:: Hell's Kitchen ended a few weeks ago, somewhat mercifully, as it turns out. This last season was awful. I wrote before about the obvious fact that the producers were keeping Elise around for the sake of drama, but as the finale unwound, it became clear that keeping Elise around for the sake of drama was the only thing keeping the show remotely interesting to watch. Hell's Kitchen has become nothing more than formula, with nothing ever different, right down to the formats of specific episodes. I found myself predicting each episode's challenge, before they happened. "Oh, eight chefs left? Time for the Blind Taste Test!" "Final four -- time for a visit from the family members, followed by Taste It and Create It!" "Oh, it's the final two? This means they'll cook their five dishes for five judges, and whoever wins more gets to pick their team for the final service first."
There is absolutely nothing ever new about Hell's Kitchen anymore. Nothing ever happens that we haven't seen happen to a different batch of chefs in previous seasons. The challenges are always the same; the only thing that changes are the ingredients. Each episode follows a rigid pattern: Reaction to last week; new day and new challenge; losers do crappy punishment while winners have fun; dinner service; upstairs drama over elimination nominations; elimination. It's all just boring now. And the worst thing is, they don't have to completely re-invent the show to reinvigorate things. Here are a couple ideas, just kicked off the top of my head randomly:
- No more "men versus women". During the "signature dishes" challenge, each head-to-head winner goes on one team, each loser to the other. This way you get a whole team of people with a chip on their shoulder from the get-go.
- Have a challenge early on whose reward for winning is the right to trade one chef to the other team, of their choice, for a chef from the other team, of their choice.
- Leave Hell's Kitchen. Take the chefs to actual, existing restaurants and have them cook one night for actual, paying customers. See what happens.
Just a couple of thoughts...but Hell's Kitchen really needs to mix things up, and stop being the same thing every year with nothing changed but the faces.
:: The Big Bang Theory continues to please. I would like the show to return a bit to its 'geek humor' roots; the focus has been on 'geek romance' a bit too much. I like the 'geek romance' stuff just fine; the show does it well. But there's been just a bit too much of it.
:: CSI: Miami and Hawaii Five-0 are my go-to shows for goofy, over-produced, brainless, cops-and-robbers, overactors galore, gonzo fun. Ken Levine writes about why H-5-0 is bad, but while I concede some of his points, I don't care. On Monday nights at 10:00 when I'm tired and winding down my day, a stupid cop show is just what the doctor ordered.
:: The Office isn't outright painful to watch, like it was last year, but it's still not that great. It's basically "watching someone flounder about a management job" with the same group of office cohorts. It's not a show I look forward to much anymore; it's something that is non-crap in a timeslot between shows I like watching.
Ohhh....wait a minute. We're watching The Office right now as I write this, and Darryl just had one of the best lines in the show's history. He was upset about not winning the lottery, but then he realizes he's being an ass and says:
"You know what? My future's not gonna be determined by seven little white balls. It's gonna be determined by two big black balls."
Credit where due, that was a terrific line.
:: I watched two episodes of The X-Factor. And then I stopped, because it's the same damn thing as American Idol. I don't care. Really and truly, I don't care.
:: The Amazing Race is off to a typical start. It's hard to figure out who to root for early on, so the show's mainly about the travelogues and laughing at the annoying ones. What I do not like is the presence of two racers who are former winners of Survivor. This is irritating. They got eliminated really early on, but it's just annoying that apparently CBS is going to be bringing former contestants back on both TAR and Survivor each time out now. I've stopped watching Survivor entirely because of this. If they want to bring back old contestants, then just have an "All-Stars" edition. Bringing back two contestants at a time is just stupid. (And even dumber is the apparent fact that the new contestants apparently aren't even bothered by this -- why isn't the automatic reaction never, "Hey, these guys have played before! Screw them, let's vote 'em out first time we're at Tribal and then play the game our way!")
:: The Mentalist has returned, in kind-of annoying fashion. Last season ended with Patrick Jane coming face to face, in a shopping mall, with Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter. They even cast Bradley Whitford as Red John, giving the part some gravitas. Then, as Red John was walking away, Jane shot and killed him. That was how the season ended. With this season, Jane has to answer for killing the guy...but after that's wrapped up, Jane drops the bombshell that I feared was coming: The guy he shot wasn't Red John. And the second episode seemed to confirm this, so now...the Red John subplot marches on.
This, quite frankly, sucks.
I still enjoy The Mentalist, because it has a good sense of humor for a show. But the Red John thing just needs to end. It's getting unbelievable at this point. Red John isn't just a brilliant serial killer; he's been established as being able to establish a large enough grip on other people that he inspires them to kill themselves on his behalf. It's just getting flat-out unreal, and worse, continually playing the "Jane is closing in...but now he's not!" card is lazy writing. How much more interesting to use Jane's victory over Red John to explore what happens to a single-mindedly driven person like Patrick Jane when he finally achieves his grim goal...but instead, the search for Red John continues.
:: In a similar vein, the search for the killer of Detective Beckett's mother continues on Castle. I'm more forgiving, since Castle wasn't so brazen as to suggest that the storyline is over before resurrecting it next season, and because Castle is, in general, much better written than The Mentalist. But here, too, I'm starting to tire of the storyline, because it can be a crutch for the writers. It gives them something to do every time sweeps rolls around, and it gives them a way to keep stringing Castle and Beckett along, when it's obvious they really should be together at some point.
I end up wishing that writers would have enough courage, or confidence, to finish a story and then, if the show goes on, honestly explore the implications of that story and the ramifications when it ends. It would be a lot more compelling than these types of years-long mysteries that aren't really mysteries but rather onions with endless layers to be peeled back.