Reality Rundown: Real Housewives Of New Jersey, Saw Dogs & Next Food Network Star

After writing about Shark Tank, The Devils Ride and the suspiciously missing Real World, I kept thinking of more and more reality shows I wanted to say a few quick things about. This time we’ve got The Real Housewives of New Jersey, a show I used to blog about pretty consistently but have changed thoughts on greatly in the past few seasons, Discovery’s Saw Dogs and Next Food Network Star. Let’s jump in, shall we?

There was a scene in the most recent episode of Jersey Housewives where, after Teresa’s daughter freaks out about cheating at a bunch of games in the yard (huh, wonder why the word CHEATING is such a trigger for her, Joe), Caroline’s daughter Lauren essentially lays out my thoughts on the current situation: why can’t we stop inviting all these crazy people to our family events and just have fun as a family? After four seasons of crazy, I’m all filled on up Teresa’s particular brand. She’s clearly incapable of seeing the world from any perspective but her own skewed one and it feels a little sad to continually see her try to make reality (and reality TV) bend around her to her will to form her life.

I’ve said before that I’d be perfectly happy watching a series about just Caroline and her extended family, but even that doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing at this point. Is anyone else sick to death of hearing Lauren talk about losing weight while seeing her do things that will not help her in any way? Lazily slapping golf balls with her dad and hanging around a kitchen just isn’t going to cut it. This episode in particular seemed PACKED with her bitching and honestly, who cares? Losing weight sucks, either do it or don’t, but stop talking about it either way. The rest of them are fine, I’m glad to be done with Jacqueline’s daughter for the time being, she’s just awful, and I like Kathy and her crew enough, same with the Gorga’s, but I’m starting to think the bloom is off the rose on this one. And, no Bravo, I don’t need more “housewives” shoehorned in, starting over completely makes the most sense to me and still give Caroline her own show!

And now for something completely different, we’ve got Discovery’s Saw Dogs, a show about chainsaw carvers who make beautiful pieces. Some of my favorite reality shows are the ones that follow artistic people who use their talents to sell pieces and the process they go through in first figuring out what to do and then doing it. The fact that this job even exists is amazing to me, let alone the fact that these guys are so damn good at it. In one marathon a few weekends back, I saw them make an amazing tree house, a giant eagle and plenty of other amazing things.

My only problem with the series is that they have a Chumlee. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it comes from History Channel’s Pawn Stars which features a  spacey character of the same name who seemingly has no business being anywhere near the job. If it were a regular TV show you’d just assume this is the goofball people keep around to make or bounce jokes off of, but in reality you’re constantly thinking, “Why don’t they fire this idiot?” In the case of Saw Dogs, the Chumlee is named Ryan. He looks and acts like a Will Ferrell character which is odd in its own right, but then you add in the fact that he’s not great at his job (he ran the forklift through one of the barn walls) and bitches way too much for an apprentice and you wonder if he’s there because he was really there or because the producers wanted a Chumlee. I’m more in favor of the natural method, but even if it is a set-up, there’s enough coolness going on to keep me coming back for more.

Lastly I want to say a few things about The Next Food Network Star that I didn’t say over on my food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen. First off, while I like the idea of switching the format up — three teams with Food Network stars talking them through the challenges with the bottom two going into a room with FN execs and trying to keep themselves in the game assisted by their team leader — it feels like the show is spinning its wheels a bit. The challenges I’ve seen so far have been great, but doesn’t it seem like there’s an awful lot of fat this season that’s just waiting to be trimmed? I bet if you watched just the first episode, you could probably make a list of the first five or six people who will be let go with a pretty darn good level of accuracey. Sure, it’s possible that one of them will really find a place to shine, but I highly doubt it.

