Fast and Loud Review

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Likely neither fast nor loud – picture courtesy of Ribbie on assignment in Montevideo

I don’t watch a lot of TV, and when I do, I typically watch something political like the Rachel Maddow Show – she’s good – reruns of M*A*S*H or The Twilight Zone AND car  shows.  Yes, car shows, even the auctions.  I don’t quite know the attraction really.  I like cars, but am not a collector or anything and drive an underpowered, economical Honda Fit, but I once owned a muscle car, or I should say my parents did – a 1976 Camaro that they bought off the showroom floor at the Cliff Peck dealership in Little Rock, Arkansas.  It was their car until it became mine.  It’s life ended tragically in Denton, Texas in the year of 1986 when a pickup rear ended it at a stop sign, reducing the Camaro to an accordion.  Fortunately, neither me, nor my passenger were seriously injured.  The driver of the pickup was unharmed too and in fact, his pickup suffered barely a scratch.  Actually, what I like more than muscle cars are roadsters.  I don’t have one now, nor have I ever owned one, but my dad once had a 1973 MG Midget and it was with this car that I learned to drive a stick, a skill that I fear is as  foreign to most U.S. Millenials as a self-driving car would have been to me in 1976.  What does any of this have to do with the show Fast and Loud?  The MG nothing – but the Camaro, ah, the Camaro – the crew of Fast and Loud operating out of Gas Monkey Garage (GMG) has featured several and “equivalent” Pontiac Firebirds which I think made me long for the days when I myself drove a muscle car.

I started watching Fast and Loud from the beginning, back when the Gas Monkey Garage worked out of a small workshop, as the Brits from Wheeler Dealers would say.  I remember some of the original “monkeys” like Jordan and Tom, both of whom were later fired during the famous Firebird build.  But of course the stars and founders of GMG make the show watchable and popular. Richard Rawlings, the tall and skinny slicked back hair, goatee wearing owner of GMG, a car aficionado, racer, and businessman who built and expanded the GMG brand, snd who finds cars, and flips them. And then there’s Aaron Kaufman, chief Gas Monkey mechanic, nicknamed the bearded wonder, who repairs and tricks the cars out, often with a newer more powerful engine, a lowered stance and a stunning paint job by former paint master Kasey, who sadly also left the show several seasons ago.  Too bad because he was a funny character and perhaps the chief burnout king.  And then there’s Sue, GMG’s go-to upholsterer on their “junk” cars, as she calls them.  She is notoriously cranky and combative with a sharp tongue to put the “ass monkeys” in their places.  They bicker with her and the banter is always entertaining, which comes off as authentic reality show stuff, but may be a little bit scripted, as most reality shows are.  The other two characters of note are Dennis Collins, who owns a Jeep dealership, or something along those lines, and is Richard’s business partner with much deeper pockets.  They are always finding  valuable cars in a someone’s garage or barn and flipping them for big money – cars like rare Mustangs, a ’63 split window Corvette and the first two Firebirds ever produced.  And occasionally, golden opportunities drop into their laps like that wrecked Ferrari that Aaron restored and Dennis bought in the end.

I like the premise of the show which is a formula for success. Find car.  Flip it right away  or fix/modify (with drama during the build between the “monkeys”) to sell or auction off, often at no reserve.  Sometimes GMG makes money, and sometimes they don’t.  You never know.  The show has been successful with the core cast of Richard, Dennis, Sue, Aaron, and office assistant Christie.  The “lesser” monkeys work in the background and are not that interesting as personalities, but obviously do good work on the cars.  Now with Aaron leaving the show, I’m not sure it will ever be as good.  A self-taught mechanic with wild ideas, Aaron comes off as a brilliant wizard.  He and Richard often clash over the builds – for example over a design element or the budget for a project, but in the end, despite Richard’s doubts and anxieties, Aaron always gets the job done. However, it seems that ever since Richard hired a project manager, Jason Acker, for the Firebird build, Aaron may have been feeling less appreciated.  And whether this is true or not, I think Aaron is simply a car guy and not attracted to the marketing side of the business. He has never seemed too enthusiastic about GMG Bar N’ Grill or Gas Monkey Tequila.  He doesn’t even drink.  So the question becomes, will people still watch the show without Aaron?  Will the missing bearded wizard mechanic, the hipster, self-taught professor of mechanical engineering spell the end of the GMG reality show?

