Hell’s Kitchen, Dance seasons are over (sniff)



Gordon Ramsay


THE SUSPENSE WAS KILLING ME: There are still a scant handful of weeks left before autumn, but my summer effectively ended this week with the finales of the only two summer season reality TV shows I watch religiously.


On Tuesday night, Heather the weepy sous chef with the receding lower lip beat Virginia the flirty salad cook on the final episode of season two of Hell’s Kitchen. On Wednesday night Benji the ballroom-dancing Mormon beat Travis the fauxhawked contemporary dancer on So You Think You Can Dance. I felt relief at the former, joyous vindication for the latter, and a sort of faint chagrin at just how many of my weekend evenings had been taken up with these two very different Fox reality staples.

A recent piece in The Onion’s A.V. Club blog took Hell’s Kitchen to task for being one of the least transparent reality shows on the air. “Hell’s Kitchen comes from that weird extra-dimensional Fox TV Reality realm,” wrote Noel Murray, “where contestants have no apparent life before or after taping begins — aside from the inevitable glimpse of family members during the finale — and even the game itself seems completely stage-managed.”

It’s a fair criticism, if only because even as Heather walked out the unlocked door and burst into tears when she realized she’d won, I wasn’t sure if she — or anyone I’d seen on the show for the last three months — deserved to be in charge of a multimillion dollar Las Vegas restaurant. A greasy spoon seemed to be above the competency of many of the contestants, including Virginia, the runner-up, whose reputedly stellar palate wasn’t matched by a grasp of the challenges of running a commercial kitchen or dealing with other human beings.

Which is fine, actually, because I don’t know that too many people would watch a Hell’s Kitchen full of clear-eyed, mature, competent cooks, since that would give host tyrant Gordon Ramsay very few opportunities to bellow incredulously, insult their hair, weight or looks, or swear like a stoker on shore leave from the S.S. Tourette’s. I think I’d probably make a swift exit if I saw Maribel, Tom or K-Grease in the kitchen of a restaurant, but there’s a very large, angry part of me that wishes that I could be Gordon Ramsay for a day.

If Hell’s Kitchen is a show steeped in hostility and likely bad faith, So You Think You Can Dance is the essence of feel-good TV. Like A Chorus Line remade by Disney, it’s about a bunch of really talented kids working themselves past the point of personal injury for a big break. Travis was the undisputed technician, but I’d have been in despair if America didn’t respond to Benji’s jive reinvention of Donald O’Connor. I haven’t a clue what he’s going to do with his prize — a part in Céline Dion’s Vegas stage show — and unfortunately, the Technicolor MGM musical died decades before Benji was born.

GONE FISHIN’: And with that, I leave for two weeks’ well-deserved vacation, to a shack by the Bay of Fundy with nothing more than basic cable.