Reviews

The Restaurant

Frances Katz

The Restaurant looks like Project Greenlight with saucepans.


The Restaurant

Airtime: Sundays 10pm (ET)
Cast: Rocco DiSpirito
Display Artist: Mark Burnett, Ben Silverman, Robert Riesenberg
Network: NBC
Creator: Robert Riesenberg
Amazon

The title of the new reality show from Survivor's Mark Burnett doesn't accurately describe its focus. The Restaurant is really about Rocco DiSpirito, well-known chef, well-known hunk (one of People's "Sexiest Men Alive"), and, as we soon learn, relentless self-promoter. Can he cook? Does he have any brains or business acumen? On this show, it hardly matters, as long as the audience is captivated by his quest to open a restaurant in hyper-competitive Manhattan.

While this establishment, Rocco's, has been open for several months by the series' start, the point appears to be documenting the difficulties he faced in getting it off the ground, while surrounded by TV cameras and limited by unusually short deadlines. His goal, he says early on, is to create a "personal" restaurant, based on childhood memories of home cooking; and so, in the first episode, when he tells his family in Jamaica, Queens about his plans, his mother agrees to work her "magic" in the kitchen.

By this point, he already has the backing of millionaire restaurant financier Jeffrey Chodorow, frequently seen hopping in and out of huge stretch limos, talking business at DiSpirito on his cell phone. DiSpirito also spends time on the phone with his publicist, planning TV and radio appearances to promote the show and the restaurant. Though he already owns a successful restaurant, he seems oddly unsure of himself in the face of such directives. Briefly, DiSpirito demurs, telling the publicist he doesn't want to do any promotion until he actually has a location and a plan. "Too late, buddy," the publicist tells him. "The wheels are already in motion."

Chodorow tells him the same thing when his dream location in the heart of New York's trendy SoHo district can't be procured. He's got to take second best, a less desirable site that appears to have almost no chance of opening on schedule. DiSpirito forges ahead. He appears on Today to announce auditions for wait-staff and "back of the house" cooks and kitchen help; almost immediately, long lines begin to form at the restaurant's location.

The show's website suggests its interest in "the foibles and flirtations of [Despirito's] waiters, waitresses, bartenders and sous chefs as they mix it up with the steady flow of Manhattan's social scene." As is usual on reality shows, these "characters" audition and Despirito proceeds to hire those who seem most likely not to get along with each other (that is, rather than selecting competent workers). One 20something waitress wannabe charms him by saying she loves food and to "nurture" people. Another prospect declares he has a "special light in his soul" that makes him an ideal waiter for this restaurant. "You are sooooo hired," DiSpirito swoons. Perhaps needless to say, the tension between the professional workers and those are just thrilled to be on television nearly sabotages the restaurant's success.

At times, The Restaurant looks like Project Greenlight with saucepans. The first episode showcases crisis after crisis. After the location skirmish, the contractors say they won't be finished in time for the opening. Furniture and fixtures don't arrive. The waiters and the kitchen staff are bickering before the ovens are installed. Even The Real World takes time out from all the hot tub trysts and shouting matches.

But The Restaurant doesn't let up. At last, an exhausted Despirito stops to throw cold water on his face; it's the episode's most honest-seeming moment. As he looks into the mirror with water trickling down his chin, his eyes reveal the fear and the stress that results from turning one's life and career over to reality TV producers.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image