My "Freaks and Geeks" DVDs returned in the mail today (thanks, Gayle!), but before I get to seriously analyzing, say, the impact of substituting "Running with the Devil" for "You Really Got Me," I want to say a few words about a more recent ratings casualty: "Kitchen Confidential." A few weeks ago, I Netflix'ed and wrote about the unaired episodes of "Kidnapped," and I'd like to do more of that over the summer, when the time and the appropriate title presents itself ("Day Break" seems an obvious candidate if/when it comes out, or if I feel motivated enough to watch the remaining episodes online).
That feels more fun to me than finding something to say about "The Closer" or "Heartland" (though you can read my pan of that in yesterday's column), or even "Big Love." I wrote a column a few years ago about how the TV-on-DVD phenomenon means you never have to watch shows you don't care about; it also means I don't have to blog about shows that make me ambivalent at best.
Anyway, on to "Kitchen Confidential," as I try to adapt the Pilot Watch format to this Netflix idea...
What it was about: A master chef who's also a recovering alcoholic and notorious womanizer and troublemaker is given one last chance to run his own restaurant. Adapted (loosely) from the life and memoirs of Anthony Bourdain
Who was in it: Bradley Cooper as "Jack" Bourdain, Owain Yeoman as his criminal second-in-command, Nicholas Brendon as the pastry chef, Bonnie Somerville as the owner's daughter/head waitress, John Francis Daley as a virginal rookie chef from Utah; Jamie King as the hot but ditzy hostess. In recurring roles: John Cho (who was supposed to be a regular but had movie commitments) as the fish expert, Frank Langella as the owner, Sam Pancake as a waiter and Erinn Hayes as another sous-chef.
Why it worked: It was no "Arrested Development" (which served as its lead-in and killed any chance it had of succeeding), but it had a confident, farcical tone that made it my second-favorite new sitcom of the fall '05 season (after "How I Met Your Mother" and ahead of early "My Name Is Earl" and "Everybody Hates Chris"). The writers took advantage of the fairly novel setting (for sitcoms, anyway) with storylines about stolen recipes, cooking school traumas and the tension between the wait staff and the kitchen staff when it comes to tipping. A very good cast; even though many were playing to type (Brendon as a geek, Daley as an even bigger geek, King as a hot ditz), they played those types well. At its heart, a show about a bunch of overgrown boys armed with knives, forks and blowtorches trying not to kill each other with same while making shockingly edible food.
Why it didn't: Again, it had "Arrested Development" as a lead-in. Creatively, though, there was definitely an HBO-Lite (or FX-Lite) feel to the show. Turn to a page of the real Bourdain's memoir at random, and odds are you'll find something more scandalous than what happened on the show. In particular, the decision to start with a sober Jack feels like something the network insisted on; the Owain Yeoman character is closer to what I imagine the producers would have done with their hero on cable. Cooper's also an acquired taste -- especially compared to how funny the real Bourdain is on his own shows or in his "Top Chef" cameos. I liked Cooper and bought him as this sleazebag chef; my wife and a lot of other critics didn't.
What happened post-cancellation: Since 13 episodes were produced and only four aired, most of the series -- including some of the funnier episodes (if you don't have a lot of time, I recommend "You Lose, I Win," "The Robbery" and "Teddy Takes Off") and and a lot of tinkering. With Cooper and Somerville's sexual chemistry non-existent, Hayes was brought in as Jack's occasional love interest (and, essentially, a female Jack). Late in the run, Langella turned over control of the restaurant to Somerville and gave Jack a swank apartment upstairs that no doubt would have been the center of lot of sexual hijinks.