Reviews

Kitchen Confidential - The Complete Series

Shaun Huston

Alas, while leavened with small insights into the lives of professional chefs and benefiting from high production values, this series was, ultimately, not much more than a conventional workplace comedy, its premise employed as a set up for wacky hijinks, and, above all, as a pretext for sexual and romantic tension.


Kitchen Confidential - The Complete Series

Distributor: Fox
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Owain Yeoman, Nicholas Brendon, John Francis Daley, Jaime King
Network: Fox
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
Amazon

Kitchen Confidential, a 2005 television series loosely based on the Anthony Bourdain book of the same name, is today among the many short-lived shows littering the landscape of network television. I saw all four of the episodes that actually aired on Fox in the fall of 2005. What hooked me was the promise that the series might turn out to be an exploration of life in a professional kitchen, a source for ideas that hasn’t been mined much by American popular television. The final two episodes that saw the light of day in the US, “Dinner Date with Death” and “French Fight”, seemingly brought the series close to fulfilling that promise.

The DVD release of the complete series, which includes nine episodes not aired on Fox, was a chance to see how the show ended up. Alas, while leavened with small insights into the lives of professional chefs and benefiting from high production values, the series was, ultimately, not much more than a conventional workplace comedy, its premise employed as a set up for wacky hijinks, and, above all, as a pretext for sexual and romantic tension.

As it happens, not soon after finishing up the 13 episodes of Kitchen Confidential, I saw Jake Kasdan’s The TV Set (2006). The film is about the complexities of television authorship, and what the intensely commercial process of selecting TV pilots can do to projects intended to tell very particular kinds of stories. During and after The TV Set, I kept coming back to Kitchen Confidential and imagining what might have happened to salt away the originality of that series’ premise and source material. With regards to Kasdan, here are some fragments of what might have been.

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INT. - NS’s (NETWORK SUITS) OFFICES, ONE WEEK BEFORE THE PILOT SHOOT.

NS: We really love the show. We’re very excited to be involved with this project. The cast looks great and what a unique idea. We think that Bourdain’s book is just genius.

WP (WRITER-PRODUCER): Thanks. I’m excited, too.

NS: We do have a few concerns about some of the characters.

WP: O-kay.

NS: Mostly, we think that the series needs a love interest. We think that you could have a real Sam-and-Diane, Dave-and-Maddie thing between Jack and Mimi.

WP: Hmmm. Well, yeah, I could do that, but those characters are really about the back and front of the house. I don’t know about resolving that tension through a love story. A one night stand, maybe. And, really, Mimi isn’t meant to be a lead. The show is ultimately about the kitchen.

NS: Sure. And it’s your show. We’re totally behind you. Just think about it. Bradley and Bonnie could be totally smoking together, and audiences love that. You could have a real star couple on your hands.

WP: Is that it?

NS: We were also wondering if the pastry chef, you know, Seth, has to be gay. Couldn’t he be straight, but “gay”? John Daley and Jaime King are so adorable. You could have a hilarious love triangle where the goofy newbie wins the hot hostess over the totally “gay” pastry chef.

WP: Ummmm … the thing is John is really supposed to be there for the audience. You know, he’s new to the whole chef thing, too. I’m not sure that a love triangle with Tanya and Seth is the best way to use that character. I guess I’m not all that committed to Seth’s being gay, but that’s what Nicholas has been working with. I’d have to talk to him.

NS: We’re sure he could do it. I mean, Nic’s a real pro.

WP: Plus, what I’m hearing you saying is that you want two romantic leads, and a love triangle going on? My vision is really for show that takes viewers into the kitchen. Part of that gets us into the private lives of the chefs, but if we make it about all these couples, I think we begin to turn the show into something else.

NS: Look, we’re really happy to be working with you, and we trust your judgment. We’re sure you can make it work. We just want to make sure you can bring in the audience you deserve.

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EXT. – ON THE SET.

WP: So, I thought that went really well.

NS: Yeah. Absolutely. But …

WP: … yes?

NS: Well, we’re concerned that Jack is too extreme. We think that Jack is the kind of guy that women should want to be with and men should want to be. And Bradley is so charming. But with all the drug use and drinking and sex, he’s definitely going to turn off the women in the audience, maybe even some of the men, too.

WP: But we just shot the pilot to set up all of that. You know, chefs work in a creative, sensuous profession. Many of them are real experimenters. They work long hours. The fact is they aren’t like most people, and they don’t lead lives like most people. That’s what drew me to the book. And, yeah, Bourdain lets everyone know in his Preface that he’s settled down, but he’s also in the kitchen less. You want to jump to the end of the story. That’s not what the book is about.

NS: Sure. And we love the book, but, you know, we really think that Jack should be more accessible. Steven can still live hard – and we think Owain is just great – but Jack can’t turn off the audience.

WP: So, you want to reshoot the pilot?

NS: No. Take all the footage of Jack doing drugs, having sex in the kitchen and so on and make it into a flashback. Cut around the rest. You wouldn’t have to change much with the other characters. You’re using voiceover, right?

WP: Yeah.

NS: Just redo that. Reframe the show. He’s reformed now. That’s a great story – redemption and all.

WP: Well …. Yeah. I suppose.

NS: Oh and we love the set up with Jack and Mimi and Pino – hilarious that Jack thinks Mimi’s sleeping with Pino even though she’s really his daughter. We’re so lucky to have Frank Langella.

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INT. – NS’s OFFICES, THE DAY AFTER “FRENCH FIGHT”.

NS: Come in. Good to see you.

WP: Yeah, hi.

NS: We need to pull the plug. Last night’s numbers were not good. The show has no traction.

WP: Well … I mean, give us a chance to recover from the break for baseball.

NS: Yeah, look, the baseball isn’t the problem. The audience isn’t interested. We think that the John Larroquette episode was a big mistake. No one wants to watch someone who wants to die. It makes people think too much about their own lives.

WP: That wasn’t really the point. It isn’t that he wants to die, it’s that he is going to die and wants to die the way he lived. We’ve talked about this, the life and personality of a chef. I thought it fit well with Jack’s effort to reform, a real test of character, you know?

NS: Whatever. People aren’t tuning in. Quite frankly, we don’t think you gave enough to the Mimi and Jack thing. Having her sleep with the French guy … takes a lot of wind out of the will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic when something like that happens. And she was so unapologetic about it. And I’m not even going to mention how slow the Seth-Tanya-Jim thing is getting off of the ground.

WP: Yeah, but it’s going to heat up. And Becky is set to be introduced. There’s still time for the romantic leads, even if it hasn’t quite worked out for Mimi and Jack. Hey – what about Steven and Mimi?

NS: Sorry, WP, it’s just too late. The audience isn’t interested in the kitchen.

WP: But … we never really got to show them the kitchen.

NS: Look, get over it.

-----

As far as I know, these conversations are entirely fictional. Indeed, the commentary tracks and short features included in the DVD set suggest that such conversations are unlikely to have happened at all. According to creator David Hemingson and others involved with the show, including star Bradley Cooper and producer-director Darren Star, everything about Kitchen Confidential was just “great.” No one seems to have been in the mood to talk about just why they wanted to make the show or what led to its demise.

So, maybe they did get over it, or maybe the vision was never there. The full run of 13 episodes reveals a series still struggling to find an identity or sense of purpose. While Bourdain's book clearly did provide some inspiration, the forces of conventionality appear to have earned the upper hand in shaping the show's trajectory. It maybe that the suits at Fox never gave Kitchen Confidential much of a chance, but, if the DVD release makes anything clear, it's this: even if the series had been given every chance to find an audience, the harder fight would have been keeping it.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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