Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It came from the Netflix queue!: Kitchen Confidential

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...

"Kitchen Confidential"
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.


Anonymous said...

You know, if Darren Star weren't openly gay I'd wonder if Bonnie Somerville was sleeping with him. Because I can't understand why such an unremarkable actress keeps getting so much work or why Star is so enamored with her. She was by far the weakest actress on Grosse Pointe and yet he went on to cast her on this AND on the upcoming Cashmere Mafia. Worse, I remember hearing Charisma Carpenter had auditioned for the Kitchen Confidential role, but for some reason the network didn't want her (maybe having her and Nick Brendon on the same show would have been too much?) I can only imagine how much better the show would have been with her playing Mimi.

Anonymous said...

I remember being interested in KC and set it to Tivo when it was on but it just seemed to be a bit too much of a mess. It also played the same card that the upcoming "Private Practice" will: case a bunch of people you know from former shows as an ensemble. I don't think the show was as interesting or as clever as it thought it was, but I was giving it the benefit of the doubt, as one really needs to get 3 or 4 episodes into a show before judging whether they have hit their stride.

Anonymous said...

Alan --

Any news on the burnoff eps of the Nine? Will it get a DVD release?

Jmags said...

I like to watch TOP CHEF on Wednesday night.

Anonymous said...

Day Break really holds up as a 13-part miniseries. And unlike The Sopranos, it has an ENDING.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the full run of KC, shame it didn't catch on. I caught the unaired eps on a download (think they aired in Australia or UK) and loved the later ones, especially whenever John Cho was in the mix. And Michael Vartan's guest spot cried out for a return. There's a moment with him and Cooper in the alley where they leave in a bit where Bradley almost looses it.

Would it have worked on another network like NBC?

Can't wait to crack into the DVD at home this summer. It's on my "Brilliant but Cancelled" shelf, next to the Apatow boxsets.

Anonymous said...

I've watched all 13 episodes about 3 times now over the past year and a half (there were torrents up for the whole season after it aired in AUS). I still find myself laughing and I find something new every re-watch. Even now I still can't find much wrong with it. I liked all the actors, even Somerville (What's wrong with Mona?) and I completely bought Cooper even though mine, and probably everyone's, recent exposure to him was the uber-douche in Wedding Crashers - maybe other viewers still had the Sac aftertaste and couldn't get past it.

I rate this show evenly with Undeclared as an unacceptable cancellation - Fox is so easy to hate some times.

Anonymous said...

I still miss Undeclared too.

It's part of what I call "the great Fox comedy purge of '02." In that one year they managed to cancel: Undeclared, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Titus, Greg the Bunny, The Tick, Grounded for Life, Family Guy, Futurama, and That '80s Show.

And other than that last one (which was an easy opportunity that they totally botched) they were all actually funny.

Anonymous said...

I second treacher's comment on Day Break. I just finished the series finale last night, and the concept somehow never gets old through 13 episodes, and it closes resolutely.

Anonymous said...

I third the comments about Day Break. I mean, if you didn't like what was on the air the remaining episodes won't change your mind, but if you were already a fan, the remaining episodes are satisfying. Unlike, say, Vanished, which I liked at the beginning but stayed with to my own detriment.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:20, I too was surprised when Bonnie Somerville was cast in Kitchen Confidential after the nothingness she exuded on NYPD Blue, but she won me over in the ep where she was seduced by the enemy chef played by Michael Vartan. She came up with some genuinely funny and original takes.

Add me to the Day Break followers list, too. I enjoyed it very much, though I wouldn't have wanted to be in charge of the index cards in the writers' room.

But the doomed show I liked best this season was the Black Donnellys, which I'm happy to see is coming out on DVD soon. I'd sure like to know what Haggis's five-year plan was.

Paul Gibney said...

I agree that Fox really messed up in '02. I just finished Netflixing "The Tick" last night and that show deserved much, much better. The last 3 shows were remarkably funny and clever. The cast was tight and the writing excellent.

And any show that takes a rock-solid product, like "The Tick", and manages to actually improve it by changing a character, in this case adding the truly wonderful Batmanuel, deserves more than 9 episodes to prove itself. Alan, you should think about taking up "The Tick" for your next Netflix review.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It also played the same card that the upcoming "Private Practice" will: case a bunch of people you know from former shows as an ensemble.

As I pointed out in my review of them both way back when, Kitchen Confidential and How I Met Your Mother -- which were on in the same timeslot -- had almost identical supporting casts: a Buffy alum (Brendon/Hannigan), a Harold & Kumar alum (John Cho/NPH) and a Freaks & Geeks alum (Daley/Jason Segel). The Kitchen Confidential ensemble was, of course, bigger, so there aren't one-to-one matches for everybody, but it was still weird.