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Review: 'Top Chef Masters'

June 9, 2009 |  9:00 pm

The knives are out -- but at least they're in nobody's back.

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Reality television gets a lot of mileage out of bad behavior; framed as comedy or drama, strife is the fuel on which it runs. ("Coming up! Something awful!") Over the last week and a half, for instance, NBC has been making hay from the hash that narcissist-provocateurs Spencer and Heidi Pratt have made, or attempted to make, of "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!," its bungle-in-the-jungle survival contest. That the pair are trouble is what makes them valuable to the network, which has worked hard to keep them on board, even though the sensible thing, in "real life," would be to keep them away.

Like many other reality TV stars, the Pratts -- who got famous on "The Hills," MTV's semi-nonfictional version of "That Girl" -- inhabit a world where notoriety, indeed the mere luck to be noticed, passes for accomplishment. But there is another sort of reality television that celebrates actual excellence, although -- as in "Project Runway" and "Top Chef" -- it often surrounds that celebration with boasting, backbiting and interpersonal discord.

I am that perhaps odd duck who thinks that amity, cooperation and achievement at no one else's expense can be exciting to watch. Indeed, it seems to me that television, scripted and unscripted -- postscripted might be a better word -- is far too heavily invested in manufactured, or at least artificially enhanced, conflict and crisis. And so I find “Top Chef Masters,” a spinoff of "Top Chef" that premieres tonight on Bravo, a real mental vacation. A thing of pure delight, it takes all the ego out of the equation and leaves only the art.

Read the entire review.

-- Robert Lloyd

Photo: Tim Love, left, and Christopher Lee battle it out on the collegial “Top Chef Masters.”  Credit: Bravo

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