Saturday, April 23, 2016

Top 10 Cutthroat Kitchen Fails

Cutthroat Kitchen has turned out to be one of those “just one more episode” shows where I could easily waste the entire day on it if I didn’t have the self-control of a saint (yeah, right). It’s a fun show, a tongue-in-cheek show, a show full of delicious and not-so-delicious culinary experiments. Lastly, it’s a show where I often have cause to yell at the screen. “Really? REALLY? You IDIOT!”

For those who don’t know, Cutthroat Kitchen is a reality competition in which chefs must prepare dishes within a time limit, under the watchful scowl of host Alton Brown. Each chef gets $25,000 in cash, which they can spend auction-style to sabotage their opponents in cruel and funny ways. The winner only keeps what money they haven’t bid away. This leads to some epic kitchen smackdowns and desperate, improvisational cooking. You just know that with this kind of pressure, people are bound to screw up. Sometimes, their whoopsies are worthy of the facepalmiest of facepalms. And I’ve been cataloguing them for you! Here are...


10. BBQ, Where Are You?
(S1E13, “S’more Sabotage”)

The time limit is everything. As a professional chef, you better be capable of whipping off a quality dish in a brief period. That’s how restaurants operate and it’s how Cutthroat Kitchen operates. When faced with making a barbecue platter, Chef Rocco was delighted. He knows barbecue like nobody else! He’s gonna blow the judge away with a succulent selection of meats! And believe me, his little buffet looked absolutely amazing. Did it taste amazing? Probably, but we’ll never know, because when the clock hit zero, Chef Rocco had abso-fucking-lutely none of his food plated. And guess what? The judge can only go by what you present them on a plate! Them’s the rules! Luckily for Chef Rocco, they showed mercy and sampled his bean salad, which was technically in a dish...and delicious enough to keep him from elimination in that round. But the rest of his elaborate BBQ platter went in the garbage, as did my respect for a guy who’s so smitten with his own brilliance that he ignores the ticking clock.

9. Maybe You Should Stop Strokin’ Off
(S4E5, “Welcome to the Jungle”)

Don’t laugh too hard at the misfortunes of others. This ep came down to a grudge match between Chef Tom and Chef Matt, and during the second round (beef stroganoff), Tom hit Matt with a seemingly innocuous sabotage that turned his life into a living hell: he had to switch between different-sized pots while cooking. Poor Chef Matt...first he failed to boil water in a huge pot, then he kept spilling and losing his ingredients from a tiny pot. He was clearly miserable, convinced he was doomed...and while his opponents were busy chortling at his ordeal, they both fucked up. Chef Tom dumped parmesan on his dish at the last minute, ruining his flavors, and Chef Jessica undercooked her pasta and overwhelmed her meat in cognac -- after bragging about said cognac for the entire round. Oh, man, the looked of shocked relief on Chef Matt’s face when Chef Jessica was eliminated. I’ve never been happier to see someone survive a round. Karma.

8. Exclusively a Dumbass
(Various Episodes)

One recurring sabotage on Cutthroat Kitchen is when a chef gains an exclusive advantage. They might be the only chef in the kitchen who can cook a certain way, or they might swap their opponents’ choice ingredients for shitty alternatives. That sort of leg-up is not to be pissed away. However, I’ve noticed that again and again, the chef with the “advantage” will utterly blow it. Chefs have big egos by necessity, so the demons of hubris can strike hard. A chef has the exclusive right to use salt...and their final dish is under-seasoned. While making pea soup, only one chef wound up with good, fresh peas...and his soup was badly textured and pea-deficient. It’s kind of funny to see the look on the face of an eliminated chef who thought they had the high ground, but then you see the other chefs biting their tongues in outrage. You spent all that money to prop yourself up, then kicked away the crutch and hung yourself? YOU INCOMPETENT OAF OF A CLOD!

