PremiereWatch: The lights go out on 'Hell's Kitchen'

Colleen_hellskitchen_s5_240 We were told at the beginning of the Hell's Kitchen premiere that the field this year was the strongest, most competitive, ever. Boy, do I hope that's right, last year we had some real stinkers in the competition. I'm just not sure I can take it if this year's crop isn't better than last year's.

Interestingly, the premiere didn't start with the same silly Ramsay-in-makeup ploy we got last season or even a similarly-themed event. Instead, the 16 contestants were announced while sitting there in the restaurant with a whole bunch more finalists present. From there it was straight to the "signature dish" challenge. Nice and simple way to open, I liked it.

Amazingly, Ramsay enjoyed the first dish he tried, Carol's. Wil was next, and while the food was sloppy, Ramsay liked the taste. And then the third contestant, Ji, also was complemented. At that point, I was worried, very worried. I thought that maybe Ramsay had eaten enough bad food and spewed enough venom during Kitchen Nightmares that he just didn't have it in him anymore. And then, slowly but surely, the tasting went downhill until we reached Colleen, an untrained chef who teaches others to cook. Ramsay was, as expected, rude to her. He wasn't terribly rude, he certainly wasn't Ramsay-level rude, but he was rude. Her response was none too smart -- she informed Ramsay that she also teaches manners. It was like she wanted to be eliminated right then and there. I certainly would have canned her.

When Ramsay didn't, I became even more concerned. Sure, he might have threatened to fire the next guy, Seth, who laughed when Ramsay suggested that his honey-laced ratatouille was the worst thing he'd ever eaten. It was actually Seth who Ramsay threatened to eliminate then and there. Really? Him and not the lady who threatened to teach Ramsay manners?

Okay, that was truly odd, but not as odd as one contestant, Lacey, suggesting that she was quitting the contest while everyone was prepping for dinner service. I guess she didn't feel the sort of team camaraderie she expected to receive from the folks who were fighting against her to win the contest. She eventually came back to the kitchen, but almost instantly got into a fight with another chef, Coi. Coi didn't seem like she had her head screwed on quite right, but what with Lacey's previous performance I'm putting the blame squarely on her shoulders, not Coi's.

Giovanni and Carol were placed in the dining room during service tonight, which is something that usually doesn't happen during the premiere. Frankly, it's great that the show seems to be changing things up this season, the old routine was definitely getting stale last year.

And dinner service? Dinner service went about as you'd expect -- it was a total and complete disaster. Ramsay didn't get the response he wanted when he called out orders, chefs couldn't be bothered to cook food properly, that sort of thing. The best moment may have been when Lacey couldn't figure out why her oven wasn't making food hot and it turned out that the gas wasn't on.

Nah, the best moment was when Colleen opted to change Ramsay's recipe. She threw some mascarpone cream cheese into the "spaghetti of lobster" despite the fact that the cheese wasn't an ingredient in the recipe. I have to imagine that at that point Ramsay was wishing that he had fired her for the manners thing.

What exactly do you think was going through her head? Did she imagine that her brilliant addition was going to make Ramsay fall in love with her? Well, she later decided to cook a new order of spaghetti in a dirty pan and then used sugar instead of salt in the risotto, so I'm guessing that she's just not that smart.

Okay, okay, that wasn't the best moment. The best moment was when some of the lights turned out and everyone kept cooking anyway. I should probably put "cooking" in quotes, but they were certainly doing a reasonable facsimile of it (the ovens were still good to go and the food was getting hot), right up until all the lights went out. At that point, Carol out in the dining room proceeded to liquor up her customers until the power came back on.

I know you'll find this an amazing surprise, but eventually tables started to get up and leave before they got served. At that point, Ramsay shut the kitchen down (see, this is still the show we know and love even if they're doing some things differently this year).

After service, Ramsay told both teams they were equally poor, so he chose the winning squad based on Carol and Giovanni's approval ratings. Liquoring up the guests paid off (Giovanni's incompetence didn't help the men) and the men were sent upstairs to decide on whom they would nominate for elimination. Wil, who was incompetent on the garnish was one nominee, but the rest of the team decided that Seth was the "first" nominee. Seth had proven himself to be all-around goofy, incompetent, and semi-delusional about his abilities. While Wil offered himself instantly as the first nominee during the men's discussions, he figured it would win him some respect, the tactic didn't pay off. As Gordon explained, Wil didn't have the will. He was sent home.

I have two questions tonight. First, was the blackout a setup or do you think it was truly beyond the producers' control? Second, do you think, from what we've seen thus far, that we actually are looking at a stronger bunch of contestants this year?

The TV and Film Guy's Reviews - just because we can stand the heat doesn't mean we won't get out of the fire.

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