstream music in the episode?  If nothing else, this show is good for debuting a new artist every now and then.

Hell’s Kitchen: Day Seven
May 13, 2008

FOX, Tuesdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Reality

Conceit: Like Top Chef, But Less About Food And More About Violent Yelling.

So, in case you didn’t know from last episode, Matt is mad and he wanted you to know about it.  Ominous way to start the episode, huh?  Every season, Chef Ramsey challenges the pallets of the potential chefs.  This time, he prefaced it by having both kitchens taste 3 meat dishes to see if they realize there was no actual meat in it.  Of course they didn’t.  The actual taste test was as amusing as ever.  Chef Ramsey adds a dramatic flair when Matt and Ben have to go head to head in the deciding round of the challenge.  Both men were sufficiently impressive, but the girls lead made Matt’s victory a foregone conclusion.  This also set up what was going to be a thoroughly important dinner service.  

In the Red kitchen, the pressure was on Rosann, who’s been hanging on by the skin of her teeth for the last couple of weeks.  She actually rose to the occasion and hit homeruns with the appetizers.  That was short lived as the meats became the bane of her existence.  Meanwhile, the teflon all-star, Jen, inexplicably imploded.  After getting yelled at by Chef Ramsey, Jen kept to herself and the unravelling began.  Then she started talking back to Ramsey.  And with Jen went the kitchen.  The entire Red kitchen became quiet and defeated.  The only one who really had it together was Christina.  And Matt.  Bizarre.  He did make a bit much of it, though.

Ben renewed his place as Chef Ramsey’s punching bag.  And he pokes the bear by telling Chef Ramsey he’s not used to working in a divided kitchen.  I’m not sure what he expected to be the result of this, but it went exactly the way everyone else expected.  The men’s kitchen seemed to take three steps back as they struggled to get entrees out.  Ben’s meat station was falling apart and he couldn’t find a drop of water in the ocean.  And when it rains, it pours.  Ramsey benched Ben.  

Once the men were chosen as the losing team, the end was inevitable.  My early pick to win it all, Ben, was out the door.  But not before he tried to weasel his way out.  Go out with dignity, man.

Final Grade: B

The Hills: The Next Move Is Yours
May 13, 2008

MTV, Mondays at 10:00PM 

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Watch What Happens When MTV Stops Being Real And Starts Letting Producers Manipulate.

So here we are, at the end of the “season” and Spencer is still a douche.  I mean he always was but man, this guy moved exponentially throughout this season.  When Stephanie prefaced telling Spencer where Heidi was by saying “don’t do anything crazy”, what did she expect?  And man, did he go nuclear.  I mean racing from his car into the club?  There’s a thin line between devoted and obsessive.  And Spencer passed that line about a season and a half ago.  Obviously Brent Botlhouse wasn’t happy with the display (or was asked to act annoyed for the sake of the scene).  Either way, Heidi made the ridiculous choice of choosing Spencer over her job.  And she did it in wreckless fashion by not even showing up for her morning meeting.  She does remember that Spencer doesn’t have a job either, right?  My guess, SBE decided they wanted to end their relationship with “The Hills” ala Teen Vogue, and so they wrote them out like that.  Remember, this is only a reality-ish show after all.

Whitney’s back.  Its been a while.  She was back to her typical “really?  what happened?  tell me about it?” ways, but honestly, she’s a breath of fresh air compared to the stale wind that comes out of the normal cast.  She also tends to be the only reasonable one anymore.  She advised LC to talk to Audrina about this distance that LC’s been feeling; a distance which got a physical manifestation when Audrina walked by the kitchen, skipping out on dinner with the girls.  So at Lo’s urging, LC finally went to talk to Audrina in her house behind their house.  Audrina confesses what I’ve always believed: Lo is what’s pushing them apart.  And push comes to shove, LC picks Lo.  At least Audrina was actually assertive.  Which was completely different for her.  And so that’s another friendship in the trash for LC.  Well done.  Oddly enough, Audrina is the one who comes out looking like the winner.

So at the end of another “season” we have winners and losers.  Of course, Spencer is a synonym for loser.  So we won’t even address that.  But Heidi, who was a loser by the distributive property of Spencer,  became her own loser with that idiot SBE move.  Lo gets a loser award for trying so desperately hard to be on this show.  But the most surprising loser is LC.  This girl simply has not grown.  Period.  She’s the exact same girl 3 seasons later.  The winners are the two girls who seemingly get no screen time.  Whitney is finally moving forward in her life.  She is actually making smart decisions (albeit with MTV’s help) about her career.  The other winner is Audrina, who finally has started standing up on her own two feet.

