Top Chef: All Stars

So, we're two episodes into Top CHef 8, which follows the dull and tedious Season 7 and the pointless and boring Top Chef: Just Desserts. The idea is a solid one - there are plenty of chefs from the earlier seasons who proved that they were entertaining to watch and cooked interesting food, so it's all down to the execution.

They got Anthony Bourdain. Good. They didn't get him for every episode. Less good, but tolerable.

There's no house they all live in together. Or at least there's no footage of it. THANK THE GODS. This cuts down on the drama.

The first ep was almost entirely focused on the food, and stole the "watch the judging on a TV" thing from Top Chef Masters. And the elimination challenge, where you had to cook the dish that got you sent home, was brilliant.

The second episode had a bunch of kids and a bunch of sniping and one of the all-time biggest meltdowns in Top Chef history. So less brilliant overall, especially if you like food more than people being dicks to each other, but Jen's flameout was truly spectacular, full of odd facial contortions and a level of aggressive denial that hinted at deep-seated emotional problems far beyond the usual reality-show run-of-the-mill assholery.

I really want this to be like Masters - established chefs competing on the basis of their food - but the cast is also a bunch of one-time reality show stars, which is a type of baggage that Masters doesn't have. This is especially true of Fabio, whose first outing seemed like an audition for his own Bravo show, and whose second outing is like someone bursting back into the audition room, insisting that he can do it even bigger if they just give him a chance.

Douchey sommelier Stephen is back, and has ungracefully aged into deep nerd-dome, that stodgy-before-their-time accelerated aging process some nerds embrace, all tweed and spectacles like a Giles cosplayer at a Buffy convention. Mike Isabella has been watching tapes of his previous performance to try to remember how to be an asshole, but isn't nearly as convincing. Most of the rest are, luckily, on a more even keel this time around, there to cook on a game show, which I appreciate.

So as long as there's more cooking, more Bourdain, and more interesting challenges, this should be the most fun I've had watching Top Chef in almost a year.

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Totally

I am loving this season, mostly because I already know how good everyone is (with the exception of the people from seasons 1 and 2, because they are from before I started watching), so I'd be happy to see about half of the cast be the ultimate winner. And I agree, the first episode elimination challenge was brilliant.

Anthony Bourdain should be a judge on every episode of everything.

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