Contagion & The Magic of Better Call Saul

Contagion – A movie rarely gets better with age. When Contagion, first came out, it was easy to dismiss. This could not happen here, right? I mean Steven Soderbergh is off his rocker.

I finally got around to watching Contagion and not only it is excellent, it is extremely harrowing. The movie does give the worst version of this virus and the worst version of people’s reactions to the virus. IT is certainly not as bad as COVID-19. It is the similarities and the understanding of how globalization can make this disease possible that help this movie shine.

Contagion Trailer

The first twenty minutes are some of the best and most moving film I have seen this year. Soderbergh does such a good job of showing and cutting. He manages to tell a story of the outbreak and the players involved without it feeling overwhelming. He assumes his viewers are smart but not in need of a lecture. Soderbergh also fills his world with fascinating characters who respond differently to the situation. One reporter who lies about a cure and profits off of people’s pity. Another government official breaks protocol to keep his family safe. These are all very human and understandable, and makes you think about what is important in a crisis.

Many will want to avoid this movie as much as possible. If you can stomach it, this is a must watch. Even if you are unsure, there is something to be gained for everyone. Sometimes we watch things like Top Chef that make us feel comfortable and easy. Sometimes we have to watch things that force us to expand our comfort zone. This is one of those movies, and I am imploring you now to watch it. A

You’ve heard of the Cayman Islands right? Jesus!

Kim Wexler, S5 E9

I did not start watching Breaking Bad until this year. I loved the show, but something felt a bit off. It was just more basic than I was expecting. I expected the show to be exceptionally subversive, instead what I got was bringing the anti-hero to its logical conclusion. It is an excellent show, but I left wanting more.

Spoiler Alert! Do not watch the video if you do not want to have spoilers.

As a result, I went into Better Call Saul with low expectations. Breaking Bad left me a bit unsatisfied, so I did not that a prequel would be any better. I had heard good things, but just did not think the show could be any different or any better than Breaking Bad. As a character, I was not that attached to Saul Goodman to begin with. I just found him to be lacking at times, especially for a comic relief character. I assumed the prequel would be a bad attempt at a spinoff at best. By some miracle, Better Call Saul managed to not just avoid that, but become one of the best TV shows ever. It turned Jimmy/Saul/Gene into one of the most tragic figures on Television. It created new characters that are more captivating than some of the best from the original show, and added depth to characters from the old show in ways that help you understand them better. The show is a miracle, and in its fifth season, it became better than its predecessor.

The show has to not only defy expectations but truly revolutionize the idea of the antihero. Walter White became incredibly hard to root for, especially after the second season. The other characters were excellent, but Walter was never hard for me to root against. Jimmy/Saul is so much harder to root against. He is so charming and funny, and his anger become understandable early on. It also becomes hard to root against other characters. The show suggests that everyone in Walter’s orbit breaks bad, and it makes their fate that much harder to watch.

It also manages to weave in new characters who are just as if not more compelling than there older counterparts. Lalo, Nacho, and Kim Wexler add new twists and excitement to a show that should be spoiler-proof. What happens to these characters become a reason to watch and become the most thrilling parts of the show. Kim especially, as she becomes Jimmy/Saul’s equal. I have never cared for a fictional character more than I care for Kim. It is easy to understand why she acts the way she does, and the inevitable downfall that is coming makes it all the more painful.

Many will still not want to watch a show about a lawyer, no matter how much they loved Breaking Bad. Regardless of how much you liked Breaking Bad, you owe it to yourself to watch Better Call Saul. It has taken the blueprint of Breaking Bad and turned it into a masterpiece of television.

Top Chef S17 E11 – Champagne Padma and Killer Melissa

This week saw Champagne Padma came out in full force.

Champagne Padma is a queen we do not deserve. When the world is no longer ending, can I fly with you? Please?