PS, season 4 looks like the terribly lame old stuff its has been.

Final Grade: B-

Keeping Up With The Kardashians: Kim’s Calendar For Reggie
May 12, 2008

E!, Sundays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Vapidness Sells

Well, that didn’t last long.  The Kardashians were back to pointless form after two solid episodes.  Kim is trying to figure out what to do for her and Reggie Bush’s one year anniversary.  After shooting down Khloe’s idea of a live leopard (which probably would’ve made for better TV…guess Seacrest was asleep at the switch), Kim decided to make a calendar for her NFLove.  The only thing I was wondering during this whole discussion was whether or not the Kardashian home actually has a Hollywood-style makeup room in their house, because thats where it looked like the girls were sitting.

To keep this interesting, we got to see Kim get the cellulite massaged or sucked off her thighs by some weird machine.  Not nearly as compelling as the producers must have thought.  Kim’s photo sitting was…well…something.  I’m curious to know how much the hair they added to her head cost.  Reggie ends up showing up to the shoot, unaware that it was for his personal use.  Obviously, Bush wasn’t comfortable with his girlfriend taking such risque shots.  Wow.  A decent guy on this show.  Unfortunately, Kris gets ahold of the calendar before Kim does and assumes that it was meant for mass production.   Kim awkwardly finds out when her younger brother finds the calendar on a newsstand.  She immediately knows Kris is responsible and is angry.  And she unleashes on Kris.  Kim then runs off to buy back all the calendars.  So here’s my thing: this has GOT to be Seacrest’ed.  I honestly believe that this calendar wasn’t sent out publicly.  I’m pretty sure these calendars were placed where they were placed just for the sake of this episode.  And Kim’s payback was even less believable.  It just seems highly unlikely that these calendars get mass produced and sent out withoutKim knowing.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

Bruce continued to be on camera for a change when the girls insinuated that he doesn’t work for a living.  At his daring, the girls go to watch Bruce speak at an event.  Beforehand, they go to a cocktail part for the event.  Pretty much, Bruce ends up schmoozing random guys while Khloe and Kourtney get drunk and ultimately embarrass him.  The actual event was not too bad.  It was pretty much exactly what you expect from a motivational speaker event.  The girls give him a little more credit than he deserves, but I guess that comes from them not expecting anything from him.  Apparently he actually succeeded in motivating the girls.

Final Grade: B-

Hell’s Kitchen: Day Six
May 7, 2008

FOX, Tuesdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Reality

Conceit: LiKe Top Chef, But Less About Cooking And More About Violent Yelling.

This show is becoming more and more like Top Chef.  Well at least in terms of their challenges.  This week’s gimmick episode was more intrusive than last week’s.  Whereas pizza delivery didn’t end up taking as much camera time as we expected, this week Hell’s Kitchen hosted a Sweet 16 party.  The challenge was going to the market and finding ingredients for 3 dishes which would appeal to the crowd and then make said ingredients.  It was pretty hilarious to see how blatantly the guys have decided to ignore Matt, but in the choosing of dishes and preparing.  Melissa, the sweet sixteener, and her mom came to taste the food.  My first thought was, “Wow, she looks well adjusted for someone having their Sweet Sixteen on TV”, and my second that was, “Wow, Melissa’s mom looks exactly how I’d expect”.  The guys pulled out the win by the skin of their teeth.

At dinner, things started off well enough, with both teams getting appetizers out pretty quickly.  And then things slammed to a stop.  Melissa sent her steak back to the girls kitchen to get recooked.  This made Ramsey lose his mind.  Not wanting to fail the guest of honor, (in believable fashion) Chef Ramsey took over recooking the steak and sent it out.  Melissa’s overly botoxed mom sent back her halibut to the guy’s kitchen because it was too dry.  Matt tried to fix his mistake, but when it didn’t happen, Bobby took over and got the job done.  He really continues to astound me.  He may not be the Black Gordan Ramsey as he claims, but he is doing far better than he was at the beginning.  That didn’t stop Chef Ramsey from chastising him for completely taking over someone else’s station.  However, for the second week in a row, both kitchens finished the entire service.  In general, the losers of the service were Matt (again) and Shayna (who pretty much made it thus far without anyone realizing she was on the show).

