Tuesday, March 27, 2007

First Reaction: The Cook, the Editor-in-Chief, the Hollywood Regency Wife, and Their Potter

Self-indulgent, self-important apologies, possums, for our silence during the past week, and thank you to those of you who wrote in to inquire whether our bodies were to be found at the L.A. morgue with the heel of Alexis Arquette’s Nine West peau de soie pump lodged in our skulls.

Alas, it wasn’t anything that John Waters, merely the wren-brown call of duty and work obligations.

So we’re late to the party this week, and will consequently have to make this quick and dirty and a little disjointed, but bear with us. (Also, our apologies to Peter Greenaway, but with Eric3000 claiming the best recap title of the week, we had to stretch.)

We took our first drink, completely unrelated to the Matt Lorenz Drinking Game, when we realized that this episode meant one week less of having to hear that blasted opening theme. The episode began with a voice-over from Matt himself, saying, “Jan Brady” (in mocking reference to Goil’s meltdown on the last episode), and the drinking game was on. “Jesus,” said Miss XaXa. “I think Liberace sounded more butch.”

Goil tells us that he’s “just desperately hanging on to the competition,” which we take to mean that he’s desperately hanging on to his sanity, and it shows, as he has another meltdown later in the episode.

Matt proclaims himself Marcia, and Michael says he himself is more like Cousin Oliver. We were about to drink during Matt’s speech, but Miss XaXa wouldn’t let us. “Please,” said Miss XaXa. “No self-respecting gay man would be caught dead in those socks.” We reluctantly put the bottle down.

Given the state of epistolary culture in our society (where, as Eric3000 intimates, Tyra Banks is our Madame de Sévigné, the U.S. Postal Service is in financial straits, and TyraMail is as close as most people get to an actual letter), it is no surprise that the designers are terrified when a “letter from Todd” appears on the kitchen table.

(And while we’re ranting about the state of our society, we’ve been wondering of late whether we ought to bemoan the fact that we live in a country that cancelled Arrested Development or celebrate that we live in a country that produced Arrested Development in the first place. Given that we’re “glass half empty” people, the answer should come as no surprise. Then Miss XaXa reminds us that, given our drinking habits and the Matt Lorenz Drinking Game, we’re really more “glass fully empty” people.)

Indeed, the designers’ terror is palpable, and is emphasized by the camera work—ominous, Hitchcock-worthy close-ups where the letter threatens to take up the whole screen. Perhaps 1950s horror films would be a better comparison, with the letter growing in menace as if it were the Blob. You’d think it was an audit notice from the IRS, or that Todd is sending the designers anthrax. We were shocked when Goil managed to pick up the letter from the table. “You mean it’s actually normal-sized?” asked Miss XaXa.

The letter, allegedly from Todd, displays excellent penmanship, as well as perfect grammar and punctuation (commas inside quotation marks and everything!). The text contains some cliché about how people in Hollywood say, “Let’s do lunch,” and tells the designers that a car will be by to pick them up for lunch. Goil is as baffled as if he had to interpret the Book of Revelations—“What does it mean?” However, Michael comes through with a feat of near-Talmudic scholarship—“It means that there’s a car coming, and that we’re going to lunch,” or words to that effect.

And lunch it is. (Though with some of the glassy-eyed, vaguely beatific stares, you might think it was luncheon on the grass, but since Padma Lakshmi is not around, this is simply scurrilous and unfounded speculation.) Andrea puts on tight capris and geisha sandals, and they meet Todd for lunch at Norman’s on Sunset Boulevard, which Todd shillingly and laughably dubs “one of L.A.’s premier eateries.”

(Jonathan Gold, of LA Weekly and Gourmet praised the restaurant’s “Floribbean” cooking—e.g., French toast piled with seared foie gras—but, unsurprisingly, the restaurant is now closed. Really, who wants, or expects, luxury food from a place called Norman’s? It sounds too much like a diner. But we digress.)

Goil treats us to a little syllogism: from his understanding, Sunset Boulevard is fabulous, and Norman’s is on Sunset Boulevard, so Norman’s is fabulous. Goil, possum, we think that, in terms of fabulousness, you may be confusing Norman’s on Sunset Boulevard with Norma (Desmond) of Sunset Boulevard.

(Jonathan Adler offered the winner of the week’s challenge a $2,500 gift certificate to the Jonathan Adler stores (poor Ryan is probably kicking himself; here was his chance to win some vases), but we hereby offer Goil a gift certificate good for two months in the Pink Navy Gay Finishing School, which is located—where else?—in Mary-land, just like Annapolis. By God and Glinda, Goil, possum, when we’re done with you, you’ll know what a cabana is, and you won’t just be able to quote from My Fair Lady, you’ll be Eliza Doolittle. On her blog, Margaret Russell wrote that someone ought to take you out to restaurants, and by George, we’ll do just that.)

