”Hell’s Kitchen”: Like mother used to make
Good evening, my little avocado burgers, and welcome to the continuation of Hell’s Kitchen, which I’d like to open by complimenting Rock on Rock’s attitude. I know lobotomies have been out of fashion for several decades now, but his transformation from last week’s misogynistic aggressor to tonight’s Care Bear was almost surgically astounding. Just in time, too: Jen was dismissed tonight, leaving Rock and his blond nemesis, Bonnie, as your HK finalists.
Rock was a changed man from the get-go, pulling Jen aside to apologize for his behavior during last week’s service and giving her a hug. He then joined Bonnie in crying over the departure of Julia, and throughout tonight’s episode, where he might previously have stomped around and grumbled, he could be found giggling, crying more, praying….Have we ever seen him pray before? Or were those shots — as I suspect — the work of a crack Fox editorial staff, a staff who realized they had painted a rather unflattering picture of the obvious favorite to win all season, and have but two episodes to clean up his image and make him sympathetic, lest no one patronize the Green Giant Ranch out of fear? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter — and it’s working. I’d much rather watch Rock grin at Bonnie’s dopey behavior than listen to him holler about ”Hell’s Bitches” while slamming freezer doors shut. And you have to admit, he’s way hotter when he’s letting that soft underbelly show.
Honestly, tonight was chock-full of soft underbellies across the board. The challenge was ”homemade to gourmet,” i.e., how to ruin perfectly good mac ‘n’ cheese, and Chef Ramsay introduced the task by bringing out his No. 1 inspiration…his mum! The finalists concocted their fancy comfort-food dishes — Rock made weird spaghetti; Bonnie was thoroughly confused by franks ‘n’ beans; Jen came up with a variation on fried chicken that would have made Julia wince — and then, as the episode’s biggest ”surprise,” the competition was judged by…the remaining cheflings’ mums! Everyone started sobbing, especially Jen. This only got worse when the mums awarded her the victory (lunch plus a $1000 shopping spree) — she kept falling to her knees and moaning like a parishioner on one of those old Sunday-morning televangelism programs where people rediscover their ability to walk. The whole thing was rather disconcerting.
And I cannot emphasize enough how much I hate it when grown adults weep openly at the sight of their parents after, like, two weeks on a reality show. Did these people not attend sleepaway camp? Did they not dream of a day they might escape those parental clutches and spread their own wings? I know I did. But even if Cranky Android Whitney doesn’t ”get” the impulse to sob just because some lady gave birth to her (kidding, Mom, I am kidding. I am crying right now), that doesn’t mean it’s not good TV. Much like Rock’s change of heart, it was nice to see the cheflings weeping about something just slightly less self-involved than ”My dream of fake-running a restaurant is slipping away!” And the mums, got bless ’em, really were adorable. Maybe the best part of their cameos was that small, sweet reminder that these contestants, for all I may mock them, are real people with real lives and real parents who call them things like ”my little dolly” on national TV.
The penultimate service was the annual chance for each contestant to run the pass, this year with the added intro of Ramsay pulling all three aside, one by one, and giving them an exercise in which he’d explain something he’d done wrong and ask them to yell at him. Rock’s sudden inability to raise his voice, Ramsay calling Jen a ”drunk country-western singer,” and the Chef’s faux-wounded facial expressions as he was being reamed were all highlights of this, the world’s oddest drama class.
Once service actually started, all three seemed equally decent at managing to expedite orders. The only real crushing failure came when Jen didn’t notice there was no crab in an intentionally sabotaged plate of spaghetti, which I think was a little unfair. I certainly hope this wasn’t the only factor in her dismissal — Rock and Bonnie caught their mistakes, sure, but Jen went first, and it’s way easier to spot a sabotage if you know one is coming. Also, missing crab seems just slightly more subtle than ”this fish is not wrapped in ham,” but that’s just my opinion.
At the end of the night, Ramsay announced, ”It’s going to be very hard for me to end one of your dreams.” Yet somehow, the cheflings managed to bear up under the pressure of knowing that their entire lives had come down to this one moment and if they failed, they’d no longer be valuable human beings, and they eventually returned to the dining room to list the clichéd reasons why they should be allowed to stay. Then Ramsay lamely faked out Rock (”Rock! You’ve got to go…into the final!”), asked the two girls to step forward, and booted Jen. And everyone started crying again. As one last surprise, they turned around to see more loved ones standing behind them: Bonnie’s parents and Rock’s presumably long-suffering wife. ”I don’t think I’m going to be a teacher anymore, Dad,” Bonnie sniffled, as she hugged her father. ”Think they’ll give me a conjugal?” Rock asked, as he hugged his wife. And that, right there, is probably all you need to know about the differences between this year’s finalists. It’s sweetness vs. sex. Bubbly vs. dry. Cheer Bear vs. Grumpy Bear. Bonnie and Rock also make a nice little comedy duo, with a vibe sort of like Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd in Clueless: She whines like a spoiled brat, he rolls his eyes and says really obvious things back to her that she doesn’t pick up on. I’d watch a show where the two of them are trapped on an island or something, I guess, so I’m interested to see where this ending goes.
Right now it’s Decision Time ’07, peanut brittles, and all that matters in the space below is your vote. Cast it, and make your case for the winner. It’s pretty obviously Rock, but I encourage you to knock yourselves out trying to argue the opposite. It’s good exercise.