As much as I like Aaron, I do think the show will not only survive, but continue to be popular without the bearded wonder.  Here’s the thing, “King” Richard has star quality.  He’s cocky, but personable, a risk-taker, and a saavy businessman who knows the automobile AND entertainment industry.  Of all the car shows on Velocity, he probably has the most star quality, or star presence of any of the other leading personalities on the network, which includes guys like Mike and Edd of Wheeler Dealers, Wayne of  Chasing Classic Cars, Chip Foose of Overhaulin’, David Grainger of Restoration Garage, Joe Martin of Iron Restoration, and Bruno of Garage Squad.  The only other guys who come close would be Jay Leno, but his show, Jay Leno’s Garage, is an Internet show and not part of the Velocity lineup, and Danny of Counting Cars on the History Channel.

I wish Fast and Loud the best of luck in the future. It is a show that I like to watch to just chill out and wind down. It doesn’t require me to think or anything – and I can just put my brain on autopilot and strap in for the fast and loud ride.

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What’s this I hear about Last in Space?

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I was trying to read the lineup of shows on TV from the menu of our cable service without my glasses.  I felt like I was taking one of those vision tests.  I proudly boasted that I could read a blurry row near the bottom of the chart and when called upon to do so, mumbled out random letters and numbers with the word possibly thrown in only to have the doctor request that I try to read again but this time three rows up.

As I squinted at the TV program menu, I thought the networks and stations had just gone live with their new lineup of shows, some that sounded intriguing.  I don’t watch much TV generally, but these new shows had me dreaming of early retirement:

Crimea Minds

This must be a Russian version of CSI.

Family Fraud

They are all unrelated, as it turns out.

The Big Bong

With the legalization of marijuana, this new series comes as no surprise.

Mushroomers

I guess Moonshiners has run its course.

Fiends

This sarcastic comedy is about a group of hateful friends.

Monsters in my Barn

Garage Squid

This might be a spinoff of Monsters in my Barn or one of those shows like Gator Boys.

New Grill

I toggled down quickly as I figured this was an addictive infomercial about a revolutionary grill.

American Mustard

America can do mustard too just as good as the French.

Imperial Lockers

I thought this might be something like an SNL spoof on Impractical Jokers but then again it could be about what the rich and famous store in lockers in train stations throughout Europe.

Morning Joke

I imagine this one to be morning political comedy, not unlike Morning Joe.

Miami, Nice!

…until it gets too hot.

The Last Squid

Based on The Twilight Zone pilot, “Where is Everybody?”

Last In Space

Trump might do better to start a space race, rather than a nuclear arms race.

Radiator

Make sure the kids are in bed as this steamy series is sure to carry an MA rating.

Anderson Copper 300

If I had to guess, I would say this is a 5-hour infomercial for a new compression product.

Chicago Tire

This reality shoe about a tire shop in the windy city is sure to be a big hit.

Last Squid Standing

If I had to hazard a guess, I would go with a deep sea, outwit, outlast, survival show with host Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants.

Little Horse on the Prairie

A homesteader with a pony tries to live the American dream but finds life on the range depressingly difficult.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna might have said, “What’s this I hear about Deep Fried Monsters? Oh, Deep Fried Masters? Nevermind.”

Snakehead Fish On in Central Park

I’ve subscribed to some free newsfeeds – Yahoo, NY Times, BBC News and a few others and when I run across an item that intrigues me, I star it for future reference.  Excluding Syria and the latest developments in the Boston Marathon bombing, last week was a fairly slow news week and if I were in charge of headlines at a major newspaper, here’s what I would run:  Snakeheads of Central Park.  Other stories on the front page would be Horsemeat Plant in New Mexico and Boraxo beats Bounty to clean up spills, more on this later.