Todd, wearing a blue-striped sweater, informs the designers of their new challenge—to design a chef’s dining room for an unnamed, internationally renowned chef. The challenge is up Andrea’s alley, since she teaches restaurant design at Otis College of Art and Design, and Michael tries to narrow down the field of potential chefs: “Julia Child is dead; we know it’s not her.”

Goil again declares himself “a bowl-of-noodle kind of guy,” and gives us yet another opportunity to promote the Pink Navy Gay Finishing School. Speaking of which, watching Matt at the chef’s table while they lunch makes us consider nicknaming him Toothy Tile (for those of you who ever read Ted Casablanca’s gossip column), but it was his eyebrows that made us drink and ponder, “Good God, is Jonathan Adler’s eyebrow twitch contagious? And is Kelly immune because of the Botox?”

The designers are informed that the mystery chef likes the Arts & Crafts aesthetic (which should have been a big hint, as the chef turned out to be Tom Colicchio of Craft, Crafsteak, and ‘wichcraft), but it is Carisa who really puts things in perspective, telling us that Arts & Crafts was “this whole, you know, thing that happened in the 20th Century.” We start applying this formulation, and are delighted with the results: World War II / Watergate / Vanilla Ice’s career was this whole, you know, thing that happened in the 20th Century.

The designers are given $40,000 to shop in the PDC, and are allowed to use Yahoo.com for their “tableware needs.” But of course! That’s what we use Yahoo.com for. No wonder those crap Top Design features have been appearing on the Yahoo! front page.

A montage of shopping, the best part of which is Matt asking a shop assistant, “Are those tops reversible?” Miss XaXa squealed in delight. “Make it a double, baby,” she said to us, as we filled her glass. And Matt, possum, if you’d attended the Pink Navy Gay Finishing School, you’d know that the correct term is not “reversible” but “versatile.”

Miss XaXa was cutting limes for the tequila when she heard Matt talking about installing a leather floor, and how it would look “really hawt.” Caught unawares by the subject and the Paris Hilton inflections, she had no choice but to drink straight from the bottle.

The designers did a little unintentional shooting of their own feet, with Michael describing his own project as “simplistic,” and Carisa describing herself as “plastic, colorful, and artificial.”

Todd, meanwhile, channels Judy Garland while worrying about the “clang, clang, clang of these pots.” Unfortunately, we can’t get the song out of our head: “‘Clang, clang, clang,’ went the trolley….”

Then Matt tells us that he’s “trying to think outside the box.” Miss XaXa laughed so hard while trying to drink that she dropped her glass, and we couldn’t look her in the eye as she muttered, “Isn’t he better off adopting the Taco Bell slogan?” She had to get another glass when, later on, she heard Matt say, “Well, you wanted to lay tile,” “I was going to take all of this off and cover it with plastic,” and “drapery treatment.” We hate to expose her like this, but she passed out from the final bout of drinking when Matt kept talking about how his room was inspired by a “dark, wooded area.” Her last words were, “Where are the ‘rest stop’ signs, the state troopers, and Jim McGreevey?”

She thus missed Matt talking about his wife and daughter, during which we refrained from drinking. And she missed guest judge Tom Colicchio and his bare ankles, and his admission that he loved leather, and his praise of how Matt “worked the leather in.” All of which is just as well, as it might have led to alcohol poisoning.

She also missed Jonathan Adler’s weekly groaner (“This week’s challenge was delicious”) and the call and response between Jonathan’s eyebrows and Goil’s (it’s contagious, we tell you). She missed Kelly turned out as a Gibson Girl cum Restoration fop. And she missed Margaret’s laugh line about Carisa: “I love banquettes, but hers is a little bit big.” It made the judges laugh uproariously, and we think we know why. There’s nothing inherently funny about the line, so why the laugh? Well, because it sounds like Margaret is talking about Carisa and her derrièrre. Now let’s be clear. Of course, Margaret wasn’t actually talking about Carisa or calling her fat or J.Lo-butted. It just sounded that way.

Miss XaXa also missed Andrea winning the challenge, and Michael being sent home, but by passing out, she missed the most important story of all. Granted, given Bravo’s shenanigans during Top Chef and Clippergate, we may be a little prone to donning the tinfoil hat, but we think we’re on to something. We’ve read that Michael has a twin brother, and we suspect that, as with Folger’s Crystals, he was substituted for Michael somewhere in the middle of this episode.

The proof? In the second half of the episode, “Michael” looked more put together than usual, in a flattering shirt and tie. When Carisa complained to him about her carpenter, she was wearing leggings or stretch pants, and not a single nasty comment passed his lips. He simply didn’t take the bait. That’s not Michael. During the judging, he refused to answer the judges’ question as to which contestant’s dining room he wouldn’t eat in. He simply refused to be catty. Again, that’s not Michael. And after he was “latered,” during his final interview, he was conciliatory and mature, and talked about what he had learned, and about “living happily ever after” in a “bubble of splendor.” WTF? This is either splendor on the grass or it’s not Michael. We’re convinced it was the Good Twin. J’accuse! (Or should that be, “Nous accusons!” ?) Well, either way, you get the point. We demand answers. What say the Minions?