Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Advice #3: Kitchen Confidential

As part of someone else’s series on shows to catch up on this summer, I offer you another casualty of FOX’s inexplicable business model: "Kitchen Confidential.”

A short-lived half-hour sitcom starring Bradley Cooper and based on chef Anthony Bourdain’s memoir of the same title, the show followed the life of the oh-so-cleverly named Jack Bourdain, head chef at the newly opened NYC hotspot Nolita and a recovering addict. The main idea was to show the comedy and drama (but mostly comedy) behind the scenes at a restaurant, from supplier problems (like when an order of rabbit meat shows up with the rabbits still alive) to coworker issues (do people prefer desserts or fish, and what will that question do to your staff dynamic?) to things that really have very little to do with food (such as inadvertently sleeping with your boss’s mistress).

Now, I am probably the only person who cannot stand Bradley Cooper in just about any incarnation. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice person in life, but I just don’t like him. And I’m not a fan of Jack, either, who seems to have to work very hard at staying sober, but not much else.

What does make “Kitchen Confidential” well worth watching is the rest of the cast. (Well, not Bonnie Sommerville, either—her waitress Mimi is one of the singular biggest pains-in-the-ass I’ve voluntarily watched on network television. But everyone else does.)

Nicholas Brendan as Seth, the pastry guy, tops my list for reasons to watch—I actually followed big, sweet, ol’ Xander from “Buffy” to this show. And yes, he’s basically playing the same character in a totally different setting, but that doesn’t make it bad—quite the contrary. He’s sweet, relatable, and fun to watch. And a little dose of our favorite Everyman, for people who miss said Mr. Harris. He’s also the happy medium between Stephen the British bahstahd and poor little Jimmy—manly enough by normal standards but plenty emotional and sensitive as need be. And he’s not above the wacky dating tactics that only work in sitcoms, to usually entertaining effect.

John Frances Daley gets major points here, too. I like him quite a bit in “Bones”—and I think that show does a better job of using him as the “kid” in a grown-up’s workspace—but, like Brendan with Xander, he’s good at this character. As Jimmy, the n00b chef from Mormon country, he’s worshipful of Jack and a bit of a moral compass-cum-punching bag for the rest, all while maintaining his good cheer. And I think he ends up with the one functional romantic relationship on the show, too. His cluelessness in many cases is overdone—but “Kitchen Confidential” is charming enough on the whole that it’s fun to watch, not painful.

John Cho is also in this, as Teddy, the fish guy. Disclaimer here: I’ve never seen “Harold and Kumar.” Either of them. Sorry, universe. So this was my first outing with John Cho, and I have to say I enjoyed it, to the point that I spent both showings of “Star Trek” reminding myself that he was called Sulu over there. But the guy is funny! And snarky, and you do come out with a new respect for people who make fish, as well as an odd subculture surrounding sushi and tourists. He and Nicholas Brendan don’t get used nearly enough, which is why their fish-versus-cake battle royal is one of my more memorable plots.

The other regular and recurring characters—Jack’s sous chef and bed buddy Stephen, the other waiters (a flamboyant man named Cameron and a chick who looks like Eva Longoria), and especially the incredibly dumb blonde but terribly sweet hostess Tanya and Jack’s sometime-romantic interest and fellow chef Becky—all have their moments, too. Becky’s the hot, tough chick chef that the guys all drool over, but when she takes things a step too far, you end up forgiving her along with everyone else. Tanya’s an airhead, but endearingly so—watch for the moment when she innocently comments that she’s going commando.

The guest stars, though, are a real treat. Frank Langella has a recurring role as Pino, Nolita’s owner. The inimitable Morena Baccarain shows up as an ill-advised one-night-stand of Jack’s (and why is it that outside of “Firefly” she’s always playing the chick with the crazy eyes?), as does P.J. from “My Boys.” Michael Vartan pops up as an obnoxious French chef…I could go on, but I’m technically at work at the moment and probably shouldn’t be fact-checking on IMDb.

I admit, I can find things to complain about with most of the characters and episodes. This show wasn’t like, say, “Arrested Development” or “Firefly” where you watch the aired episodes and cannot possibly fathom what the network executives were thinking to axe something so creative and unique and perfect and brilliant. As far as I know, this show never got the determined, passionate fan following that those two shows or Family Guy did (which probably helped with the whole cancellation thing), so it’s safe to say we shouldn’t expect any motion picture follow-ups or revivals, although it is out on DVD, so who knows?

But it was fun and diverting, which is in many cases just what a sitcom should be. The food was fun to look at (to a point—but then again, I’m a longtime vegetarian), and I suppose most people not me would say the same about Bradley Cooper. Anything with Xander Harris and Dr. Sweets on the regular cast roster is fine by me. Plus, it was clever and funny, and unlike a lot of sitcoms, had a sweet little heart in there somewhere. It’s also available in all its 13-episode glory on Hulu, so take a few hours before Labor Day and check it out!

2 Responses to “Summer Advice #3: Kitchen Confidential”

Selina said...

YES, this! I had totally forgotten about Kitchen Confidential, ages ago I watched the clip with Michael Vartan but then thought that there were shows I'd rather watch... but it's 13 episodes and unlike you I really like Bradley Cooper (man-blush and all), I LOVE Nick Brendon, and Bonnie Somerville is cool too (mainly cause of Band From TV)... so I'll definitely be checking this out now, thanks!

Enjoy! Like I said, not a perfect show, but particularly at this time of year, you don't need perfect, just perfectly diverting fun! And "Kitchen Confidential" definitely delivers there.