The other huge strike against the show is the length. Does it really need to be 90 minutes? Worse yet, those last 3o minutes go up against Mad Men. I don’t think there’s a show I would watch instead of MM. I know people out there are exactly the opposite, but it also seems like these episodes are padded like those guys who train attack dogs. Do we need to spend so much time not only showing everyone’s everything, but also laying it on so thick that you really don’t have a choice but to understand who’s being thrown to the wolves about half way through. At the end of the day, the show is more boring than it has any reason to be. I highly recommend following Alton Brown on twitter, though, if you are a fan as he has some excellent behind the scenes commentary during the airings.

Last Night’s Shows Today: Next Food Network Star & Real Housewives Of New Jersey

NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR (9:00PM, Food Network)Not to toot my own horn too much, but I totally knew that Penny wasn’t going to win Next Food Network Star. I was getting kind of worried I’d be proven wrong as the season rolled on and it turned out that she’s actually a really good cook. I’d been so busy disliking her on a basic level that I wasn’t noticing how poorly she did on-camera (their excuse for bouncing her). I’m guessing they realized they could only keep such a volatile character on the show for so long without losing credibility with viewers. It’s too bad, actually, because it sounds like her food was great. Had she been a little nicer, I wouldn’t have minded trying them out. Also, no big shocker about Chris being sent home. The BroChef routine doesn’t really work on Food Network, but maybe he can get a gig on Spike. With these two gone, it looks like the judges are done messing around and ready to really narrow things down to the people with actual potential.

I’ve got a few other points about the show that I’ve been thinking about all season. First off, the house they’re staying in was on another reality show–something skanky–but I can’t remember what. I think it was a VH1 show, Charm School, Flavor Of Love, maybe A Shot At Love? Anyone know? I did some Google image searching and came up with nothing.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is how inappropriate some of the challenges on this show tend to be. Take the previous episode for instance where the contestants had to break down into teams and work a food truck. They filmed a commercial for their truck (something that doesn’t happen), then the people had to choose which truck to go to based on the commercial and stick with their choice even when their chosen trucks wound up being slow or bad or whatever. It  just seemed a little strange because it’s not like the next Food Network star will be forced into doing these things. I get that Food Network is testing their camera presence and is just plugging the return of their food truck race show (which I actually liked) but it seemed a little silly. Last night’s challenge made sense as they were preparing food for a big time chef, but they had to do it in a tiny kitchen with only the ingredients available in the house they’re living in. I appreciate the producers being creative with the challenges, but to hamstring the contestants so specifically and then berate them for screwing up doesn’t seem like the best way to test the people who will be on our TV sets every week telling us how to cook. I guess watching a bunch of people cook in a nice, well-stocked kitchen all the time might be a little boring though.

THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF NEW JERSEY (10:00PM, Bravo)It was Christmas time in Housewivesland (Jersey) last night. Overall the episode was nice, showing everyone getting ready for Christmas, having parties and making smaller amounts of drama than expected. I don’t have a lot to say about the episode, but of course have a few things. The restaurant that they had Ashley’s birthday party at is called Mt. Fuji. I’ve been there. With people from New Jersey, no less. I got a kick out of that.

I’m still not very impressed with the Housewives producers for picking up new cast members Kathy and Melissa seemingly for the sole purpose of aiming them at Teresa and firing that gun. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Teresa’s completely in the right here. I think her and her brother Joe are both lunatics who need to get over their egos and either make up or let it go. The Siblings Gorga don’t seem to be the brightest, most enlightened people around and watching their blank stares navigate through life is getting old. I’m still not sure what Teresa’s problem with her cousin Kathy is. That’s another simple squashing that needs to happen.

The only reason I care enough about the show to write about it is because I actually think this version of the Housewives franchise has the potentially to be something better than it is. We don’t need to get mired in awful bickering, the show could be about women and their actual relationships with one another and their families. All of this revolves around Caroline and her calming influence as well as her solid family. She’s the lynchpin as far as I’m concerned. I know it’s probably ridiculous of me to hope from a show of actual quality from Bravo, but a dude who can’t seem to stop watching this network can hope.