If you’ve ever been fishing in Central Park, you might have caught a few bass, maybe a crappie or two, but it is said that a fish that looks like a snake and has a two rows of razor sharp teeth instead of fangs inhabits the waters of the Harlem Meer.  The locals call it Fishzilla and by all accounts it is a predator like no other and will eat anything in its path, including (perhaps) fishermen?  A native of the freshwaters of Korea, Russia and China, the snakehead is considered an invasive species in American waters.   It may be an urban myth, but some say Fishzilla can live under ice and maybe in ice, and on land for days on end.  As reported by Marc Santora and Vivian Yee in the New York Times, a fisherman, when asked what he would do if he caught one said, “RUN”.

I hear snakehead are good eating – somewhat of a delicacy in some parts of the world.  I bet you could make some “killer” split pea snakehead soup or maybe some Fishzilla balls seasoned in Cajon spices, battered and deep fried in peanut oil, like the gar balls featured on the Animal Planet show, Swamp’d.  I’d fry one up and serve as snakehead fish-n-chips.  Kids would probably love fishzilla sticks.

Auto Sales Up Despite “Uncertainty”, but…

The Auto Industry in the U.S. is alive and thriving, thanks in part to President Obama’s auto bailout, an improved economy and, let’s see, meals on wheels, no…cash for clunkers? no, not that either…I’m going out on a limb here but I think car shows have whetted our appetite for cars, or as the Brit Mike from Wheeler Dealers would say, motas.  Americans are crazy about their motors again thanks to the many TV car shows on the airwaves including Chasing Classic Cars, Mecum Auto Auctions, What’s my Car Worth (mine, not much), Desert Kings, All Girls Garage, Overhaulin’ , and West Coast Customs.  These shows glorify the car and plant the seed in our brains that we need to buy one or another.  The car products sponsors on the shows create other needs in our tiny brains for synthetic motor oils, all-weather floor mats, brighter halogen headlamps so that we can see people standing in the middle of the highway who would otherwise be invisible until it was too late, and bullet proof all-weather tires built to grip the road during a tornado.  Ok, I just made that one up.

U.S. Car Sales are up for all makes.  But one dealer says that sales would be even better if there weren’t so much uncertainty, uncertainty of who will be President in 2013.  I’m sorry, but I beg to differ with the dealer who is no doubt a Republican.  Consumers are not saying behind close doors: “because of the uncertainty honey, let’s delay the purchase of a new car until after the Presidential election.”

What difference would it make, really, who is President, except that if Mitt Romney were elected, he’d probably “roll” back all the safety and environmental regulations in place so that automakers would be once again free to pollute with impunity, and design cheap gas guzzling cars that are Unsafe At Any Speed, and really light trucks made of vinyl siding or balsa wood.

The British Invasion Makes a Comeback

I love the Brits, let me just say that up front, so don’t take what I’m about to write as a knock on our allies from across the pond, but I believe the British Empire is alive and well in the US of A. Yes, the U.S. suffers from colonial oppression, only Americans can’t see it, or maybe we can and are in a state of denial. We are an independent British colony. What’s the proof you ask?

Exhibit A:  Harry Potter.  JK Rowling has succeeded in creating a generation of literate Americans, who might otherwise have fallen prey to the video game industry.  Hogwarts is a household name.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some American kids aspire to go there believing it to be a real place.  Nor would I be surprised to learn that Brown University students believe Emma Watson is actually Hermione Granger.  Harry Potter has penetrated American culture so deeply that JK Rowling has replaced Dr. Seuss as the go to bedtime story author.

Exhibit B: Americans seem more interested in the agenda of the Royals than the agenda of the U.S. Congress.  I have to admit the debt ceiling debate is not very entertaining; important of course, but wholly unappealing.

Exhibit C:  Many have been tuning into British owned Fox to watch Major League Baseball, America’s favorite pastime, and the All-Star Game. And speaking of Fox, let’s not forget Rupert Murdoch who has had a profound impact on the U.S. news media, and not for the good unless you happen to be a Republican Tea Partying Fox “news” fan with a taste for the tabloids and scandals. He even has control over one of America’s once most respected rags, the Wall Street Journal.

