Iron Chefs

I caught a few minutes of Iron Chef America last week. While the original Japanese Iron Chef is hilarious because of its unintentional over-the-top campiness, the American version was just odd. It felt like a weird transliteration that just wasn’t working right.

The set, lighting, and camera work is almost identical, and the format is the same as the original, but the humour is lost when everyone is speaking English very seriously instead of sounding like bad dub jobs done by moonlighting TV weather guys. It’s particularly disturbing to see the chefs putting together gargantuan plates of meat and other hefty-boy dishes when we’re used to seeing them working with eggs, fish, delicate vegetables, and lots of perfumy liquid.

Still, it was fun to watch. The theme ingredient was buffalo. (Yes, buffalo!) Frankly, the resulting dishes did not look particularly interesting, but that’s probably because the Iron Chef node of my brain was expecting tiny bowls of odd seafood parts artistically decorated with painstakingly prepared little shreds of things and lightly adorned with tiny drops of endangered sauces applied just so.

In the meantime, Carl, the Big Fool, has prepared an hilarious review of how some well-known non-Asian TV chefs might fare on Iron Chef America.

Reason to listen to CBC Radio #234:

People like to joke that all Hollywood movie previews are done by the same production crew, using the same earnest but formulaic narrator:

In a time…
When [situation that describes a norm…]
One [man/woman]…
[Behaviour that defies the norm]…

This reminds me of how TV shows used to begin in the 60s and 70s. Back then, advertising was important, but not to the extent it is now, so they were not always trying to squeeze every second of advertising time in where ever they could. As a result, TV shows took a couple of minutes to begin (unlike today’s 5-15 seconds).

A show would begin with some bad and too loud orchestrated music made worse because it was blaring through a cheap two-inch speaker on the front of the ol’ Philco-Ford television. Then some stern but enthusiastic-sounding man’s voice (and it seemed to be the same man for every TV show) announced the name of the show:

The FBI!

Behind the voiceover you would see fuzzy images of men in hats (60s) or loud shirts (70s) chasing bad guys and smoking cigarettes. The music would continue to blare and the announcer would say “Starring…” and would list the star’s names while their images appeared, looking either heroic and intense, or kicked-back and smiling (from having caught the bad guy). There would be three or four stars, and then there would be the “guest stars.”

I figured out that a “guest star” was basically a B-grade television actor who couldn’t get a regular gig on a series, yet was known enough to be able to make the rounds on a per-episode basis, showing up as a bank robber on one show, a DA or maybe a crime victim on another, and so on. Often there would be one “special guest star” but I could never figure out what made them so special.

By the time they cycled through all the stars’ and guest stars’ names, and showed various men in hats or loud shirts driving big cars on big California roads while chasing bad guys and smoking cigarettes, several minutes had passed.

One of my favorite shows of this era was “The FBI” (1965-74) starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. I liked it because it taught me that all American federal agents are virtuous, and because I loved to hear the stern but enthusiastic man say “Starring Efrem Zimbalist Junior!” I couldn’t even imagine how such a name would have come about, or even how you would spell it. It was the most insane name I had ever heard in the eight or so years I had been alive.

I thought it was particularly nuts because if he was Efrem Zimbalist Junior then there must be an Efrem Zimbalist Senior out there. My God, two of them! At some point I decided the name must be fake, some kind of nom de tube, because by then I had learned that nobody in Hollywood uses his or her real name. The “junior,” I decided, must be an affectation (another word I couldn’t then spell).

Tonight, however, I was listening to CBC Radio late night classical music in the background and I’ll be damned if the announcer didn’t talk about some piece of work having once been interpreted by the famous violinist “Efrem Zimbalist” (no junior). So I Googled around a bit and discovered that Junior is indeed the son of Senior, and that Junior was a known film and TV actor since long before “The FBI.” Apparently, junior has spawned another, Efrem Zimbalist III, who works as a high-falutin’ publishing executive.

Reason to have a blog #462:

So you can write about such utterly useless trivia and maintain the mistaken belief that by doing so you make it somewhat useful.

So what’s with Billy Idol

So what’s with Billy Idol on Letterman the other night? A million years ago I was a big fan of the blond one–well, at least a big fan of a handful of songs–but what’s he doing now? Did he have new material to show? Not! He stood on the well-lit glittery stage with his perpetual sidekick Steve Stevens, the twister-haired guitarist, and played the very old Rebel Yell.

It was so lame. It’s very hard to be energetic on a small TV studio stage, and the sound wasn’t fuzzed up or anything. Low volume, no bass to speak of. It was like watching the Donny Osmond version.

I thought back to a road trip I took in 1986, when I was a student at St. Francis Xavier University, in the one-horse college town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Billy Idol was playing in Halifax, about a 2.5 hour drive away. My buddy Ken, drove up from Sydney in his Camaro (another 2.5 hours). We had a few beers and then headed for Halifax.

When you hear the music you make a dip
Into someone else’s pocket then make a slip
Steal a car and go to Las Vegas oh, the gigolo pool

I don’t remember much about the show except for the bit when Steve Stevens lit into the big guitar solo in Eyes Without a Face–it was great. The rest was so-so, partly because Idol’s voice was shot from too much rebel yelling. I think I enjoyed it at the time, but only later did I realize I hadn’t enjoyed it as much as I thought I had.

I’m on a bus on a psychedelic trip
Reading murder books tryin’ to stay hip

After the show we had a few beers somewhere and then drove back to Antigonish. (Things were different then.) Ken slept on my sofa and headed back to Sydney the next day. A few months later he crashed his Camaro when he hit a patch of gravel on a turn while racing with a buddy in another car. The Camaro skidded off the road, flipped a few times, sending Ken flying out the window, and finally T-boned itself into a pole, folding it in half. Miraculously, Ken only had a few scratches. The man is blessed. He can also eat like a horse and never gain weight.

I’m thinkin’ of you you’re out there so
Say your prayers

I couldn’t sit through Billy Idol on Letterman, so I flipped around and eventually found Bill Mahar’s Politically Incorrect, which allowed me the surreal experience of watching former Prime Minister Kim Campbell and Jimmy Walker of Good Times fame (“Dy-no-mite!”) sitting side by side spewing liberal conservatism. Screw that, I turned it all off and hit the sheets.