7. Don’t Be a Maverick
(S3E11, “Well, Hot Clam”)

I dunno where Chef Maverick got his name from -- hell, maybe he was born with it -- but it did him no favors, and neither did his doofus behavior in the first round. During the auction, Chef Maverick proved ready to blow all his money from the start (smart chefs save their moolah for when it really matters) and even tried to bid more than he actually had. Did he spend wisely? Well, when granted the power to assign heat sources, he bizarrely gave the best option, a barbecue grill, to someone else, and awarded himself a crappy little countertop grill because “I use these all the time!” So “skilled” was he that he finished his sliders and coleslaw ten minutes early, then aimlessly wandered around the kitchen, getting on everyone’s nerves, while his dish cooled and congealed. The final straw? Chef Maverick was eliminated for having overdone meat and a dry bun. How can you finish too early and still overcook? Meet the ditziest Maverick since Sarah Palin.

6. Self-Sabotage, Take Three
(S4E12, Chili’d to the Bone)

We’ve seen how chefs can be their own worst enemy. This was demonstrated in an episode where in all three rounds, the losing chef tasted defeat as a result of their own fuck-up. Taken in a row, they created a glorious parade of derp moments. First round: Chef TJ forgets to get cheese for her chili cheese dog. Buh-bye! Second round: Chef Nick sabotages the others with shitty pasta, but randomly opts to make Alfredo sauce without any milk or butter. Arrivederci! And in the final round, Chef Aaron, who was doing so well, deflects all sabotages. Problem is, they’re making Crêpe Suzette and Chef Aaron has no everloving clue how to craft proper crêpes. He does his best. He makes some very pretty...pancakes. Bonsoir! The winner, Chef Todd, did do a great job of rolling with the punches, but all he really needed was to sit back and let every one of his opponents shoot themselves in the foot.

5. Zoned Out
(S6E3, “In It to Twin It”)

Strategy is important, especially when faced with merciless Italian twins. In this twin-themed ep, Chef Sammy, along with brothers Nick and Nate, were forced to share a kitchen separated into three zones: prep, cooking, and equipment. One chef per zone. They could switch between zones, but only under mutual agreement. Chef Sammy began in the equipment zone, which would have been an advantage had he actually grabbed what he needed right away. Nope. With tragic foolishness, he returned to the equipment zone partway through the round and became trapped there: Nick and Nate could simply swap between prep and cooking while Sammy looked on, helpless, his time ticking away. And when Sammy finally escaped, what did he do? He forgot a fucking spatula. And back to the equipment zone he went to be trapped a second time. Dear lord, man! Do you not learn from your mistakes? I guess the other twin got all the foresight.

4. All and/or Nothing
(S6E13, “Alton and the Chocolate Factory”)

Chef Jackie from New Jersey could not be called endearing, what with her shrill voice and aggressive, trying-too-hard-to-be-witty schtick. However, her dishes were consistently delicious (if sloppy) and that propelled her to the final round. She was as type-A as they come, but her need to throw her weight around led to a ridiculous maneuver and a Cutthroat Kitchen first: she willingly spent all her money. In one single bid. Know how a pit bull will bite a stranger’s hand and then immediately look guilty? Chef Jackie’s horror came too late. She was headed for a purely symbolic victory, and, worse, her opponent didn’t even get the nastiest sabotage of the round. He merely had to stick chocolates in boxes for five minutes while Chef Jackie was elbow-deep in melted chocolate, clawing for various weird ingredients. She still pulled off a delicious dessert, but she didn’t win. Did she even want to at that point? Lose your cool on TV and you’ll lose every dollar, lose the match...lose at life.

3. The Black Egg of Doom
(S3E5, “Chain of Tools”)

Okay, so, there’s taking risks, and then there’s going out of your way to wreck a perfectly good dish. The challenge was cobb salad, and the sabotage was, Chef Nikos had to swap out three good ingredients for unpleasant substitutes. He could choose what he swapped, though...and he chose a fucking tactical nuke. Know what a century egg is? It’s an egg that has been buried and allowed to ferment for weeks, months, possibly years. You open its shell to reveal a black, slimy horror that gives off the fumes of Hades and...well, to call it an “acquired taste” is a fucking laugh. Keep in mind, Chef Nikos could easily have passed over this abomination and taken harmless Cheez Whiz instead. Nope! He opened that century egg and plunked it down whole on his salad like Smaug the dragon lurking atop his leafy green hoard. I’m pretty sure they skillfully edited out judge Antonia Lofaso’s projectile vomiting after she sampled Chef Nikos’ Cthulhu-approved terror plate. Farewell to her taste buds, farewell to Chef Nikos. Suicide by sulfur.

