I hope you had a relaxing holiday break full of good things to eat and watch. Winter 2018 is already shaping up to be a good season for food TV. I’ve got a few recommendations for what to watch this weekend down below, but first, it’s time to delve into one of the shows that’s shaking things up this month.
A new kind of TV kitchen on The Chi
Lena Waithe, the actor/writer/producer behind Master of None’s game-changing episode “Thanksgiving,” has a new endeavor that’s much bigger in scope, but feels just as fresh. The Chi tells the story of a half dozen people on the south side of Chicago who are connected through a web of romantic entanglements, family ties, and dalliances into criminal activity. It’s a compelling show right out the gate, full of characters that you want to learn more about. Brandon, a prep cook at a trendy downtown restaurant, is arguably the most endearing denizen of the neighborhood.
In the pilot, Brandon gets a shot at working the line at the restaurant. The promotion would bring him one step closer to fulfilling his dream of someday opening a place of his own with his girlfriend, Jerrika. Due to an unexpected turn of events, Brandon’s audition couldn’t come at a worse time for him, but his boss is sympathetic and offers him the opportunity to take the day off. It’s a nice gesture, but Brandon chooses to work through his anguish. It’s clear from the pilot that many of the big changes in his life will start in the kitchen.
Like “Thanksgiving,” one of the big themes of The Chi is people embracing new identities that their friends and family don’t completely understand. When Brandon volunteers to look after his teenage half-brother, Coogie, he decides to make him a “PB & J” sandwich for lunch with a few embellishments he has lying around the house. When his little bro asks him what the heck he was just served, Brandon explains: “It’s pork belly and apple jelly. Just culture yourself — trust me.” His mother is similarly skeptical of his new calling. When Brandon arrives home after a day of work, his mom asks him: “You still washing dishes, or they let you sweep the floors now?” Without missing a beat, Brandon replies: “I had a great day, thanks for asking.”
Many movies and TV shows depict kitchens as caustic environments where the protagonists must take their lumps from pompous, egotistical chefs before they can get ahead in the game. But throughout the pilot of The Chi, the kitchen is portrayed as a place where Brandon has opportunities to learn, grow, and even cope with the forces outside the restaurant that he can’t control. If the first episode is any indication, Waithe and her crew are introducing a new kind of kitchen to the TV landscape — and the timing couldn’t be better.
Streaming recommendations du jour
Jonathan Prime / Netflix
Black Mirror, “Hang the DJ”
Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: This is the episode of Netflix’s spooky sci-fi series that everyone’s talking about right now, and for a good reason: It presents a terrifying and occasionally hilarious alternate version of the online dating world. One of my favorite details of the futuristic hellscape is the completely trendy, but utterly soulless design of the restaurant where the couples meet. The guests never order anything, but the dishes automatically arrive at the table a few minutes after they sit down. The food is pretty and decent enough, but nobody gets a chance to enjoys any of it. Basically, what we have here is a dystopian version of an Eater Heatmap restaurant. This is where all the dates start, and toward the end of the episode, it’s where an escape plan is hatched.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
The gist: Gillian Robespierre’s dramedy about Manhattan family in the midst of a crisis doesn’t have quite the same bite as her first film, Obvious Child. But if you’re a fan of ’90s nostalgia and the comedic stylings of Jenny Slate, this is definitely worth a spin. In a smart homage to an overused trope of Clinton-era rom-coms, the family visits a teppanyaki restaurant where the chef slings a sizzling shrimp at the dad (played by John Turturro), but the theatrics fail to delight or distract the crew from their collective dilemma. Landline also includes a few scenes set in pot-smoke-filled East Village bars, a house party where Slate’s character downs Zima, and a Halloween parade where the sisters dress up as the world’s most famous singing, dancing pieces of fruit, the California Raisins.
Watch it on: HBO Go/Now
The gist: Nearly 14 years after its release, Sideways is still Alexander Payne’s best film. It’s a movie that deftly pokes fun at the world of wine connoisseurship while also showing that oenophiles are often searching for more than just elusive flavors and a good buzz on their journeys through the vineyards and tasting rooms. Previously, Sideways was only available to rent on Amazon Video, Google Play, and iTunes, but now you can stream it anytime if you have a subscription to HBO.
And in other news...
- A new show called Ridiculous Cakes made its Food Network premiere on Monday. The title tells you everything you need to know. Omnipresent Food Network personality Alton Brown provides the narration for this parade of jimmies and fondant.
- And speaking of the Food Network, the cable titan added a bunch of its programs to Hulu earlier this week, including seasons of The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Beat Bobby Flay.
- Seasons one through nine of Jerry Seinfeld’s highly entertaining web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee are available on Netflix starting today. Seinfeld’s latest batch of conversations — including a drive with the late Jerry Lewis — will be added to the Netflix library sometime later this year.
- The Oceans 8 trailer has a cameo from much-loved NYC Ukrainian diner Veselka.
- The Star Wars team went to great lengths to make sure that Luke Skywalker’s mutant milk cow looked as realistic as possible in The Last Jedi.
- And finally, on one last Star Wars note, it appears that moviegoers around the world keep wanting to eat the adorable Porgs that inhabit the island where Skywalker has been hiding out all these years. If you have this impulse — as Chewbacca does — just know that scientists think that urge is totally normal and healthy.
Happy watching this weekend, and remember, if you order a cheese pizza, it’s fine to leave the leftovers on the counter overnight if you keep the box closed.