So why did “Top Chef” finally hit its stride with the third episode of this season?
Well, at the risk of pontificating like Marcel, we have a theory. We think it’s because Episode Three saw the near-total “Project Runway”-fication of the show, and that’s a good thing.
If we’re honest, “Project Runway” has always had an inherent advantage over “Top Chef” (and no, we don’t mean the obvious ones like Tim Gunn and the Three Horsebitches of the Apocalypse, Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia). Fashion design is inherently more visual, and thus telegenic, than cookery, which makes it perfect for a reality television competition. We’ve all got eyes, so we can all judge whether an outfit looks good, and this helps us become more involved as audience members.
Of course there’s a visual element to food, but as Gail reminded us this week, food is for eating. There’s no way we, lounging, as we do, in a moiré dressing-gown in our well-appointed sitting room at Withering Depths under our Boldini portrait, can judge how good any dish on “Top Chef” tastes. This means we simply cannot get as worked up about which untasted and untasteable dish tastes better and therefore should win. So yes, although “Top Chef” is a reality television competition about food, it’s not really about the food.
So what does that leave? Well, the competition part, which mean interpersonal drama, bitchery and hi-jinks galore, bien sûr. That’s what will make for entertainment, and that’s what we got in spades last night. That has been the complaint from some about the most recent season of “Project Runway,” and it appears to have migrated to “Top Chef.” So now we have a hostess best known for posing in bikinis and lingerie, challenges that involve shopping and budgets, and time limits, and sponsor-monikered tools and amenities (à la Macy’s Accessory Wall and Loreal Paris Make-up Room), delusional contestants who self-destruct à la Vincent Libretti (we mean you, Beer Bong, though Marcel might fit, too), and cheating scandalets (like pantalets and pantaloons, when it comes to scandal, we can conceive of scandalets and scandaloons). It may not be good eating, but it’s certainly good television. Watchin’ good in the neighborhood (yes, yes, our scullery maid has told us that’s not the TGIFriday’s slogan, but you catch our drift).