2. Letting Her Have It
(S2E12, “It’s Not Delivery”)

My boyfriend insists this is the stupidest thing he’s seen on the show, and while I don’t quite agree, I can understand the sheer hands-in-the-air retardation of Chef Athena’s final blunder. We’re in the third round, Chef Athena vs. Chef Rina. Athena has $19,300 remaining. Rina has bid her ass off and only has $3,000. So it should be a cinch for Chef Athena, right? She can hit Chef Rina with all the sabotages and still walk away with tons of cash! Only......she doesn’t. She fucking doesn’t. For reasons known only to Chef Athena, she allows Chef Rina to purchase the final sabotage, requiring Athena to salvage the tortillas from frozen enchiladas in order to make her fajitas. “I just let her have it,” Athena says with a shrug. WHYYYYYY??!! You had EVERY SINGLE advantage! So guess what? Chef Athena is eliminated and Chef Rina “wins” with a measly $1,400, which was, at the time, the lowest-ever Cutthroat Kitchen prize. I hope Chef Athena went home to a chorus of outrage from everyone she knew.

1. White Chocolate Lobster
(S1E3, “Porkchops and Sabotages”)

I refuse to not put this at number one. It looms huge in my mind, a monolith of stupidity. Meet Chef Taylor. Chef Taylor is young. A hotshot. He likes to push fine dining to the extreme and think outside the box. So the chefs are doing macaroni and cheese, and Chef Taylor gets hit with a great sabotage: he has to prepare dessert mac-n-cheese. And I was honestly rooting for him as he mixed mascarpone and white chocolate to create something that looked really, really yummy. A few minutes left on the clock and Chef Taylor’s golden...and then he utters the words of doom. “It’s missing something.” What does he toss in at the last second? Mother. Fucking. LOBSTER. I was stunned speechless. So was everybody on the show. LOBSTER? Judge Simon Majumdar looked at the plate in utter dread, and probably decided to boot Chef Taylor before he even tasted it. LOBSTER? If this is what Chef Taylor serves at his restaurant, stick its address on my GPS so I can maintain a fifty-mile radius. This was John Carpenter’s The Thing in a porcelain bowl. I do not like lobster, but I understand its culinary appeal...WHEN IT’S NOT INSIDE A FUCKING WHITE CHOCOLATE DESSERT! JESUS BARFED!

And that is the stupidest thing I have ever seen happen on Cutthroat Kitchen. And now do you see why this show is so great?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Top 10 Plot Twists (pt. 3)

I hear the call of the sirens. It’s time to return to a theme I can’t seem to stay away from, and scribble down a third list of crazy, brilliant plot twists that electrified my poor little brain. (Here are the first and second such lists for reference.) Do I really need to include a spoiler warning this time? We know the routine. Speaking of which, I always mention Game of Thrones in my intro, and this year will bring us the first season that is not based on the original novels...which means I have no goddamn clue what’s going to happen and can no longer react with insufferable superiority to each shocking development. So maybe Sansa is having Drogon’s baby and maybe Melisandre will resurrect Jon Snow but he’ll believe he’s a Mexican street performer and charge into battle wielding dual maracas, who the fuck knows? Let’s talk about some epic twists that have happened already.



Black Mirror: Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Fucking Black Mirror, guys...I can’t think of a recent sci-fi show that’s so well-executed and also so pessimistic about human nature. Each episode shows a future where we’ve fucked up somehow. I’d say the nastiest (in a good way) is “White Bear,” in which an amnesiac named Victoria awakens to find that civilization has crumbled and most people have either turned into murderous psychos à la The Purge, or silent, passive zombies who film everything on their phones. Victoria runs. The psychos chase her. The zombies film away. Is it a commentary on our chronic disconnection from violence? Yes and no. In the end, we learn that Victoria is a convicted child murderer. Her punishment is to experience the same “horror movie” every day and have her memory wiped each evening. The psychos are actors and the zombies are normal tourists enjoying their day in a theme park devoted to Victoria’s suffering. “We’d never be so cruel, even to a child killer!” you protest. Oh yes we fucking would, and Black Mirror has the balls to show us.

