Hyphen TV: Not Offensive!

March 29, 2011

Thia Megia shows off her ability to shout and point.

Look, I'm as sick of measuring how "offensive" things are as anyone else. So it was nice to get a moment of levity from 30 Rock's Jenna Maroney, arguably a close second in the Out of Touch with Reality contest next to Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan. When faced with show within a show TGS going on hiatus, the self-obsessed Jenna is as prepared with a Plan B as anyone else. Turns out she's been selling "Jenna Babies," small Precious Moments-esque figurines that talk. There are what look like an old timey jail prisoner, a clown, and "Asian Jenna Baby," a tiny-eyed figurine in a kimono that says "Excuse me, G.I. Do you miss your girlfriend? I'm good at math." Jenna is quick to pipe up after the math comment, "So it's not offensive." Backhanded non-compliment tacked onto an insult like a quick 'n' easy "Not offensive!" band aid over a gaping wound of racial stereotyping? That is SO YOU, television. Thanks for noticing, 30 Rock.

Jenna Babies: Not coming to a Hallmark near you.

Hey guys, remember Top Chef All Stars? I know, I know; the pain of Dale's departure lives on. But Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto stopped by the penultimate episode to get his "last supper" from the contestants. Antonia was assigned to cook his requested sashimi, miso soup, and Japanese-style pickles. Not an easy dish for an Italian chef, particularly after hearing how personal the seemingly simple dish is for the Iron Chef: Morimoto's mother, who worked part-time at a fish market, used to cook the meal for her young son while he played baseball. Morimoto impressed upon Antonia the care with which his mother inspected every grain of rice, making sure that they were all the exact same size. If that's not scary enough, Antonia also described the intimidation that the man packs just from reputation and presence alone: "He's just really freaking scary, like, a Japanese warrior." From what I've seen on Iron Chef America (not to mention the original), I can't really disagree.

Don't let the casualwear fool you. Morimoto is Bad. Ass.

Things went from bad to worse for poor Antonia, who found that the fresh Hamachi she was provided was rancid (now HOW is that fair??), but she rallied and pulled some refrigerated tuna to use instead. Interestingly, the rice that seemed so tricky was executed by Antonia perfectly; it was the salty miso soup and the seasoning on the fish that bothered the judges (though Morimoto found the soup "interesting"). Tom pointed out that Japanese food is all about subtle flavor, and so Antonia's attempt to put her stamp on the dish may have been too much. She ended up going home, which was clearly a huge blow. I really felt for her -- again, I think that challenge was WAY harder than the more familiar (to these chefs) fried chicken and goulash of the other two last suppers. Sorry to see you go, Antonia.

Thia Megia narrowly avoided a similar fate on American Idol this week, landing in the bottom three for her performance of "Heatwave" for Motown week. As promised, she chose something a bit more uptempo, even dancing a little on stage instead of standing locked as she usually does while singing. She even looked a little looser this week, her hair in a pleasantly sloppy ponytail and her dress and giant heart necklace making her seem more like the cute teenager she is than some of her more staid looks in the past.

Oh what the heck, one more shot of Thia.

Maybe Thia got a little too loose though; was it me or did she duff the words toward the end? Judge for yourself here. The judges were kind but still looking for more; Jennifer said that we're "just scratching the surface" of what Thia can do. The singer needs to dig deep: "Part of performing is acting. Connect with the lyrics," J.Lo implored. Randy appreciated Thia's taking chances but also wanted her to find something "really different," and Steven simply said, "I'm good with it." O...kay Steven. Thanks.

I agree that her performances aren't exactly getting people on their feet, but I still think that Thia needs to really perk up and actively engage to win people over. Sometimes I just want to scream "WAKE UP!" at her, y'know? She seems grateful and polite but never excited. Certainly there's no way that anyone is "supposed" to act in any given situation, but when you make it on Idol you're kind of expected to be...well, really into it, if not elated. Surely there's an in-between point right in the middle of sobby Jacob Lusk and stoic Thia? Please? Let the bottom three position be the inducement for a little more open emotion.

Cute on elimination night too!