As both kitchen performed very well, no one really won and so both had to send one.  Matt knew it was inevitable and started packing, obviously fed up with the guys in his kitchen.  After debating between Rosann and Shayna, the latter ended up before Chef Ramsey.  He was particularly annoyed that for the second night in a row, the girls failed to send the person who deserved to go.  So he also put Rosann, who’s undercooked steak he had to personally fix, into the mix.  And then Matt lost his mind.  He said that his team was awful and he couldn’t work with them and he preferred to work with the girls.  And it worked.  Matt was safe and Shayna went home.  And Matt went to the girl’s team.  This is a true disadvantage for the girls.  Sorry, ladies.

Final Grade: B+

The Hills: No Place Like Home
May 5, 2008

MTV, Mondays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Watch What Happens When MTV Stops Being Real And Starts Letting Producers Manipulate.

Lets start with this: Can we stop thinking that Bolthouse lets Heidi “work” at SBE for any other reason than the promotion from being on The Hills.  Last season it was Les Deux, this season S Bar.  Lets call a spade a spade, ok?  Heidi asked Brent for more responsibilities, specifically those which would take her out of town.  I swear that the way Heidi described her responsibilities far exceeded anything that Bolthouse said in the meeting, but isn’t that The Hills?  Heidi arriving with Bolthouse and “Sam” in a Bentley to take their private jet was a bit much of Bolthouse playing to the camera.  I loved Stephanie’s statement that if Heidi leaves, Stephanie will never get rid of Spencer.  How very true.  Man, this kid is five years old.  I admit that I regress when I’m with my sister, but this is rather ridiculous.  “Lalalalalalalala…go away.”  Really?  The only thing worse was Spencer longfully moping around Heidi’s empty apartment.  Seriously man, dignity please.

Speaking of using The Hills for promotion, this episode was all about letting the world know how great The Alkaline Trio is.  Subtle.  The awkward tension in the studio while the girls watched the Trio was…awkward.  This just further widened the gulf between Audrina and the Laurens.   Lo’s feelings about Audrina seems pretty obvious to anyone but LC.  Audrina was the new friend who took Lo’s place when LC moved and Lo wants in the door and wants to shut the door behind her.  She made this clear when she told Audrina that Chloe (their new puppy) had two moms, while all three of them were in the room.  She pours her heart out of Justin-Bobby, who by the way is far more bearable with short hair.  Audrina also finally seemed human during her conversation with J-B.  Its odd that she hasn’t ever seemed that way when talking to LC.  I guess that’s the difference between being in a conversation and being a sounding board.  Audrina walked away thinking its about time she looks for her own place.  Thankfully this “story” is moving somewhere.

Final Grade: B

Keeping Up With The Kardashians: Kardashian Family Vacation
May 4, 2008

E!, Sundays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Vapidness Sells.

So here I am, reviewing the Kardashians for the second week in a row.  Last week, the Kardashian drama felt authentic (enough) to warrant watching another episode.  So the warring clan found themselves in Colorado for skiing.  Things don’t get off to a great start, as Kim immediately hops online to talk to Reggie Bush, her boyfriend, as opposed to spending time with her family.  Things devolve pretty quickly as Bruce gets tired of Kim sitting in a room with everyone, and texting someone else.  So Kris throws Kim’s sidekick over her head, and Kim responds by doing the same.  The family tries to make up, but Kim just isn’t having it.  (Continuity issue: based on clothes and hair and such, the Sidekick incident happens right after they get to the cabin, and before the skiing begins, though E! cut it to look different.)  Kim bails on a family dog sledding experience because she just doesn’t want to deal with it anymore.  On the advice of Reggie, she then actually leaves the cabin and goes home.  And leaves a note on the bed.  In a day of cell phones and emails, that feels a bit over-dramatic, but again, this is reality TV.  Kim got a contrite voicemail from Khloe which genuinely seemed to move her, and she returned.  And things got better.  I don’t know.  I felt it.  I hate myself for enjoying this episode as well.

Bruce is going through a midlife crisis.  I really can’t tell how much of this is authentic, because I really do believe he is in the midst of his crisis, and how much of this is enhanced by the producers.  Either way, he ends up inviting the ski instructors over for pizza and beer.  A bizarre family vacation, I know.  Part of me also feels that this whole thing would’ve been fine without family members saying “this is so not like him” every couple minutes.  I will admit, Kris and Bruce have been more endearing together during this period than when Bruce really is doing nothing else other than sitting around, waiting to comment on the girls.