Exhibit D:  And speaking of Murdoch and Fox, how about all the British network stars who are uncovering American talent left and right as if European explorers. Simon Cowell is like a modern day Francis Drake “discovering” American vocal talent and making a fortune for the producers of American Idol, Fox and himself which he has parlayed into his own show featuring more American talent on the X-Factor. ABC is even in on the act with two Brits, Piers Morgan and Sharon Osborne, judging America’s talent on America’s Got Talent.  And Piers Morgan somehow managed to land Larry King’s job on CNN.  John Oliver, another Brit, has made a big comedic splash on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

Exhibit E:  The Brits have also discovered America’s “best” amateur culinary talents with the invasion of the mighty Scottish explorer Sir Gordon Ramsey, and his popular shows, Master Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. Thanks to Gordon, America will no longer be known as the land of hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza.

Exhibit F: And the Brits have brought dance to the American public too. So You Think You Can Dance America? The answer is yes and I had no idea. Had it not been for Nigel Lythgoe and company, Americans may never have known that it’s own people danced.  If fact, if memory serves, dancing is illegal in Paris, Texas.

Exhibit G: And of course where would America be without the medical mystery solving House doctor posing as an American. I knew his accent sounded suspicious! And one mustn’t forget the crazed bug eating adventurist Bear Grylls who shows the world and America on Man vs. Wild how to survive alligator infested swamps, the South Dakota Badlands and the deep woods of Maine with nothing more than a sharp knife and a flint.

The British Empire is making a comeback here in the US of A.  And Europeans complain about American cultural imperialism.

Swamp People

Have you ever been alligator hunting, or fishing?  Curious even a little bit about the subject?  If so, tune in to Swamp People, another reality show on the History Channel.

Who are these swamp people you ask?  Culturally, they are Cajuns who make their living catching gators in the backwater swamps of southern Louisiana.  The show is about father and son teams who go out during the month long alligator season to bag the biggest gators possible.  At the beginning of the hunting season, they purchase a set number of tags, which legally entitles them to catch big alligators.  They must use up all of the purchased tags by the end of the hunting season in order to be eligible for at least the same number of tags the following year.  Since each gator killed can be sold on the market, these tags represent an economic investment.  The tag system is the way Louisiana controls and protects the population of alligators.

The show puts the viewer on the boats with these gator hunters, known as the swamp people, at least this is their TV identity.  When I first heard swamp people, I imagined it’d be a show about some indigenous tribe that had recently been discovered by a team of ethnographers speaking a language that no one had ever heard.  Also, a carnival freak show came to mind, but it really is nothing at all like that, except that the so called swamp people really do live somewhat isolated lives in rural Louisiana and they do in fact have a peculiar dialect that few have probably ever heard before outside of Louisiana.

How does one catch a gator?  Not with a rod and reel, that’s for sure.  Lines are baited with rancid meat.  The hooks and line are then suspended from trees, not far from the surface of the water.  A hungry alligator jumps up, snags the bait and sometimes gets hooked.  The hunters come along and wrestle with the gator line, pulling in the line with the snagged 600 pound 10 foot beast with bare hands, as the armored reptile aggressively splashes and rolls.  When they get the gator to the boat, the hunter shoots the gator in the sweet spot on the top of the head.  The gator dies instantly and is then pulled into the boat.

Ok, it is all kind of gruesome, but this is not done for sport.  The gator hunters make their living from this animal.  It is there livelihood.  There is a market for gator meat and skin, just as there is a market for fish and seafood.  The men have great respect for the animal.  The don’t harm baby alligators, they don’t over fish or hunt and despise poachers.

The show is entertaining and interesting.  The swamp peoples’ accents are a little difficult to understand to the point that they are sometimes subtitled. Linguistically, their English is influenced by Cajun French, also known as Marsh French.  They may be able to understand standard French, but the producers did not appear to be too interested in addressing the unique linguistic heritage of the swamp people.

The show did feature segments on other cultural aspects of the swamp peoples’ lives from their alligator gumbo, prepared for the family by the men to parties featuring zydeco music and Cajun style dancing.

One theme that ties the episodes together is the swamp as provider and the importance of carrying on the tradition of alligator hunting to the next generation of swamp people.  The fathers felt confident that their sons would be able to carry on their legacy and pass it on to the next generation.

Swamp People captures a slice of Americana that most people will never see or experience.  For this reason alone, Swamp People earns an A rating.  It is a real gem of a show.

