Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Kitchen Nightmares" Cooks Up Unbelievable Stew

Fox Edition of Gordon Ramsay Screamfest Should Take A Lesson From Its BBC Cousin and Give Viewers A Little Credit

The Americanized version of "Kitchen Nightmares" on Fox last night was alternately entertaining and annoying, not to mention sloppy.

The show is chef/demigod Gordon Ramsay's latest incursion on this side of the pond, adapting another one of his wildly successful program -- available on these shores on BBC America -- for a U.S. audience eager to see him snarling at hapless victims of their own ineptitude.
The premise is that Ramsay visits a restaurant failing on its own merits, be they bad food, decor, managerial incompetence or all of the above, and spends a week trying to take it off life support.
Through cajoling, bullying and artful editing, Ramsay is almost always able to reverse the restaurant's fortunes (there was the occasional unhappy ending) after a massive overhaul of food and attitude.
The British version largely leaves Ramsay to his own devices, with the cameras rolling, of course. He even does his own voiceovers. But Fox is having none of that.
Anonymous announcer lets us know what's happening, on the assumption that we're too stupid to figure it out. Then the show ladles on portentous music underneath to reinforce that notion.

Still, the show manages to keep you watching, if only because Ramsay makes for a delicious juxtaposition with the clueless owners, in this case a family that is running its Italian joint out on Long Island into the ground.
But if ever there was a show to dispel the notion that so-called reality TV is meant to give you a fly-on-the-wall look at its subjects, "Kitchen Nightmares" blithely disposes of such illusions.

Item: Most of the kitchen equipment is broken, which is why the chef often resorts to serving pre-cooked frozen dishes. One night, Ramsay's elves gut the kitchen and replace it with brand-new equipment that must have cost six figures.
Item: The show opens with Ramsay descending the steps at the Babylon train station to be picked up by one of the owners, who's 45 minutes late. Yeah, one of the world's leading chefs took the Long Island Railroad. Right.
Item: How does a restaurant devoid of reservations all of a sudden have people pouring in the door? They don't, at least not without a little help. Through the wonders of TiVo, you can read a disclaimer at the end, that the show "may" have helped some patrons pay for a portion of their meals. May?
Item: Another disclaimer says that scenes may have been shown out of the order in which they were filmed. Which would explain a lot.
Item: "Bill collectors" keep showing up while cameras are rolling. Is that a euphemism for something more knee-cappingly sinister? Or is it some of the owner's goomba buddies looking for their 15 minutes. Just asking.

And the producers were asleep at the switch during post-production. At one point, announcer guy tells us it's 11:45, just before lunch service, yet the caption at the bottom of the screen tells us it's 11:45 p.m. Later on, we're told it's 5:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the restaurant opens for dinner. But a few minutes later it's 6:55 p.m., five minutes before it opens. Which means it's time to be terribly confused.

Still, we should be long since past the point where we should be shocked, SHOCKED! that reality-TV shows are not what they appear to be. Which is why you can still enjoy "Kitchen Nightmares" on its own dubious terms.
Ramsay, for all his bombast, is still an immensely watchable guide through a restaurant's seamy underbelly.
Just don't necessarily take what you see at face value, especially next week's episode, which has spawned a lawsuit by the former general manager of the restaurant in question, who claims Ramsay faked scenes and hired actors as customers.

It's not the first time Ramsay has been accused of this, but it should be noted he won a libel suit against the British paper that made the allegation.
Whatever. All you have to is watch the show and be glad you're not on the receiving end of his spit as he gets in someone else's face.

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