Man, when everyone is acting authentic, this show really works well.  This usually involves the girls not caking on the make up and Kris acting normal.  That’s what’s been relatively true for the last two eps.  Keep it up, Seacrest, and I’ll keep watching next season.

Final Grade: A-

Hell’s Kitchen: Day Five
April 29, 2008

FOX, Tuesdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Reality

Conceit: Like Top Chef, But Less About Food, And More About Violent Yelling.

Well, I guess tonight’s challenge was more like Top Chef than usual.  As opposed to the normal “hot to run a kitchen” tests that the chefs have, tonight they were asked to make gourmet pizzas individually and then pick one from each kitchen to represent the team.  Matt continued to just be a complaining disaster.  His pizza was so bad that Ben couldn’t even comment on it.  Bobby and Ben pretty arbitrarily decided that Ben’s pizza would represent the men’s kitchen against stand out Jen’s pizza.  In another photo finish, Jen managed to win it for the girls and get her pizza put on the menu as a special.  So far, she has yet to have a bad moment.  Chef Ramsey commented that Ben’s pizza was good, but his failure to properly wash the mushroom topping was his undoing.  And just like that, the guys kitchen started to really unravel.  All of a sudden, the chefs found themselves on each other’s last nerves.

Vanessa found herself at a disadvantage during dinner service.  The burnt hand she sustained last week was fully bandaged and getting in her way.  Chef Ramsey gave her a choice and Vanessa walked.  That was bizarre.  Again, I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to do the work bandaged, but she didn’t even try the dinner service.  She put the girls down one for no reason at all.  Her comment at the end made it seem like her departure was more about how hard the competition was, as opposed to the burn.

Because the guys lost the challenge, they found themselves forced to deliver Jen’s gourmet pizza door-to-door in a rictshaw looking thing.  The scene of Ben physically pushing the cart backwards because he couldn’t find the reverse was hilarious.  If that was their only problem, it would be fine.  Of course it wasn’t.  Bobby stepped into Matt’s station when he couldn’t fry a decent quail egg.  Louross wasn’t fairing much better.  He couldn’t get a steak ready for his life.  Then Petrozza cheaped his way out.  He sliced a tops of the steaks to make them appear medium when they weren’t in fact.  I couldn’t believe he got away with it.  This was the turning point, as the guys banged out the rest of the dinner service flawlessly.

While Jen was still hitting homeruns, the rest of the ladies were falling apart.  Rosann had a particularly bad night.  Her breakdown made Chef Ramsey break one of his cardinal rules and send out dishes incomplete.  Chef Ramsey asked Jen to step in and fix things up.  The problem with this was that Jen was pulled off of the desert station, which she was supposed to work with Christina.  When Chef Ramsey ordered Corey to help her, Corey did so reluctantly, rather wanting Christina kicked out.

And so both kitchens finally completed a dinner service on their own.  Looking at the parts, rather than the whole, Chef Ramsey declared it a tie, so that one from each team had to go.  The women correctly chose Rosann.  But then reality TV minds stepped in and decided it was Christina’s time to go.  And let the claims of “If I come back, I’m gonna get you” begin.  Louross stepped up and threw himself in, knowing that he had an awful night.  

The best thing about this show is the fact that Chef Ramsey knows stupid when he sees it.  He was well aware that Christina was not the worst chef in the women’s kitchen and called the women stupid for maneuvering her towards elimination.  Turns out he didn’t eliminate anyone tonight, claiming that Vanessa leaving grants them a reprieve.  My guess is that the shows run is based on an elimination per episode, and a double elimination would throw that off.  Either way, prepare for the girls team to implode.

Final Grade: B

The Hills: A Date With The Past
April 28, 2008

MTV, Mondays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Watch What Happens When MTV Stops Being Real And Starts Letting Producers Manipulate

This episode set the tone really early.  The fact that Audrina has her own “house” in the back of the girls’ house kind of gives you an idea where everyone stands.  Sure, this could be about the girls being older and needing privacy, but methinks this is a bad sign. (We’re not going to talk about how I think the girls can’t afford the house.)  Also, LC and Lo talked about how LC couldn’t go shopping with Audrina but now her and Lo could hang out all the time.  If you didn’t think the days of LC and Audrina weren’t numbered before…

If memory serves me right, Lo was the one who began the Justin-Bobby mockery when he first arrived.  Audrina didn’t like it then.  Why did Lo think that Audrina like it now?  I would say that Lo is just insensitive, but I prefer to think she’s smart enough to know what she has to do to stay on the show.  A cleaner cut Justin-Bobby arrived at the A-L-L House Warming party and sat down with Audrina, who let her feelings about everyone else’s feelings about her and Justin be known…to Justin.  