Bloom County: Rosebud is Female, Just Because
Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County is my favorite newspaper comic of all time, and (despite the reboot) we shall not see its like again. A stellar example of its bonkers meta-humor: in response to complaints that the strip lacked women, Breathed sent his talking animals into a tizzy when Spuds MacKenzie (yes, that Spuds MacKenzie) revealed that one of them was secretly female. Could it be Opus the notably effete penguin? Portnoy and Hodgepodge the douchey woodland brobags? Bill the Cat?! Nope, it turned out to be Rosebud the phlegmatic basselope, a character whose Eeyore-like asexuality made “him” the perfect pick. What I found funniest was how arbitrary it all seemed; Rosebud’s abrupt gender-swap could only be Breathed’s middle finger to his overly PC critics. Then Rosebud hooked up with Hodgepodge the rabbit and they had creepy hybrid babies together. God, why do female characters always need a love interest?

The Cabin in the Woods: Unleash ALL the Monsters!
Speaking of meta! If you haven’t seen The Cabin in the Woods, you may still know the gist: young folks are trapped in your typical horror movie scenario, only the slashes and shocks are orchestrated by a gang of Dilberts in an underground control center. That’s the first twist of many. I won’t spoil all the details, but the film reaches a level of ironic brilliance toward the end, when the Final Girl and the Lovable Stoner find their way backstage and discover an entire caged zoo of horror movie baddies, any and every monster you can think of, all awaiting their turn to shine. So what do our heroes do? They open all the cages, of course. And the resulting carnage is too wonderful to put into words. Seeing somebody get impaled by a pissed-off unicorn? Priceless. Witnessing the icky payoff to one man’s mermaid fetish? Even more priceless. If I told you the film ends with additional plot twists and a last-minute celebrity cameo, would you just go watch the damn thing already?

Countdown: The Wrong Chosen One
In the 90s, we sure did love dark, brooding YA series. One example is Daniel Parker’s Countdown, which pounced on our Y2K fears: a virus kills off everyone on Earth except teens, who find themselves in a biblical End-of-Days scenario. Crucial among the subplots is a girl named Sarah who possesses a mystical scroll which prophesizes everything that’s going on. The scroll describes the exploits of a “Chosen One” and her enemy, the Demon Lilith. Sarah realizes the prophecies refer to her and she’s the Chosen One, while another girl, Jezebel, appears to be the Demon. In the end, Sarah and Jezebel kill each other...only it’s not the end, because there’s still a couple books to go. Huh? Turns out a completely different protagonist, Ariel, was the Chosen One the whole time, her BFF Leslie was the Demon, and all the prophesies, with their conveniently vague phrasing, referred to them just as easily. Is it contrived? Yes. Did it make me beat myself up for missing all the obvious clues and foreshadowing? Absolutely yes.

Final Destination 5: The Plane! The Plane! It’s the Plane!
I wasn’t expecting a cool last-minute twist from the fifth entry in a series about people getting murdered by weight machines and laundry cords. Not only was 2011’s Final Destination 5 surprisingly awesome, it brought the series full circle. We have our alleged happy ending, with the hero and his girlfriend hopping a plane to Paris. Only, who are those idiots having a fight several rows down? Why is that kid yelling about a crash? Is that...Devon Sawa? You bet your boots. The final stinger is that FD5 takes place in the year 2000 and ends with the same plane crash we witnessed in the very first Final Destination film. And it’s not a sloppy or nonsensical twist: watch the movie carefully and you’ll see that all the technology is over a decade old. The truth was right there, but we were too busy laughing at the guy getting skewered on the rotisserie spit. I guess if you’re gonna snuff your leads at the last minute, you find a way to do it with flair.

Hannibal: Dr. du Maurier’s Fateful Referral
Hannibal is chock full of shocking plot developments. I had to base my choice on which twist really dazzled me, and since I found Dr. Bedelia du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) such a fascinating character, I was most enamored with her arc. Why is she drawn to Hannibal Lecter, like a moth darting close to an inferno? We learn early on that she once killed a patient in self-defense -- a patient who had previously been Lecter’s, and who Lecter deliberately infected with madness to see what du Maurier would do. And we sense that du Maurier, on some level, enjoyed killing, or at least found it intriguing. She’s such an enigma, and over the course of the show, we get one puzzle piece after another. But we don’t see the big picture until the final fragment slots into place. The defining flashback, which all others have teasingly circled. That’s when we learn that it was never self-defense. Du Maurier’s patient never attacked her at all. She straight-up murdered him in cold blood. This revelation made me immediately want to go back and study her calm face, her hint of a smirk, her every soft intake of breath. Knowing that she’s not Hannibal Lecter’s victim, but a member of his tribe.