This is the 6th in a series of reviews on American reality shows.  To read the other reviews in the series, click the links below:

Chopped, Master Chef, American Chopper, American Pickers and Pawn Stars

Chopped in 329 Words

Chopped.  Four chefs.  3 rounds. 3 mystery baskets.  3 judges.  30 minutes to prepare a dish using every ingredient in a mystery basket, plus anything else from a well-stocked pantry.  One chef is eliminated after each round.  The loser told: “you have been chopped”, by host Ted Allen.

Some of the mystery ingredients are pretty obscure – pickled daikon, beef jerky, quahogs, and vanilla wafers, or some wacky combination like that.  Most of the time, a chef will say they’ve never cooked the thing before or have never heard of some ingredient.  So they have to prepare something fit for expert judges, who are the world’s toughest and one could argue pickiest, even winiest critics.  A chef could be chopped because he played it safe, or that the flavors didn’t quite pop – maybe the rice was too gooey or something.  One chef was eliminated for using water instead of stock to prepare risotto.  Others have been chopped for sloppy presentations and quite a few for simply failing to incorporate all the mystery ingredients.

And some chefs have been eliminated for sanitation slip ups.  One budding chef nearly bled to death – it happens quite often that someone slices open a finger and resorts to a latex glove band-aid that turns completely red by the end of the round.  Not exactly appetizing.  One chef was nearly eliminated for continually using his hand to brush back an unruly cowlick that kept falling in his face. Another double dipped – that is he tasted the food with a spoon and then put the very spoon back in the mix.  And the typical mistakes like overcooked beef and undercooked potatoes and indelicately plated food have proven to be many a chefs undoing.

The competition is fierce, the judging intense and the entertainment factor quite satisfying.  One of the better cooking shows.  Better than Iron Chef, Top Chef, MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen, though admittedly less dramatic.

Rating: B+

One in a series of reviews on TV shows of the reality variety.

American Chopper

This is the third installment of a 10 part review on American reality shows.

I’m not into motorcycles – never have been.  Choppers are kind of cool though.  When I think of a chopper, I’m reminded of the classic 60’s film, Easy Rider.  Despite the coolness of a chopper, I never intended to get hooked on a show about a bike shop that makes custom choppers.  Like many successful reality shows, the appeal of  American Chopper for me anyway is not the bike building so much as the interaction between the people who make them, especially the stars of the show, the owner, Paul Teutul, Sr. and his two sons; one a builder himself, Paul Teutul, Jr. and Mikey, a budding comic and artist whose role is comic relief.

Paul Senior or just Senior as he’s called in the shop is a legendary chopper builder who grew Orange County Choppers into a successful business.  He’s a body builder who looks strikingly similar to Hulk Hogan.  A lot of what airs on the show is Senior yelling and criticizing his son Junior for not working hard enough or long enough.  The constant carping wears on Junior who fires back with barbed quips.  The two seem to be in constant competition.  In fact, the latest series is called Senior vs. Junior: American Chopper.  The other guys in the shop mostly stay out of it all, but occasionally play along.  All enjoy a good practical joke.

Anyone into motorcycles might find the fabricating interesting – from custom made handle bars, exhaust pipes and gas tanks to the artistic detailing on all the bike components.    The bikes are generally commissioned by businesses but sometimes donated or built to support charity causes and unveiled at the end of each episode to great fanfare.  Overall, the process of building and unveiling is a compelling and entertaining experience. But it is the human drama that unfolds between the three stars that is the most fascinating to watch.  At times, their interactions are intense, even disturbing.  But there are lighter moments, that are quite often hilarious.  American Chopper, a real family, a real business and real good show – the real deal.

