Judge Jason Panella wants to send this show to boot camp.
It's like Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares with the serial numbers filed off.
Food Network's Restaurant Impossible goes like this: celebrity chef Robert Irvine (Dinner Impossible) is given $10,000 and two days to turn around a failing restaurant. He and his team pinpoint what ails the establishment and get to work. Sometimes they fix the food, sometimes they renovate the eating space, and sometimes they work on mending relationships between the staff and owners. Usually, it's all three—the better for the tough English chef to practice his form of tough love.
The thirteen episodes in Restaurant Impossible: Season 3 follow a pretty strict pattern. Irvine shows up at the episode's restaurant in question and, after a few questions to the management and owners, packs the house to determine what's causing the place to suffer. (Nine times out of ten, the restaurant is floundering because the owners think their establishment is way better than it is.) Irving then hauls in his contracting crew to pull a lightning-fast renovation job on the restaurant, while the celebrity chef tries to improve the staff's morale and cooking. When the two-day timer is up, the restaurant holds a reopening and everyone is (seemingly) happy.
If this sounds familiar, that's because there really isn't anything original in the reality TV world. Restaurant Impossible borrows liberally from two Gordon Ramsay's shows: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and its U.S. counterpart, Kitchen Nightmares. There are differences, of course: Irvine's show has a tighter timetable, and it also focuses more on the renovation side of things than Ramsay's shows. Plus, Irvine is significantly less caustic than the legendarily foul Ramsay, though Irvine's brand of honesty does reduce the occasional restaurant owner into a quivering mess.
The best episodes of Restaurant Impossible are the ones that break from the mold, even if just a little. Irvine's visit to Woody's Tupelo Steakhouse in Mississippi, for instance, makes for one of the best episodes in Season 3 because the status quo gets jolted. Irvine's designer makes a snap decision to use a composite material for the Steakhouse's new tabletops, which quickly results in snowballing disasters. This episode also breaks from the mold because after some initial fierce resistance, the restaurant's staff quickly take Irvine's criticisms to heart and seem eager to turn things around. This usually isn't the case; most of the failing eateries featured on the show ran into trouble in the first place because of years of prideful decisions.
Interestingly, Woody's Tupelo Steakhouse is one of the few restaurants from this season that actually managed to make it. Season 3 of Restaurant Impossible has one of the worst success rates in the show's run, so there's something unsettling about Irvine coyly announcing his success at "fixing" the restaurant while knowing it's really going to go under in a few months. While there's no doubt that Irvine and his team have given some of these restaurants a needed jolt, are they actually helping in the long run? In their aims to modernize the decor and cuisine, the Food Network crew usually ignores the area's established food culture. Some of the changes Irvine makes are simple enough, but many alter the menu dramatically enough to alienate the restaurants remaining regulars. If the area doesn't have enough of a food snob scene to pick up the slack, the establishments slide back into their old habits or just go out of business. The same goes for the restaurant renovations; while they might brighten the place up, most of them are tone-deaf to who actually visits the establishment in the first place. Plus, while Irvine's boot-camp like persona can occasionally snap business owners and employees into the right frame of mind, years of bad habits rarely get wiped away just like that. That's one reason why Kitchen Nightmares works better on almost all accounts—Ramsay understands the area's food culture, and he has more time to dig in and find out what's going on. (Not to mention he's a much better cook with a track record that's not embellished!)
These aren't the only problems. Much of the show feels scripted, with dramatic life issues often overshadowing the real reasons the establishments are failing. Sure, complaining that reality TV is scripted is like complaining that professional wrestling is staged, but the level of scriptedness really stands out. It's almost like these normal folks are reading from cue cards. Then there are the commercial buffers that eat up a significant portion of each episode. And so on. This isn't a bad show, but it's one that starts coming up short the more you pay attention.
Cinedigm's release of Restaurant Impossible: Season 3 features the thirteen 45-minute episodes on three discs. The standard-definition 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track both do the bare minimum, and there are no extras.
Restaurant Impossible is watchable TV, the perfect kind of thing to put on in the background while you're doing something that requires some level of concentration. If your concentration starts shifting to the show, you might realize how little there is to sink your teeth into.
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