Outside of Padma’s drunkenness, In the quickfire challenge, the chef’s had to cook an airplane meal. Melissa won with cold tofu. She’s a wizard. Then in the elimination challenge they had to remake a dish from Michael’s Santa Monica, a famous restaurant known for inventing California Cuisine. Melissa won again with a Quail dish. With that, let’s dive right in!

Knives Packed

Brian Malarkey

Brian Malarkey | Top Chef

A wise man once said:

Courtesy of the Biden Campaign

It is sad to see Malarkey go! After landing in the middle of the quickfire, he got screwed. He got a veal loin/sweetbread dish with truffles. It is not a bad draw but he tried to make it two dishes on one plate. On top of that, his servers brought the food to the wrong table. Malarkey, who always seemed perkier than everyone else, was suddenly flustered.

That led to him losing his cool at judges’ table. He nearly volunteered himself out before Gregory talked him out of it. He knew he was going him, as it would have been unfair to eliminate Gregory because of how good he has been this competition. Since both were basically equally bad, they went with the worst chef, not the worst dish. It is unfortunate but he has been the wild card throughout this competition, so it is not surprising to see him go. It is impressive nearly made it to the finale. Bravo Brian Malarkey, thanks for the fun times.

Power Rankings

5. Stephanie Cmar

Stephanie Cmar | Top Chef

Stephanie had another good week, finishing in the top 2 in the elimination challenge. So why is she so low? This is an incredibly strong group, truly anyone’s game at this point. I have to believe that although she would be the frontrunner in a different season, she is probably the least likely to win.

That being said DO NOT SLEEP ON MY GIRL. She has shown that she has the chops to win. Her take on the asparagus agnolotti with scallops was delightful. This is coming off of her strong showing last week which won her a trip to the olympics.

She also the Champagne Padma quote. That is killer instinct right there! I love Stephanie and will pull for her for fan favorite if she cannot win the competition.

4. Kevin Gillespie

Top Chef's Kevin Gillespie Had Renal Cancer Before Season 17 ...

Kevin was in the top 3 throughout the season before falling on his sword. Getting back through an intense Last Chance Kitchen was impressive. He made a great dish and did what he had to do to move on. I want to put him back a bit just due to his absence from the competition. But again, a strong dish and a strong chef. Should fair well but this is anyone’s ballgame. Even the frontrunners have shown themselves to be vulnerable. This is what Top Chef is all about!

3. Gregory Gourdet

Gregory Gourdet | Top Chef

Gregory was the consensus number one for a bit now. Unfortunately he really dropped the ball this week. If he was in Judges’ Table with any other chef, he might have gone home.

He did not have a tough week last week but he struggled to crack the top for the first time in awhile. He finished in the bottom group for the second straight week. For that reason, he is below daddy Bry.

2. Bryan Voltaggio

TOP CHEF -- "It's Like They Never Left!" Episode 1701 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jennifer Carroll, Melissa King, Joe Sasto, Jamie Lynch, Kevin Gillespie, Bryan Voltaggio -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo)

Daddy Bry has been on a slow roll this season. But he seems to be finding his groove. Three weeks in a row with one elimination challenge win and one finish in the winner’s circle.

The preview for next week’s episode tried to sell the fact that he would probably be the next to go home. However, knowing what I know now without having watched that, he is a strong chef and heating up at the right time. Daddy Bry might just have a few more tricks up his sleeve.

1. Melissa King

Melissa King | Top Chef

I called her the Ned Stark of the competition. This week, she was unimpeachable. She absolutely killed it in both challenges. What she lacks in competitive fire, she makes up for with pure talent and ease. The coolest customer is moving onto the finale, and is in a great spot to win it all. Just remember to play the game Melissa and this is your season to win!

Fan Favorite Moment

Champagne Padma – Stephanie gets all the credit for coining this.


Until next week!

