Sunday, June 27, 2010

The sad, squandered potential of Kitchen Confidential

Today’s television climate has made me a paranoid consumer.

Shows get canceled so quickly and sometime with such random rationale that it feels like the freakin’ wild West, man (not really, but that’s a great go-to analogy). I get super-excited about the new Fall season and reading what new programs are debuting, then almost immediately pull back and won’t watch anything without a season behind it for fear I’ll get abandoned on a cliffhanger four episodes in.

I’ll generally subscribe to the theory that if I watch a first season on DVD, then I’m safe to get into season two, but even that can backfire (thank you, Dirty Sexy Money). And hype is no proper barometer either as the stuff with the all-star line-ups and huge marketing campaigns tanks as easily as the under-the-radar sleepers (I’m pretty glad I didn’t put any eggs in the FlashForward basket, but I’m pretty psyched Parenthood will be back in the fall).

To varying degrees, shows like Firefly, Better Off Ted, Veronica Mars, Jack & Bobby, and of course the patron saint of all unjustly cancelled shows Arrested Development have all broken my heart, but one case of television euthanasia stands chef’s hat and shoulder above the rest for me.
When Kitchen Confidential hit the airwaves in the fall of 2005, it had the full weight of the Fox promotional machine behind it to begin with and I tuned in because I was a fan of Bradley Cooper from Wedding Crashers as well as his stint on the aforementioned Jack & Bobby (not to mention Wet Hot American Summer). I thought the first couple episodes were pretty good, but then it went on hiatus for the World Series, pulled mediocre ratings, and got cancelled after only two more installments. Truth be told, I—like most of the viewing public—forgot about the show during the hiatus and wasn’t much bothered by the cancellation.

Last year for Christmas I got the full 13-episode series on DVD and wow—that this show only got four chances to show what it could do (not to mention a momentum-halting stoppage right after it started) is a travesty.

It’s a smart comedy that comes out the gate with a different feel. It was based on chef Anthony Bourdain’s “reformed bad boy” lifestyle working in restaurant kitchens which provided a unique setting a few years before cooking reality shows hit it big. The writing is sharp and the look inside the dining industry provides enough varied plots to keep it from feeling like just another sitcom.

But as well-conceptualized and written as Kitchen Confidential is, no question the cast is what sets it apart.

If Bradley Cooper enjoys life as a movie star, he should really be thanking Fox for botching the management of this show so badly, because his Jack Bourdain is such a great character tailored so perfectly to him that had Kitchen Confidential taken off, I would not be surprised if he ended up a TV lifer; and that’s a compliment, by the way. Jack is exactly the kind of charming in spite of his douchiness rogue that Cooper plays so well, but unlike in Wedding Crashers or The Hangover, he’s the emotional center of the piece here rather than the antagonist or sidekick. This is the guy we’re meant to root for and feel empathy towards, despite the fact that he’s cocky, a womanizer, ill-tempered, etc.—and Cooper pulls it off! You love Jack when he’s reeling off one-liners or getting the girl, but there’s also that deep-rooted layer of good that shows through in his loyalty towards his friends, his drive to be the best and his commitment to warding off his demons that not only humanizes him, but provides dramatic grounding for a very funny show as well. Cooper—in conjunction with the writers and Anthony Bourdain—crafted one of the more unique television “heroes” of the past several years on this show, and that we didn’t get to see more of his journey is probably the greatest crime to come with its dismissal.

However, Bradley Cooper is hardly carrying this show on his own. You look over the cast and it’s pretty darn impressive both on the screen and in terms of what they’ve done since. Nicholas Brendon is still—and likely always will be—best known for playing Xander on Buffy, but he flipped the script here as pastry chef Seth Richman, a far more confident and outgoing type whose comedy comes from his unfamiliarity with failure and awkwardness rather than Xander’s constant love affair with both. John Francis Daley plays the odd man out among a group of alpha males as newbie chef Jim, not shockingly becoming probably the most endearing character on the show in the process—his romance with ditzy bombshell Tanya, played by Sin City’s Jaime King, is just adorable—and creating a template for his work the last several seasons on Bones. Owain Yeoman plays a great mini-Jack as sous chef Steven, which makes it even funnier when he displays a broad emotional side, and he’s currently a regular on The Mentalist. And lest the boys have all the fun, Bonnie Somerville is hysterical as conniving and neurotic head waitress Mimi, matching Cooper perfectly as the best nemesis he has.

Did I mention frigging Frank Langella is a recurring character as the restaurant owner? And Harold from Harold & Kumar is on the show too—yeah, Sulu (yes, I know his name is John Cho).

For my money, there is no greater missed opportunity when it comes to cancelled TV shows in recent memory than Kitchen Confidential not only because of how great it was and how amazing it had the potential to be, but due to how little of a chance it was given.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After all these years it's nice to finally give this show some love. It's amazing how many great shows that Fox has squandered over the years.