“Kitchen Confidential,” Fox, 2005
Based fairly loosely on the book by Anthony Bordain, disgraced star chef Jack Bordain is given one last chance to head up a slick New York restaurant while keeping his ne’er-do-well kitchen staff in check.
What Made It Special:
This one was all about setting. For every five shows set in a precinct, hospital, or law firm, there’s one that tries to do something different. “Kitchen Confidential” had the added bonus of stranger-than-fiction source material in Bourdain’s book, a memoir of life on the fringes, because let’s face it – no one in their right mind would want to work in a restaurant.
It was also blessed with an outstandingly talented comedic cast, starting with Bradley Cooper, who’s really gifted at playing assholes you still kinda like. Also on hand were Nicholas Brendan (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), John Francis Daley (“Freaks and Geeks”), and John Cho (Harold and Kumar…).
Signs It Was Going Somewhere Good:
When the show adapted the warts-and-all parts of Bourdain’s book, it was really sharp, and had an air of authenticity to it. There were also hints that we were actually watching Jack, initially at an emotional high after a year of sobriety and newfound sense of responsibility, reaching the beginning stages of egomania that led him into the sordid booze-drugs-women combo that finished him off the first time around.
Signs of Wear and Tear:
It was a fucking Darren Starr production, so it frequently abandoned the enjoyable heightened realism of the “day in the life in the kitchen” angle for “Sex and the City but with Chefs” sex-comedy nonsense that felt nothing but contrived and worse, conventional. “The chef’s dating a vegan!” probably sounded great in the writing room, but honestly – the book had a story about a guy stitching up his own wound and returning to work. How did that not strike them as the more interesting source of humor?
Sign the Producers Knew They Didn’t Have Much Time Left:
They didn't hear the train until it was right on top of them – the show got pulled four episodes in.
Why No One Watched:
Its lead-in was, god bless ‘em, “Arrested Development.” In its third season. When any hope of getting new viewers in was totally lost. (I believe around the third episode, they might have switched the timeslots. Which is hilarious in its own way.)
Available on DVD?:
Yup, a two-disc set you can grab through Netflix.
Where You've Seen It Since:
Pretty much every single cable network now has its own reality-chef show, but ironically, none of them are going to give you the terrifying (and frequently hilarious) reality of working in a restaurant that Anthony Bordain does. (Though weirdly, neither does “No Reservations,” Bordain’s otherwise-enjoyable travelogue show on Discovery.)