Top Chef Week 10: Olympics Edition

Last week’s episode of Top Chef was an Olympic theme. I, too, am old enough to remember when we were supposed to have the Olympic games. Melissa won a blindfolded dessert Quickfire challenge, and Stephanie took home the elimination challenge and tickets to the Olympics with an ingenious dessert. Karen was eliminated for a duck dish, and could not pull through in Last Chance Kitchen. Kevin Gillespie, came back in Last Chance Kitchen and re-entered the competition.

Knives Packed

Karen Akunowicz – Although the name Karen became a meme online during this season, Karen bucked the trend. A terrific chef and take no prisoners competitor, she was told to pack her knives and go for a second time this season. She was sent to Last Chance Kitchen once and came out on the other side. Now, she has been sent home again for a good dish. It is disappointing to see her go, as I was rooting for her. Kevin beating her in Last Chance Kitchen is not necessarily surprising, but it still hurts to see her go. It is sad, but I am glad someone on TV could be the Karen we need in our world. Good work Karen! Where she’s from they call her chef too!

Power Rankings

6. Brian Malarkey

I am amazed that Malarkey has managed to make it this far, but he also deserves some credit. He has been able to use his front of house and business skills to make his way further than we expected, but he may be running out of tricks. He did not have a bad week, but it certainly could have gone better. He has only been on the winning end in Restaurant Wars, and has been in the bottom five times, including two weeks in a row. He is the wild card remaining, so it is not impossible that he can come back. I think this next week could be his last.

5. Stephanie Cmar

Stephanie had a huge week. It started at the beginning of the episode with a story about her brother. It was fan favorite material, and she cried through it with Gregory. While that kind of foreshadowing can go both ways, thankfully it went positively. In the blindfolded part of the elimination challenge, she was able to sniff and correctly guess the most ingredients. Even though she did not win, she absolutely killed it in the elimination challenge. Their challenge was to make a Kaiseki meal, and she made a panna cotta inside of a lemon. Did someone say “Chef’s kiss?” Kaiseki is abut simplicity and emphasis on nature. It is hard to nail the challenge as well as Stephanie.

So why is she so far back? Mainly because she has struggled throughout the competition. This week was her first elimination challenge win, and she has only won one other Quickfire. While she certainly has the capability to challenge for the Top spot, she still looks to be on the outside looking in.

4. Kevin Gillespie

We all knew Kevin would be back. After being in top 3 for most of the competition, he slipped up during Restaurant wars for making questionable decisions while running his restaurant. Those questionable decisions and weeks in Last Chance Kitchen are keeping him out of the top 3 for now, but I think Kevin should pick up right where he left off. Kevin is one of the strongest in the competition, and I think he is going to be dangerous as the competition continues.

3. Bryan Voltaggio

Daddy Bry is starting to find his groove. He moved through the middle for most of this season, but he has started to slowly pick it up. Elimination challenge win last week, and in the top again this week with a nice Kaiseki appetizer. Bryan has the chops for this competition. The question is whether he can beat out those around him.

2. Melissa King

Melissa is truly the Ned Stark of this competition. After winning the Quickfire she was given a huge advantage: she could pick not only the course she would be serving in a Kaiseki six-course meal, but what everyone else was responsible for. Instead of using this to her advantage, she gave everyone what they wanted. She went onto explain that she believed she wanted everyone to serve their best meal and that everyone could be judged fairly she would be okay with going home. This came after last week in the campfire challenge where she let everyone else stomp all over her for ingredients while she just took what was remaining and made a bad salad.

Melissa is one of the most talented chefs in the competition. She might even be the most talented this season. She is going to need to play the game if she wants to win. To quote Herm Edwards, “you play to win the game!” So play it! It comes with the territory.

  1. Gregory Gourdet

Greg had a rough week, but even his bad days are my good days. He continues to be the best in the competition, and is still a lock for me to make it to finale.I just want his jacket. Is that too much to ask?

Best Padma Look

Top to bottom Denim look. I am into it.

Fan Favorite Moment

Stephanie talking about her brother. To see her genuinely shaken by it in the morning and then killing both challenges after that. Just unreal. My pick at the moment.