Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on Televsion

So many people are snobs when it comes to watching television. "Oh, I never watch T.V." "It's such a waste of time." "There's never anything good on." Nonsense.

First of all, some of the best writing is on television. Gilmore Girls under Amy Sheridan-Palladino and West Wing under Aaron Sorkin were two of the best shows ever done on television. Crisp, rapid dialog along with great acting and directing made them both "must watch T.V." I've been a fan of the Law & Order franchise since it began and I do tend to watch every episode of each of them. I'll sometimes watch CSI with Len, but I rarely watch CSI: Miami and never CSI: New York.

This season's been a bit of a disappointment, but the third episode of New Amsterdam was as good as the first, with an interesting twist at the very end. I'm looking forward to next Monday. I thought that Canterbury Law has possibility (I like Juliana Margulies and Aidan Quinn), but I'm not sure I'll commit. Next week also marks the return of Big Bang Theory, a show which leaves me in stitches every time I watch it. The other two comedies I watch faithfully are Aliens in America and 30 Rock.

Now even I am a snob when it comes to "reality T.V." First of all, many of those shows are clearly written--maybe not the dialog (which would be a big improvement) but the storylines and structure clearly are. The scum-sucking weasels who are pocketing the big bucks rather than pay their writers decent wages, pension, and health should die horrible deaths and have a special place in hell reserved for them. None the less, I've mentioned before our devotion to The Amazing Race and Beauty and the Geek.

Beauty and the Geek returned last night, but the game has changed again. I'm not sure I like what they've done with it, because I really thought the pairing of the beauties with the geeks went quite well. I will say that last night's turn, where the beauties had to decide which of the geeks to send to the elimination room, worked amazingly well. The beauties decided that the guys to send were the ones who might not need the improvement skills as much as the ones they didn't pick. That was a pretty smart move on their part. I do wonder if there's some plan afoot to change things during the season though, because in the past the show eliminated a pair of contestants each week and this way they only eliminate one a week. That could add up to a 17 week season the way things appear to be structured.

I've taken a bit more of an interest in American Idol this season. I'm not sure why. Maybe I was waiting for the singers to get a chance at Lennon-McCartney tunes or maybe because it looks like they did get rid of the really marginal talents before the top 12 got down to work last night. There are more important things to me than watching the show (I slept through three of the singers on Lennon-McCartney night), but I am curious about how it works out. Although Simon Cowell doesn't need a writer, Randy and, especially, Paula could use one. Can anyone actually understand what either one of them is talking about? Last night, when asked why the songs have lasted, Randy threw in the word "copyright," but in a way that had nothing to do with what copyright means at all or what the question was. Paula couldn't express that the "risks" she was suggesting people take should have "pay-off" or "reward." She needs help with simple sentence structure. What a ditz.

I feel sorry for the girl from Oregon who sold her rodeo horse to go to the audition. She did a dreadfully rushed, country & westernized version of "Eight Days a Week" that really missed the mark. My favorite cutie with the dreds didn't do a particularly good job either. And the 16 year old favorite really fell down. Chikezie was the big surprise. I haven't been particularly impressed but he did a great job with "She's a Woman." Unlike my husband, I'm not taken with either the rocker-biker-nurse or the Irish bar maid. At least we're down to two nights a week for Idol, rather than three, from here on out.

Now for something I doubt I've mentioned before: food shows tend to be the default when nothing specific is on television (and televisions are always on in my house: my husband doesn't like quiet like I do.) Talk about reality! We get BBC America, which hooked me on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares (and, yes, I'll probably watch Hell's Kitchen this year, which I haven't in the past) and now we're enthralled by Last Restaurant Standing.

Cooking shows are not a new thing for us to watch. We used to lay in bed on Saturday mornings watching cooking shows on PBS like the Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook back before there was a Food Network. Now, my husband records every episode of Rachael Ray and buys all of her books. It's improved his kitchen repertoire beyond belief. He does resent that it takes him about 90 minutes to make one of her 30 Minute Meals, but he's resigned to it. The knife skills class I sent him and my son to last year hasn't improved his speed, just his technique.

We were watching some show one Saturday night on the topic of camenbert cheese, looked at each other, hit the record button and ran out to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to secure a lovely arrangement of cheese, fruit, bread and crackers for dinner. We came back home and ate while we watched the rest of the show. Talk about the power of suggestion.

We started watching Iron Chef back when it was only available on the Japanese language television channel out here. Its migration to the Food Network was inspired. We really enjoy the American version (much better once they got rid of William Shatner) and I can't wait to try Michael Symon's restaurant the next time I am in Cleveland. I've been begging for dinner out at Mario Batali's Mozza since it opened last year. (Batali's partner in this venture, Nancy Silverton, is my own personal baking goddess. I worked my way through her bread book, beginning with making a sour dough starter from my home-grown grapes and doing all of the extended proofing required for her recipes. I don't have the time for this anymore, unfortunately.)

Although I don't get to watch many shows, I find Alton Brown's Good Eats fascinating. I bought my son both of his books, since Michael is into many things science. I've been trying to catch Jamie Oliver's new series which features food from his cottage garden, but I forget to schedule the recording. There's no Italian cooking show I really like right now. Giada doesn't do it for me. She's no Marcella Hazan, whose books are my Italian cooking bibles. I find Bobby Flay annoying. Ditto Paula Dean (but I enjoyed her sons' eating on the road show.) Emeril is always entertaining, but I know that I've got a two-day tolerance for the heaviness of New Orleans cooking.

I hear Top Chef is back with a new season tonight.

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