Review: Kitchen Nightmares 1×1

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In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Not yet acquired, but you know E4 or More4 are going to poach it, sooner or later. Tee hee. Poach.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Sorry.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Sorry again. Couldn’t help myself.

Remember Strike!, that episode of The Comic Strip Presents in which Hollywood decides to make a film of the 1980s miners strike and casts Al Pacino as Arthur Scargill and Meryl Streep as his wife?

Well, we haven’t gone to quite the extent of recasting Gordon Ramsay here, but we have a US version of Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – in which top chef and MAN WITH BOLLOCKS! YES! BOLLOCKS! NOW WHERE ARE YOURS? YOU HEARD ME! NOW GET THE F*CK OUT OF MY RESTAURANT!, Gordon Ramsay, goes to various failing eating establishments and tries to re-engineer them back into life – that does a similar sort of thing to what was quite a low-key sort of show in Britain.

From a new title sequence where Ramsay catches knives thrown at him accompanied by the theme from Pulp Fiction, through the emphasis on soap opera histrionics instead of business management all the way, to the make-over show style additions in which Gordon buys a new kitchen for the restaurant, it’s all just so much more… American than the original series.

There’s a lawsuit already hanging over it about the alleged faking of scenes, instigated by someone featured in a later episode. But it’s going to be hard to tell, on the strength of this first episode, how the judge is going to decide what’s real and what’s not. Because it’s just mental as it stands.

We have a family-run business in Babylon, Long Island, that’s struggling, mainly thanks to Peter, after whom the restaurant is named. Peter thinks he’s in Goodfellas or The Godfather. He really does. And since he weighs 250 pounds – mainly because he eats all the food before it gets taken to the tables – no one’s telling him he’s not and that he should be running a restaurant instead.

But then, we have mafia debt collectors turning up during filming to get their money, so maybe he is. Who knows?

For the most part, the show’s template remains the same. Gordon shows up, tastes the food, watches the kitchen and waiting staff in action, mucks around with it to show them what’s wrong, then comes up with lots of cunning schemes to turn the restaurant around.

Oddly though, most of the conflict comes not from Gordon – that’s saved for the end of the third act – but from everybody else. In fact, we see remarkably little of Gordon. He doesn’t do the voiceovers. There are no topless shots of him changing into his whites. We don’t even see him doing his research in the town, drumming up trade and all the other hallmarks of the British show. Instead, everything’s presented as a fait accompli to the delight/annoyance of those involved.

The main concern of the show is the restaurant’s internal ructions. It’s filmed in a far more soapy way than the documentary approach of the original. We even get long, lingering shots of the long, lingering glances Peter’s sister casts at Gordon after describing him as “good looking” and “charismatic”. And heaven forfend, we actually get the world’s most ironic scene: Gordon Ramsay giving someone anger management advice to help them cool down.

Everything turns out all right, by the end, although there’s no surprise return visit by Gordon. Instead, we get a voiceover straight out of Animal House that tell us what happened over the months ahead: “Peter patched up his fight with Nicole…”. And so on.

It’s all still engrossing but it’s lost some of the subtlety and insight of the original in the translation. I’m not holding up the original as a paradigm of excellent television, but you don’t really learn anything about efficient restaurant management from the US version. All you learn is that you need to buy new cookers if old ones break.

I have no idea if this will do well. I suspect it will. I, for one, will happily watch anything that has Gordon Ramsay in it. All the same, it’s interesting to watch a show in which Gordon Ramsay is the least aggressive, most clean-mouthed person on view.

Here’s a lovely YouTube teaser trailer for you.