Visual Entertainment // 2005 // 500 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 16th, 2008
Chef Ramsay's most repeated phrases:
"Shut it down!"
"Move your ass!"
"Oh f -- k me!"
"Jean Phillippe, open Hell's Kitchen!"
"Two seconds please!"
"Come here, you!"
Of course this reality show began in Britain and was adapted for American television like so many hits from the genre. It has similar elements found in other programs: a cruel British judge, challenges in every episode, emotional meltdowns, and the sights and sounds of dreams being crushed at the end of each hour. What makes Hell's Kitchen different from all the other shows is we get to watch people cook in a real working restaurant with one of the most horrific bosses ever conjured up.
Hell's Kitchen follows 12 hopeful chefs as they compete for the chance to get a prize that will enable them to open their own restaurant. Standing in their way is celebrity British chef Gordon Ramsay, who is a blustering foul-mouthed gourmet Tasmanian devil. He is the culinary equivalent of Simon Cowell. The evil head chef eliminates the hopefuls one by one until the final two go head to head, and an exhausted winner stumbles through a door to their dream. The twist here is Hell's Kitchen is a real working restaurant, and diners come in with no idea whether they will get served or suffer verbal abuse from Gordon. The contestants live and work in Hell's Kitchen, so the show follows them 24/7 as they reside Real World-style together throughout the series.
Our 12 contestants for Season One include:
* Michael -- The chain-smoking tattooed one with experience who ends up talking to a billboard of Chef Ramsay before it's all over
* Ralph -- The arrogant one who can't take defeat, but is otherwise a sweet guy when someone needs help
* Jeff -- The crybaby who has many meltdowns
* Dewberry -- The whipping boy of the show
* Andrew -- The loud mouth
* Jimmie -- The clumsy oaf
* Elsie -- Ramsey's favorite from the first episode with no culinary experience other than cooking at home
* Carol Anne -- Another homemaker without any real-world experience in the restaurant business, and all we know is she makes a mean chicken
* Mary Ellen -- The quiet one
* Jessica -- A spiky haired professional headhunter who only cooked as a hobby before coming to the hellish kitchen
* Wendy -- The know-it-all who in truth knows nothing
* Chris -- The arrogant one who isn't as nice as Ralph
Hell's Kitchen: Season 1 captures the first 10 episodes (the finale is a two-hour bit, so some sources list it as 11) that started this program, and is being released conveniently at the same time season four starts up on the Fox network. It's fun to see how this whole phenomenon began and revisit Gordon Ramsay's start on his journey of reality television infamy as the chef everyone loves to hate. It comes in a three-disc set that promises it is "raw and uncensored," which means all the bleeps for language have been removed. Let me tell you, this show had an endless stream of bleeps when it aired on Fox. Amazingly enough, 90 percent of the censored language was the "F" word, which seems to be Gordon Ramsay's favorite adjective, adverb, noun, and verb. The joy of watching this first season is you can tell nobody knew what to expect, and the shocked look on everyone's faces is priceless. By now, most people know being around Gordon Ramsay is going to be rough, so the shock value has worn thin.
For the release of Hell's Kitchen: Season 1, several interviews were conducted to explain the concept of the show and how it all works. Mainly these are on-set clips with an unseen woman asking questions to the producing crew about the setting and the inner workings. There's a nice tour of the set, although it is already prepped for another season and not in Season One condition. They show off the hidden cameras, which are unobtrusive and ingeniously placed so contestants and diners would not know when the focus is on them. We get a glimpse of the massive production room where story editors work their behind-the-scenes magic to give a narrative thrust to the proceedings. Finally, there is an interview with the ever-colorful Chef Ramsay who can't even hold back with the "F" word while being politely engaged in conversation. It is dizzying how often this man curses.
The DVD set of Hell's Kitchen: Season 1 is not without issues. The full-screen transfers look like the worst broadcast television has to offer, and the visual presentation is not clean or sharp. The series debuted before high-definition television was common for second tier shows, and the producers utilized hidden robotic cameras that were equipped with videotape. It all looks a bit too much like VHS for my taste, and DVD reveals the source limitations readily. Audio is clear enough, but talking is quite fast throughout the series. A lack of subtitles may frustrate some who find it hard to hear everything with all the noises in the kitchen around the contestants. For some reason, the opening theme of "Fire" by the Ohio Players has been changed to an annoying guitar instrumental over the credits. I'm guessing rights issues were a factor, and it's a minor annoyance but one nonetheless. None of the episodes has scene breakdowns, so you have to start at the top and flip around to find a favorite sequence or moment. The three DVDs are put into one space-saving case, but they are layered, so getting them out can be a bit tricky.
Hell's Kitchen is a show that is easy to get hooked on. Chef Gordon Ramsay is as hard as they come, and he has the sailor's mouth to prove it. Hell's Kitchen: Season 1 makes for great viewing if you've ever worked in the restaurant industry or are a fan of cooking in general. Who knew the culinary arts could be like watching Full Metal Jacket? This makes Iron Chef look downright wimpy. The catch is we've all had a boss like this at some point, and you feel for the contestants as they withstand the verbal abuse. And yet it's hard not to like Chef Ramsay, because he is a man whose demons are driven by true passion. Hell's Kitchen seems like it would be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Guilty of being the reality show with the roughest language, Hell's Kitchen: Season 1 should sit nicely next to your copy of the unedited MTV show with the Osbournes and Deadwood.
Review content copyright © 2008 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Visual Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 500 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Interviews with Producers and Gordon Ramsay
* Official Site