Dear Heidi, stop saying “you’re kidding” everytime that Stephanie brings up hanging out with LC.  If she wasn’t kidding the first time, she’s not kidding any other time after that.  And yet you managed to guilt Steph into skipping in favor of sitting and watching a movie with Heidi.  Score one for Team Heidi.  I guess.  The fact that this “story” hasn’t moved forward in a couple episodes is rather…well…annoying.  Stephanie has begun filling Whitney’s old role as exposition girl.  She’s now the girl who says “really?  what happened?”.  

Stephen Colletti.  Apparently he took enough time off from guest starring on One Tree Hill to pop back in for his requisite appearance.  Isn’t he dating someone famous?  I also don’t know this for sure, but was LC wearing one of her own designs to the dinner?  Turns out the least front and center people are the most insightful.  Last week it was Justin-Bobby.  This week it was Stephen who pretty much told LC if she wants to be in Audrina’s life, do it.  Well anyways, as expected, Stephen crushed LC’s too high expectations that they’d get back together.  It was pretty close to desperate that LC had to keep reaching back to high school to make Stephen care.  Didn’t this exact same thing happen with Jason last season?  LC at least had enough dignity lie to Lo and make it seem like she didn’t want Stephen.  

Spencer complains about loyalty blah blah still has no job blah blah sits around blah blah.

Man, nothing happened in this episode at all.

Final Grade: C-

Keeping Up With The Kardashians: Kardashian Civil War
April 28, 2008

E!, Sundays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Vapidness Sells.

I know I am going to regret writing this review for 2 reasons.  First, I promised I wouldn’t review this show.  Though it hits my TiVo, the more I watch it, the more I hate it.  I end up watching it out of compulsion and hating it more and more.  Second, I liked this episode.

The reason this show is usually awful is both in its setup and its execution.  The former is flawed because there is nothing that makes this family famous in today’s world, outside of Kim’s unfortunate mini-dv moment.  We shouldn’t even want to watch them.  The latter is flawed because the show is SO producer-interfered with that it makes The Hills look true-to-life.  None of the premises even seem believable.  “Oh no, we had a quasi-disturbance at the store!  Lets go to the gun range and learn to shoot an AK-47.”

But tonight’s episode worked because they took the setup and executed it realistically…for the most part.  The show started pretty standard: Khloe, Kourtney, and Kim were on their way to pick up Kim’s newly tricked out Bentley.  I was so tempted to turn off the TV at this point.  But then things started getting interesting as Kim had to say Bentley every three words and Khloe and Kourtney were obviously annoyed.  Things got worse when they arrived at the mechanics to find the car wasn’t ready.  Kourtney and Khloe intervened to show their displeasure at this, and Kim wasn’t pleased with their displeasure at all.  When the girls reconvened back at their younger brothers place, things escalated with Khloe trying to close the door in Kim’s face, Kim punching Khloe in the arm, and her leaving, vowing that she was done.  An attempt to reconcile over coffee spiraled out pretty quickly, leaving Khloe crying in the car.  What worked about all this was that it was 100% believable.  Ok, maybe 90% believable.  There has to be underlying emotions with these girls who, until Kim’s tape came out, were merely partners in their stores.  now Kim is this celebrity (kind of) who does this and that, and the other two are…well…her sisters who have a reality show with her.  Kim’s indignation that her sisters would embarrass her during a business deal was believable.  Khloe and Kourtney’s hurt that Kim would put business before family was believable.  The cliffhanger solution that the family should fly to Colorado to settle things over skiing…not so believable.

Oh, and Kris had a girls night out with her best friend (who just happens to co-host a radio show with this show’s producer, Ryan Seacrest) in which she gets drunk and gets a tattoo.  I knew the show couldn’t go all the way through without falling into its manipulated ways.

Can’t lie though: I absolutely will watch the second part next week.  I hate myself for that.

Final Grade: B+ (I Hate Myself For This Grade As Well.)