Rating:  A-

Pawn Stars

It’s hard to imagine pawn brokers as stars, but on the History Channel, they are – that is on the show, Pawn Stars. I’ve never been to a pawn shop before, but have peered into the window of one to find a depressing array of used furniture, musical instruments and bad art. I really had no interest in watching a show about the typical workday of a pawn broker so I kept passing Pawn Stars up when channel surfing until one day. I don’t know why I tuned in, but I did, and I have to say the show caught my attention. It wasn’t so much the transactions that intrigued me, compelling as they were, you know, a guy brings in some rare Pete Rose baseball cards and they turn out to be a fakes and so on. What the show really has going for it are the pawn brokers themselves whose business the show chronicles. I have to say, they are entertaining – funny, sarcastic, unpredictable, silly and always educational. It’s a cross between Antiques Roadshow, All in the Family and Street Customs.  What characters! There’s the “Old Man” who started the business, his son Rick and his son, Corey, “Big Hoss” along with family friend Chumlee, who plays the part of the store clown.  Corey and Chumlee are forever making mistakes – buying stuff at inflated prices that could never sell, like a hot air ballon and a power kite they got tangled up in telephone wires.  One of my favorite blunders was when Rick acquired a Dylan album and asked Chumlee to find Dylan in Vegas and have him sign it.  Chumlee miraculously ran into Dylan and had him sign it to Chumlee.  Rick was furious when he found out, because he would not be able to sell the record with a personalized autograph, and in disgust gifted the LP to Chumlee, to Chumlee’s great delight.

Maybe some of the scenes are staged, but they are fun to watch. And occasionally people bring stuff in that the Pawn Stars have professionally appraised by their expert friends who shed light on the items, which sometimes have significant historical value, unlike most of what is picked up on American Pickers.  Fun show.

Rating: A-

Second in a multi-part series of reviews about American reality shows.

MasterChef Review

Did you watch the reality show Masterchef?  Yes, another cooking competition, as if there weren’t enough already.  Let’s see, there’s Top Chef, Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, Iron Chef, BBQ Pitmasters and dozens of others if you include the lineup on the Food Network.

MasterChef is another one of those Gordon Ramsay concoctions on the Fox network.  His mug is everywhere and he seems to be quite popular, not to mention successful with a string of world class restaurants all over the globe.   MasterChef is like a cross between Survivor, Chopped and Hell’s Kitchen without all the theatrics.   The purpose of the show is to find the best amateur chef in America.  The chefs cook for Ramsay and two other judges.  Along the way, the chefs are given challenges and find themselves cooking for guests from the culinary world – critics, chefs, restaurateurs and the like.   One by one, the contestants are eliminated until the champion is left standing.

The first season of MasterChef featured teachers, students, bartenders,  software engineers, a doctor and a construction worker.  In the end, Whitney, a 22 year old student from Mississippi won.  She was clearly a Ramsay favorite from the beginning.  She specialized in pastry and good ole down home southern style cooking with a sprinkle of Cajun influence.  That someone so young could cook so well with such skill was a bit of a shock to Ramsay.  He was truly impressed with her culinary gift.  The runner up was David, a software engineer from Boston.  Both seemed highly skilled as if they had worked in the industry for years or had attended a first class culinary institute.  That they were amateurs was truly amazing.

Ramsay is much better behaved and civilized on MasterChef.  There’s no kicking the waste bin, no “shut it down”, “you donkey”, or intimidating in your face “get a grip” moments.  He’s critical, but constructive, firm but encouraging.

Though I liked the show, I have some suggestions for the next season.  One, there are too many contestants.  I’d audition maybe 20 and pick 10 for the show.  Second, I’d be careful to screen out anyone with culinary school experience, or those who had worked as a chef before; maybe they did, I don’t know,  but it is important for the contestants to really be amateur chiefs.

I liked the judging format, but I think Ramsay may have had too much influence.  My gut is that the other two judges preferred David’s food based on their reaction to the final cook-off.  David, however, made the mistake of preparing a Beef Wellington, Ramsay’s signature dish, and not cooking it to “puhfection”.  He also served an appetizer that had too much jalepeño juice for Ramsay though the other judges loved it.  Whitney’s main dish was a simple 7 minute pan fried chicken over a bed of greens.  With 15 minutes or so to go, she dropped her fried chicken on the floor and had to make another one in just 7 minutes time.  With seconds to spare, she plated the chicken, not knowing whether it was cooked through.  Ramsay warned that if the chicken was pink, they could not eat it.  And it was not pink; it was “puhfectly” cooked.

All 3 judges cast a vote for a winner, but my guess is that Gordon’s vote was the one that counted.