Oh, I nearly forgot about the big party at the end of the episode. All of the women actually went to Melissa’s house and Caroline’s daughter Lauren very astutely points out that it looked a lot like Teresa’s housewarming party (which Melissa and Joe were at). I love how Lauren has become the voice of reason when thrown into all the craziness of the Teresa/BroJoe/Melissa drama. There was a fight between Teresa and her cousin Kathy that I actually missed and then a big stink made because desperate-to-be-on-TV Kim G showed up with a woman whose husband is suing Teresa and Joe. This broad is pathetic and then acts shocked when everyone gets upset and Melissa asks the woman to leave. Stop trying to be Danielle and just go away. Also, good on Melissa and Joe for standing up for Teresa. Bad on Teresa for demanding it.

Why Penny Won’t Win Next Food Network Star

I’ve been watching a lot of shows about food lately. Not necessarily cooking shows, but a mixture of traveling chef (No Reservations, Bizarre Foods when it’s not too gross) and food competition shows (Iron Chef, Chopped, Best In Smoke, Top Chef). I’ve been getting really into seeing how different cultures cook and how chefs use their skills in competitive scenarios. I want to be able to eat the things they eat and cook the way they cook. Maybe some day.

The most recent food show addition to our viewing schedule is Next Food Network Star, a pretty self explanatory viewing experience. What I like about this set up is that it’s being judged by people who do the thing the contestants want to do (actual FN stars like Bobby Flay) or who choose the people to be on said shows (FN execs). Given the show’s long running time (90-120 minutes per episode so far) I haven’t actually seen a full episode yet, but I have seen most of the first two. You’ve got your general cast of people, some have had bum luck, others clearly don’t have the stage presence or temperament to be TV chefs, but one has started to stick out like a sore thumb: Penny. I’ve missed the very beginning of the first episode several times, so the developing and heated rivalry between Penny and Alicia (who doesn’t seem to be able to speak like a normal person at a normal volume or give me any reason to want to watch her show) completely befuddled me. For whatever reason, Penny seems to have set her sites on Alicia and continued to give her trouble throughout the episode, which of course included her and Alicia being put on the same team. Did something go down between these two in the first 15 minutes? Did Alicia run over Penny’s cat on the way to the first day’s taping? I must be missing something because Penny spent the rest of the episode throwing shade, but she didn’t reserve it for interview time, she just kept spouting off insults and character assassinations left and right WHILE THEY WERE COOKING. I also missed the beginning of the second episode, but I gathered through context clues (ie, outright statements by other contestants) that Penny won a lesser challenge early on and was able to choose teams for the final challenge and possibly ingredients. She used this power to hamstring the first episode’s winner and early frontrunner Orchid. When asked about it later, Penny basically owned up to it. So here’s the problem. This isn’t Survivor or a VH1 dating show. The point of Next Food Network Star is to present yourself as the kind of person that Food Network viewers not only like, but want to learn from. What I’m saying is that Penny’s playing the reality show game, but this isn’t your typical reality show, so it’s not going to work. There’s that age old reality show quote that ALWAYS pops up where the bitchy girl or asshole guy says “I didn’t come here to make friends.” Well, that might be the case, but you did come here to impress us and to come off as friendly. Can you think of any jerky chef with a cooking show on the Food Network? Nope, that’s not the point. So, Penny, I’m sorry but you’re just playing the right game on the wrong show. You’re a fun reality show villain, but playing the role completely discounts you as a viable candidate for the show’s final prize. I wonder if that’s what she’s going for. If so, I’m not sure why. Maybe she realized how gross her “kitchen sex” attitude was and just decided to play the bad girl? Now that you’ve shot yourself in the foot, keep switching up the theme of your show until you finally lose out to one of your competitors who’s actually charming and please don’t try and do the midseason turnaround after realizing the error of your ways. In fact, go balls to the wall with it and maybe you can get a cooking show on VH1.