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Travel and Food For the Literate and Adventurous Viewer with a Sense of Humor; Stick-in-the-Muds Need Not Apply
on December 1, 2010
Bourdain can cook and he can host a travel show. But what distinguishes him from others who do this (say, Andrew Zimmern), is that he can really WRITE.
If you appreciate travel, food, cultures in the hands of a wry essayist, you will enjoy "No Reservations". Bourdain is unique in bringing a level of honesty and appreciation to what he sees without being cliched or phony. He could give you a tour of your backyard and make it seem fresh and interesting and amusing, maybe even heart-warming. He mixes brutal honesty with kindness, and, from someone who initially seems like such a curmudgeon, a surprising enjoyment of people and appreciation for their lives and the foods they create. He also somehow incorporates all this with a droll sarcasm that is, perplexingly, not at others' expense.
He is the antithesis of the ugly American. (And could anyone not be grateful Bourdain was the one "representing" in the Namibia scene of eating roasted warthog anus--sand and hair and all--in the bush? And being appreciative and gracious through it all? In the words of Kipling, "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din.")
But, of course, this isn't the BOOK of No Reservations.It's the DVD. So this isn't just about all the good writing. Fortunately, we also have the fantastic film crew putting together what are, in my opinion, the best travel documentaries on television. The combination of exceptional camera work and editing, plus Bourdain as writer and host--well, there's a reason they've won Emmys. Plus, I really love this--they don't just "get the formula and follow it every week". Stylistically it always hangs together--but you never know exactly what to expect. The (small and close-knit) NoRes crew, including Bourdain, bases the style of the shooting and editing and commentary on the place they are going. This keeps it fresh and unexpected.
Tahiti? Somehow Gauguin becomes a central image. Romania (one of Bourdain's least favorite shows) still works for the viewer as a cheesy riff on Dracula against a background of ... of....well, see for yourself. Italy? The filming might evoke Fellini or capture something of the (excuse the expression) "soul" of the place they are seeing. (Of course, for me, the most Fellini-esque was the shoot in Harbin--still one of my favorites of all time--and the ending scene of those two people--neither one Bourdain--dancing on the ice. So brilliant. So fresh.) And before I die, I WILL eat in Singapore. Mmmm.
This is a fantastic collection. From Namibia to South Korea, Ireland to Argentina, Japan to Saudi Arabia, it's great to see the food (and the memorable people. We really are all different--and all alike). And, when political reality intrudes on entertainment, you even get a show like the one in Beirut, where they were trapped for a week during the war. You will have your own favorites, like I do, but there is no such thing as a bad episode and I can't think of anything else on television I'd say that about (well, maybe the "Colbert Report", but that's it).
Recommended? Definitely. Highly recommended.