Last winter my fiancee got me to start watching Top Chef, which was my introduction to so-called Reality TV. I confess I really enjoyed it, despite the obviously stagey aspects of the whole thing (and I picked up a few cooking tips in the bargain).
Last night we stumbled onto the finale of a version called Top Chef Masters (as Steve Allen pointed out, imitation is the sincerest form of television), which involved a contest between various well-known chefs. The three finalists were a French guy cooking French food, and Italian-American cooking the food first fed to him by his mother, a native of Calabria, and guy named Rick Bayless whose speciality is the Mexican food he first encountered when visiting Oaxaca as a 14-year-old.
Bayless kept going on about how he saw his mission as introducing Americans to a level of sophistication in Mexican cuisine that is still hard to find in this country. That’s all fine and good, but it struck me that in a country where the actual cooking in high-end restaurants is dominated by Latin Americans in general, and Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in particular, the “celebrity chef” doing the Mexican cooking against his French and Italian-American competitors was a very WASPy-seeming fellow. Nothing wrong with that of course — it’s not like you have to be a member of an ethnic group to be a great cook in that genre — but it also reminded me of the point Anthony Bourdain makes in Kitchen Confidential that almost none of the thousands of superbly skilled Mexican and Ecuadorian and Peruvian etc, cooks manning the lines ever seem to end up as head chefs or sous chefs at the fancy places they work, let alone with TV shows on the Food Network.
Update: Just to be clear, I’m not knocking Bayless, who came across on the show as a guy who was eager to educate people about how much great food there is in Mexico, and how sophisticated the various regional cuisines are (Bourdain also makes this point well in Kitchen Confidential).
Captured the zeitgeist, or something. If you don’t want spoilers, don’t click the comments.
My five favorite series finales:
Star Trek: The Next Generation*
*Penned by Ron Moore
**This refers to Limbo, the season 7 finale, and pretends that the misconceived season 8 never happened.
BSG open thread. Consider this a spoiler free-fire zone; enter at your own risk.
Ezra is right; Entourage works best when things go well. I don’t know that I agree that this season has been problematic, because of course success after hardship is so much sweeter… I also don’t know that the success was improbable, given that Martin Scorsese has seen fit to give Leo Dicaprio three consecutive leads, and that Vincent Chase reminds me a lot of Leo.
Andrew Probert, designer of the Cylons for the first Battlestar Galactica series:
“Originally the Galactica motion picture (for overseas distribution) was filmed with dialog explaining that the Cylons were creatures,” Probert confirmed. “They were blind and created helmet scanners to see. That explains the helmets. Then, since their suits could also allow them to survive in space, I provided a back-mounted support system. Also, after several viewings of Star Wars, I didn’t want these bad guys dropping their weapons like the Stormtroopers did, so I included an arm-mounted weapon on their right wristband. The giant hockey gloves that were added made those pretty useless and the Cylons ended up carrying (and dropping) guns after all.”
“The living Cylons were changed to robots for the TV series because of an hourly body-count limitation for prime-time television. There was, however, no limit to how many robots could be ‘killed’ per hour so they became robots and dialog was revised to explain it all.”
Today, with the growing strength of the Robot Lobby in Hollywood and in Congress, the logic would probably be reversed. Soon, I doubt that we’ll be able to kill any robots on screen without facing charges of anti-robot bias.
This is kind of interesting. Like Harry, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen Hugh Laurie as having one of the four worst American accents by a British actor on TV. It’s true that he’s just a bit off, but I guess that the fact that the character is more than a bit “off” helps obscure the shortcomings. I do wonder about the methodology; really, why should a British audience be polled on whether British actors can carry off an American accent? Doesn’t the converse (Americans evaluating the accuracy of various British accents) sound absurd? I’m also at a loss as to how we should interpret the inclusion of Ian McShane’s turn as Al Swearingen at number 5.
While on the subject, one British actor who manages some fantastic accent work is Jamie Bamber (Apollo on BSG). This is particularly surprising given the fact that Bamber isn’t, otherwise, much of an actor; whatever his shortcomings, he can certainly nail “late American fratboy” .
Didn’t we always really know?
HT to Pinko Punko.
Like Scott, I thought that the Wire finale was fantastic. Three of the four great HBO dramas have had great final episodes; Deadwood is the tragic exception. A couple of very random thoughts…
It had occurred to me before I read this interview with David Simon that a film on the Dreyfus Affair might be an interesting project for him, and the fact that he reveres Kubrick’s Paths of Glory only reinforces that impression. On the surface it is kind of odd to think that Simon, whose work is so deeply focused on Baltimore, might participate in the making of a film about an unjustly accused French military officer. But to me the strength of the Wire has, from the very first, been in its portrayal of the internal dynamics of bureaucratic organizations, and in particular of how those dynamics can create serious deficiencies in policymaking. The Dreyfus Affair, of course, is about nothing so much as the unwillingness of the French Army and of those in whose interest it was to protect the French Army to accept that an innocent man had been railroaded. I’m not sure that Dominic West would really be appropriate for the role of Dreyfus, but such a project would represent a further exploration of the themes that Simon dealt with in the Wire.
I’ve seen in a couple of places the complaint that the finale focused too much on McNulty at the expense of the other storylines. There’s a certain fairness to this line of critique, but I think it misses the point of McNulty’s role in the series. The point of this exercise was in part, as Martin Wisse noted, to use the blogosphere as pointlessly as possible, but was also motivated by an interest in placing Wire characters within the larger cinematic universe. Jim McNulty and Han Solo strike me as almost the same character; if Han Solo had grown up in 1970s Baltimore, he might well have ended up living McNulty’s life, and vice versa. They play a similar narrative role, in that both are, in a sense, first moving free agents. Star Wars isn’t “about” Han Solo; it’s about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, but the intervention of Han Solo at a critical moment (preventing Anakin from killing Luke) allows destiny to play out. Similarly, McNulty pulls the lever that gets all of the bureaucracies, from the street to the courthouse to the police to City Hall, moving towards the more or less inevitable collisions that play out across the five seasons. And so in that sense I think it was appropriate to end on McNulty, especially as he finally returned to the outsider status after everything had played out.
Also, Marlo may be street, but he looks a lot better in a suit than in a white t-shirt. Kind of interesting following Marlo’s wardrobe since he’s been introduced; pretty much steady improvement until the orange jumpsuit.
Marlo Stanfield vs. Michael Corleone?
Consider this a Wire finale open thread. Those who fear spoilers, beware.
Chris Partlow and Felicia “Snoop” Pearson vs. Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield?
Barney Miller vs. Cedric Daniels?