Monsters: Beginning at the (Unhappy) End
The skillful Monsters wastes no time in catching our attention. A strip of North America has been invaded by towering, octopoid alien creatures, and in the film’s opening scene, we witness a squad of soldiers assaulted by said aliens while civilians scream and bodies litter the ground. It’s just a meaningless hook, right? After all, most of the film is a slow-paced, meditative affair, as a man and a woman hike through the Infected Zone and develop a gradual bond. They discover the aliens are hardly mindless, and by the end, the idea of returning to their boring old lives holds little joy. They’re sharing a secret that most of us are too afraid to see. A squad of soldiers comes to rescue them, we hear one dude’s annoying, familiar riff on “Ride of the Valkyries,” and we realize we’ve looped back to the beginning. The first scene was the last scene, and those were our protagonists lying dead and screaming in the middle of the carnage. Because happy endings are for the weak, especially when We Are The Real Monsters. See what they did there?

Nostalgia Critic: Don’t Fuck With Mara Wilson
Once again, I should enlighten the non-internet-addicts who have no idea what happened to Mara Wilson. After her stint as a precocious child star in Matilda and others, she pretty much quit acting and has since leveled up to an awesome blogger, tweeter, and fame-deconstructor. I learned about her coolness upgrade in the best possible way, when e-comedian Doug Walker, aka The Nostalgia Critic, did a scathing video review of 1997’s A Simple Wish. Yeah, it was a lousy movie, but it’s still pretty juvenile to single out one actress -- a kid, no less! -- and trash her entire body of work. However, it set up one of the best unexpected payoffs I’ve ever seen, as Mara Wilson her actual self appeared onscreen to get revenge on Walker by showing a montage of his hideously embarrassing teenage home movies. She not only proved that she can still act, but that she’s got an A-one sense of humor and is in no way hung up on her child star days. Who could have seen this “celebrity cameo” coming? It didn’t make my day, it made my year.

A Perfect Getaway: Our Heroes are Murderous Lying Murderers Who Lie and Murder
A skillful twist can elevate mediocre material. Don’t get me wrong, A Perfect Getaway is a tense and competent thriller, but I wouldn’t remember much about it if not for its climactic switcheroo. It’s about a derpy honeymooning couple (Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn) who befriend a far edgier, more badass duo (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez) in the Hawaiian wilderness, right when some psycho is murdering in the area. There’s also a third couple, but they’re so sketchy and suspicious that they’re obviously a red herring. However, the truth is staring us in the gob the whole time. There’s nothing like seeing horror dawn on someone’s face (Kiele Sanchez’s, as she studies the photos on Milla Jovovich’s camera) and realizing how misled you were. Yes, the killers are Jovovich and Zahn, who murdered the real honeymooners and assumed their identities. First you get mad, then you go back through the film and realize that the clues were always there, that certain lines of dialogue had more than one meaning, and that even the opening wedding footage was edited to point you in the wrong direction. That, dear readers, is how you make a thriller thrill.

Singularity: One Short Night Equals One Long-Ass Year
Well, here’s another good example of terrible YA cover art. Based on this cover, you’d think you were about to read “James Marsden and His Clone vs. Demon Pac-Man.” Instead, William Sleator’s Singularity is an intelligent, fascinating little tale about a pair of twins who, while housesitting, discover that a backyard shed contains a wormhole to somewhere else. Time moves much faster inside, and one twin (the jerk) plots to rapidly age himself up so he won’t have to be a twin any more. However, his brother (the narrator) beats him to it. The second act of the book turns into an entirely different tale, a bizarro Hatchet in which our hero spends an entire year inside one small room while only a few hours pass in the outside world. We see his daily routine, his psychological turmoil, how he goes from a hapless teen to a muscular, zen-like survivor. That toothy golf ball on the cover barely features in the actual book; it’s really about something far cooler. Another twist that affected me as a kid and ensured I’d grow up to make lists like this one.