Appellate Judge James A. Stewart hosted a travel show, until the animated parental guidance bumpers got loose.
Our review of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Collection 3, published January 24th, 2009, is also available.
"It looks like the tall stranger has drawn a bit of a crowd. They think we're from MTV."—Anthony Bourdain
In Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4, the chef and author continues his global nosh. He's spending a little more time with molecular gastronomy, but still finds time for his first patty melt, Spam sushi, and fast food chicken.
Facts of the Case
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4 puts sixteen episodes on three discs:
• "New Orleans"
• "Greek Islands"
• "Saudi Arabia"
• "Washington D.C."
• "U.S. Southwest (Roadshow)"
This set includes what has, over frequent reruns, grown to be my least favorite No Reservations episode ever: Anthony Bourdain's trip to Spain. What I don't like about it is that it's almost all about food, which takes away from the cultural insights that are usually a part of Bourdain's journeys, and it's nearly all "new Spanish cuisine." I realize that Bourdain, a chef himself, is very excited about molecular gastronomy, but replacing his normal jaded outlook with wide-eyed excitement backfires. Even excellent $250-a-can tapas deserve some snark.
Bourdain's food-centric viewpoint proves invaluable elsewhere, though. Most notably, his look at New Orleans' recovery shows the larger picture more clearly through his discussions with restaurant people who moved in to feed hungry cleanup teams, keep full staffs while their dining rooms remain largely empty, train new chefs and crews, and open new places despite the rough conditions. Emeril Lagasse, talking about locating and finding jobs for his employees, adds to that picture. From its opening, with a silent scene of a devastated, deserted residential street giving way to the sight and sound of a lone man on riding mower, "New Orleans" handles the serious business of recovery with artistry. While Bourdain's trip to Washington D.C. is full of the usual goofiness, it takes a dramatic turn as he visits with an ex-con whose present revolves around his role in running D.C. Central Kitchen and a son he hopes will have a better life. The past that Bourdain often jokes about (see his book, Kitchen Confidential) seems to fuel his rooting interest for people rebuilding their lives, helping him bring viewers into these lives as well.
Two other episodes work excellently because of their personal touches. "Into the Fire" finds Tony poking fun at his out-of-practice stuff as he struggles to read order slips and find ingredients in the fridge, but it's mostly a re-creation of the chapter on kitchen life in Kitchen Confidential. It moves fast, with images and lists such as the menu items Tony must be able to prepare seeming like a blur. Since it is so fast, you'll enjoy it more if you've already read the book. "Uruguay" doesn't actually find the answers to the genealogical riddle it poses, but it shows Tony on a roadtrip with his straight-laced kid brother. "I don't know of him ever committing an evil act," Tony says. The best scene finds Tony explaining to Chris that there's a method to pigging out.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4 also includes some favorite examples of irreverent goofiness, included lots of fun with retro footage. The "U.S. Southwest" episode is a joyous ramble through Americana, with interesting sights (a now-deserted resort, that leftover Cold War facility, a date palm farm, a steakhouse serving up giant slabs of meat) that play to Bourdain's cynical attitude, new experiences (whitewater rafting and a patty melt), and a surprising encounter with Alice Cooper, who turns out to be—gasp—normal. Ted Nugent turns out to be quite a character, but we expected that. Do I even need to tell you how much fun Bourdain has with Hawaiian shirts, tiki drinks, and Spam in "Hawaii"? Just catch it sometime.
With allowances for locations such as a dank, dark cave full of bats and cockroaches in Jamaica, picture and sound quality are good. Captions are absent.
When I wrote about Collection 3, I asked for extras. While we don't get commentaries, there are a few short bonus pieces. "Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes" feature Bourdain and executive producer Chris Collins talking about hot dogs, creative differences, outtakes, and other subjects. Four "Tony & Friends" podcasts include extended conversations with Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. Although a couple of the pieces are nice, no one really needed to hear Tony and the Nuge grumble at length about obesity; Bourdain even advocates a "fat tax," which should make anyone who likes food as much as he does nervous. Still, the Travel Channel's heart is in the right place, I guess. Maybe next time they'll actually give us the stuff we really want with a Bourdain collection: a list of everything he ate, with a few recipes for good measure.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As always, if you're a regular Bourdain viewer, you know that you're never very far from a No Reservations rerun on the Travel Channel. If you don't get the Travel Channel or really want to have any of these episodes at your fingertips, it's a good buy.
While a previous collection I reviewed took out the bumpers at commercial breaks, this season leaves in the animated parental guidance advisory bumpers. I liked the absence of bumpers on the last disc; it made the show flow better. Still, if you do that expensive animation, you gotta use it over and over again, right?
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4, with one notable exception, remains one of the easiest shows for repeat and marathon viewing I've encountered. I watched four in a row on three occasions during my personal reviewing Bourdain-a-Thon. If you're looking for something inexpensive you can watch a few times—or more likely, a few million times—till the bugs are worked out of digital TV, I can't think of much better. While "Spain" didn't impress me, I'd put several of these episodes among the series' best.
Not guilty, even if I have reservations about Bourdain hanging out with
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