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Kitchen Confidential – The Complete Series (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential

The Complete Series (2005) (20th Century Fox Home Video-2007)

Kitchen Confidential came and went as fast as standing in line at McDonald’s Express. In it, superstar chef Anthony Bourdain (rechristened Jack for the series), as played by the underappreciated Bradley Cooper, talks about how your restaurant meal should “dazzle, amaze and delight.”

Check, check and check. And yet, the mysterious Fox network raised a finger and yelled, “Check, please,” saucing and tossing it after only four episodes (of thirteen filmed).

Yes, like the terrific Jay Mohr series Action, Confidential was the victim of yet another heinous Fox crime, as baffling and inexplicable as their “news” division. The series may have been canned, but it has also been preserved in this warmed-over DVD collection of the entirely too-short endeavor.

Confidential was based on Bourdain’s somewhat true personal story of his soufflé-like rise and fall and rise in the sharp-knifed world of high-class Manhattan eat-out. It offered a promising menu: a charming-as-hell lead character, an impossibly good-looking staff (sure, lots of actors and models work in Manhattan restaurants, but these gorgeous people are actually career restaurant slaves with no plans to ditch and run). Ultimately, it’s a near-perfect mixture of plot and character chemistry – New York restaurants always come and go, but this one’s demise was tragically premature.

Our Special of the Day is classy act-TOR Frank Langella, as the restaurant owner, who makes a theatrical entrance from time to time to lend gravitas and to dispense heart-to-hearts.

Another surprise standout is the hilarious John Francis Daley, late of the cult-classic Freaks and Geeks. He plays a rube chef, but in a uniquely awkward way that he makes his own rather than taking the Easybake-Oven version as cookie-cutter nerd boy. Of still being a virgin, he admits, “In Utah, I had a magazine until my mom found it and started crying.”

Ultimately, the same old daily special is offered for TV-workplace fare: the smarmy, the sexy, and the stupid, but the writing is as sharp as a Ginzu knife, and good acting turns up the heat and cooks faster anything that could have been spit out as bland.

The characters, of course, are gonzo and on the perennial verge of a meltdown, but unlike most TV series that pretend to know the workplace, Confidential gets it right. Most chefs work about 80 hours per week busting their onions, throwing tomatoes and tantrums, and dealing with Murphy’s Law (“Anybody seen my fingertip?” asks the British chef, who also later says, incidentally, “You don’t know how I feel. I’m British. Even I don’t know how I feel.”).

The show’s writers know the eating public, making use of such obnoxious and spit-in-their-plate-worthy customer comments as “How many carbs in that?” “Can I have mine without butter?” and “Let me ask my trainer.” They also accurately portray the nightmare of offering brunch, where patrons – all of them as annoying as they are evil – should be immediately slain.

At times, the plot seems a bit desperate (the dilemma of killing baby bunnies, the comic agony of getting robbed, expensive eels slithering on the floor, a less-than-friendly competition with a neighboring restaurant); it moves a bit too swiftly, and often seems too eager to please (as most good sitcoms are in the beginning).

This can cause some mild indigestion, but the DVD will let you see how it found its footing in the few discarded leftovers after its cancellation. A dirty shame, because it would have gotten tastier once it worked out the kinks, but that’s the beauty and savoring grace of DVDs.

The early aughts were an era in television in which it was fashionable to offer up a series described as “Sex and the City in a….” This was a bit closer to the real deal, actually developed and produced by Darren Star, who was the man responsible for the groundbreaking cable series about sex in a city. Fairy tale but funny and occasionally insightful. The claws are definitely out: an attitudinal waitress says to a gay waiter: “I love that scarf. It really brings out your vagina.”

Now, add high-couture food to the sex, and such mildly introspective Carrie-Bradshaw-esque lines like “I love satisfying people’s appetites, especially my own,” and “New York is a very forgiving town. If you’re good at what you do, it finds a way to reward you.”

Ultimately, here’s what sums up the entire world of Manhattan after 7 p.m.: “It’s a city of small apartments and even smaller kitchens, which is why New Yorkers love to eat out.”

Then there are the catchphrases: Sex and the City had “modelizer” and “spunkyfunk,” but Kitchen Confidential was trying for “This lamb is your lamb. This lamb is my lamb” and “I’ve seen cleaner plates on a stolen car.” And, sorry to say, there is the occasional food fight. But ultimately, there are no send backs. You’ll be satisfied with what is brought out to you.

The commentary track, featuring cast members and writers, is no pity party. They’ll admit to “Jack Tripper moments” and an unfortunate comparison to the overrated play “Noises Off,” but ultimately it is pleasantly agreed that a good time was had by all, and now by you.

Get on the waiting list and taste what you’ve missed, because Fox or no Fox, you are ultimately personally to blame for this show being killed, and you need to make amends. Like a good meal, this series should stay with you long after digestion, but in a good way.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: August 12, 2007.

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