You know who totally did get in touch with a little "who cares, put it all out there" personality this week? Raja on RuPaul's Drag Race. I know, I'm surprised too! This week the queens had to record and perform their own versions of RuPaul's song "Superstar" in the style of different genres. Raja chose punk and got totally Joey Ramone'd out with a mohawk, denim, and plenty of safety pins. Her performance had none of the self consciousness that has stifled Raja before; this time she was all in, scream-synching with her (heavily produced) recording and rocking out all over the stage. She was a shoo-in for the win. Damn, girl! It's about time!

Manila didn't have too shabby a showing herself. She chose disco and rocked a huge 'fro and plenty of sparkles. Her dancing was enthusiastic, and what can I say, she was adorable. I got nothin' to call you out on this week, Manila.

Who's ready for a disco inferno? (via the Logo blog)

I don't have much to say about ol' Jay on Top Shot except MAN can that guy pick up new skills quickly. This week the marksmen had to do all sorts of crazy trick shots, and Jay had an uncanny ability to shoot with his non-dominant left hand. He was so good during practice that he was (half) jokingly told to never shoot with his right hand again. Jay was an obvious choice for the hardest two-handed challenge during the elimination competition: he had to simultaneously shoot plates many feet apart with guns in both hands. He didn't hit any, but that is such a tough challenge -- maybe too tough? At any rate, he made it through elimination again. Will the not-so-team-player actually get to the finale?

I am kind of really getting into America's Next Great Restaurant, and the performances of our pals Stephenie and Sudhir are no small part of that. After a not great showing last week, Stephenie did a total overhaul of her concept, changing the name from Compleat (which I still like, whatever the judges say) to Harvest Sol (to emphasize the healthy ingredients and ... the sun?). She also narrowed her focus from healthy food to healthy Mediterranean food. "It's a huge risk to have this Asian girl trying to pitch Mediterranean food," she admits, but I counter with it being no less ridiculous than a white dude selling "Mexican" flavors, right Chipotle founder Steve Ells?

Even her dress goes with the look. I'm good with it.

Harvest Sol went over really well with the judges. The contestants had to make a mini version of their restaurants, choosing color schemes, menus, and even tables and chairs to create a full dining experience. Lorena loved Stephenie's food, and Curtis was impressed by her choice in colors, tables, and decor, bringing special attention to the glass vases filled with dried chickpeas and what looked like a sprig of rosemary adorning every table. Pretty cute, Steph! So relieved to see her back on the judges' good side.

Meanwhile, Sudhir was fretting a bit over his food. Though the tech guy has taken cooking classes, he says that he'll be pestering his mom to teach him the Southern Indian cooking styles that she's familiar with. "She was distraught that the boy was learning how to cook," he explains when describing his passion for the food business. "Boys aren't meant to cook in India."

Aw, you've got plenty to be proud of.

The judges weren't as positive or united about Sudhir's restaurant as they were about Stephenie's. Chipotle Steve commented that Spice Coast's naan (a delicious, buttery flatbread, which honestly you ought to know because it is DELICIOUS) could be used as a sort of soft taco shell that one could put the other foods into. He spouted off some terms that included "handheld format," and I am officially kinda done with Chipotle Steve. I mean I get the portability thing being a plus, but "handheld format" food??

Sudhir, visibly nervous and anxious to please the judges, then repeated this taco idea to the second round of judges, which included Curtis and Lorena. Curtis was immediately turned off, saying that naan is meant to be a side and not a mere transporter of the other food.  He then gave Sudhir a pep talk/lecture about figuring out his own concept instead of guessing what the judges want. Hear, hear. Though ... can we talk about Steve Ells' serious lack of respect for naan? Dude.

Keep that lamb off that naan.

The judges' clash became a non-issue, however, when it turned out that Spice Coast got the most votes from the diners who tried out the restaurants. Sudhir and Stephenie live to see another day, and I couldn't be happier! Or hungrier.


Dianne Choie


Dianne Choie's TV is in Brooklyn, NY. She has a cat, several reusable shopping bags, and other mildly annoying stereotypes of youngish people who live in Brooklyn.