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<i>Life After Top Chef</I>: A Depressing Dish

If you ever thought that being on a reality show (especially winning a reality show) was a quick way to get famous and ensure future success, just watch Life After Top Chef and consider that myth thoroughly busted. The new series, which premiered last night, is like an unscripted version of The L.A. Complex, minus the entertainment value. The show follows former Top Chef contestants Fabio Viviani, Richard Blais, Spike Mendelsohn and Jen Carroll as they try to parlay their 15 minutes of fame into restaurants and other businesses to varying degrees of success. But after one hour, I already feel caught up enough on their lives and annoying personalities that I don't need to follow them for a full season.

Let's start off with Fabio, since he's arguably the most visible cheftestant ever, what with his commercials and other media appearances. He's still working his Italian charm and thick accent and talking about how his marriage broke up because the restaurant business is hard... or at least that seems to be the story he's sticking to, instead of, say, the fact that women constantly throw themselves at him. There was an odd bit where he talked about how his father-in-law had invested in his business, but then Fabio had to buy it back after the divorce. The details were unclear and quickly glossed over.

In addition to having a couple of restaurants up and running, he and his brother (a mini-Fabio if there ever was) also teach cooking classes, which are less classes and more presentations where women can swoon as he throws things in pretty dishes. But the large group of women we saw crammed in to see him cook didn't seem to mind shelling out cash for the privilege of sitting in a room where he's doing as much cooking as someone on the Food Network. He seems to be trying to position himself as the next Emeril, but he's still forced to work the room and schmooze nearly constantly, promising people that he'll retweet their events, products, etc.

Then there's Spike, who may not be the most talented chef on the planet, but he sure knows how to make some money. He's apparently raking in dough, still completely disgusting and lazy and now working with his family at his chain of Good Stuff restaurants, which look like a more upscale version of Five Guys. I don't want to knock anyone's business, but it definitely looks more fast food than fine dining and he's serving up burgers and fries. Even at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival, where all four chefs congregated at the end of the episode for a mini-reunion of sorts, he served up fish and chips -- he seemed like he couldn't care less about food, saying that he's in America and doesn't feel the need to serve up crazy cuisine and just gives the people what they want. He also suggested that Jen pose for Playboy to garner more investors, and, well, let's just say that seems like a bad idea for such a large variety of reasons.

On the Richard side of things, that dude is just like one big ball of stress. His marriage is clearly crumbling, or at least not going well, as his wife doesn't seem to understand why he spends a lot of time at the restaurant. I'm pretty sure that Spike could give her a quick lesson in economics and that might be better than couple's therapy. Anyway, Richard's trying to balance a busy restaurant load (he actually cares about the quality, not the quantity, of food) with his two small kids and wife (who isn't even thankful they have a nanny) and having a really hard time of it. He seemed on the verge of tears throughout most of the episode, and you just wish that the guy could get a nap somewhere quiet for a few hours. It would do him a world of good.

Even more depressing is Jen, who still seems like a difficult, humorless person, so it's not a wonder she's landed where she is. She doesn't have the people skills of Spike or Fabio, and doesn't have the Top Chef: All-Stars title that Blais has. She got in trouble with her boss Eric Ripert when she returned from All-Stars after having her appalling hissy fit about being sent home early (still classy, even in replay). She then worked for him for a bit before quitting to start her own place. Ripert advised her to get her investors firmed up before leaving her day job, but because she's an egomaniac who couldn't wait to get her own name on a restaurant, she didn't listen and is now unemployed. She has no business, doesn't want to work for someone else (as that would be demeaning) and doesn't have the social graces to get new investors. She's yet to arrive at the humble place and still just seems bitter about the success of those around her. So she's miserable, which is no fun at all to watch... unless you like to see people suffer, in which case, just watch the parts with her.

As a show, Life After Top Chef really only worked when the four chefs were together, and even though they weren't competing, there was definitely a dick-measuring vibe in the air, along with mutual resentment and awkward camaraderie. But the show should have just been a one-off episode, or if it had to be a series, it should've spotlighted different chefs each week, or just have focused on Fabio, who seems to have a balance of positive and negative happening in his life. But as it stands, I'd rather watch another season of the dull but competent Top Chef Masters instead of sitting through more of this.

What did you think of the show? Sound off in the comments below.

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