Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
There’s peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and bagels and cream cheese. And now, there’s another perfect culinary pairing to add to the list:
Gordon Ramsay and Fox.
Now hailed (at least on American television) as “the most successful restaurateur in the world,” Ramsay came to prominence as a chef in England and cut his teeth in television with a variety of shows on BBC, starting with Gordon Ramsay’s Boiling Point, a reality series about his attempts to open up a new restaurant. Almost immediately, Ramsay was identified as a cook with rare genius, a businessman with acute skills, and an asshole with a propensity to swear that would make vengeance-fueled vigilante trucker blush like a debutante.
Soon enough, those traits led to more and bigger gigs, and it wasn’t long before Fox came calling.
Americans (without BBC America) got their first taste of Gordon with Hell’s Kitchen, a summer “reality” show where fifteen contestants prepared food under Ramsay’s watchful (and wrathful) eye, with the final prize being a head chef’s position at an exclusive resort. Wisely, the Fox executives saw that what made Gordon Ramsay such good television is his temper and his extraordinarily foul language. However, where the BBC was content to let matters run their course and trust that he’d let his anger get in the way, Fox took great pains to induce said temper. To that end, mixed in with the legitimate contestants were chuckleheads who couldn’t cook a frozen pizza, and mixed in with the actual patrons of the restaurant (if in fact there are any) are actors who have been instructed to complain and make nuisances of themselves. (And this doesn’t begin to touch on my theory that the equipment the chefs use is jury-rigged to malfunction on them.) The results are exactly as one would expect. Each episode is filled with verbal tirades, vicious abuse, and more F-bombs than you could ever imagine. In other words, awesome escapist television.
With Kitchen’s success, Fox has decided that Gordon is ready for his prime-time, fall-season close-up. And thus we get Kitchen Nightmares. Those Americans lucky enough to get BBC America (or those Europeans British enough to get the original channel, I guess…) can still catch old and new episodes of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, the original series on which this new show is based. Gordon travels to various failing restaurants (mostly in Britain), identifies what’s wrong, and whips it back into shape in a single week. It’s once again great television, and the viewer gets the feeling that Ramsay, while still insufferable and brutally honest, nonetheless truly cares about these projects, and takes pride in his work.
After about a month into the Fox version, it is clear that letting Ramsay’s inner nice guy shine through is at the very bottom of their priority list. Where the BBC show seemed to seek out high quality people and establishments that had fallen on hard times, the Fox version seems to be looking for the biggest disasters imaginable. Where the BBC show once again relies on Ramsay’s expertise and personality to tell the story and save the day, Fox throws monkey wrenches and red herrings at him just to see what they can make him do. And lastly, while the British show allows Ramsay to turn the restaurants around using only his wit and acumen, the Fox show throws thousands of dollars into renovations and improvements, thus clearing the way for more fireworks and dramatics.
If it seems like I’m complaining, I’m not. Rather, I’m saying that the two shows are very different, despite sharing name, concept and star. One is a reality show, the other is theater masquerading as one. But in both cases, the concepts are really nothing more than backdrops to let Gordon Ramsay be Gordon Ramsay.
Given what a rock star he’s become in both the cooking and television worlds, a network can do a whole hell of a lot worse than that.