Empty9-10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19
Charismatic blond chef Gordon Ramsay of "Hell's Kitchen" fame takes his second stab at Fox gastronomy-themed reality series success with this formulaic effort replete with all of the genre trappings that we have come to know and endure: the tearing down process, the building-up process, the on-cue clashing, the momentous music that builds to a driving crescendo -- and of course, the editing-for-maximum-sensationalistic-effect.
We're pretty sure that by the end of each episode, there will be at least the pretense of stability, all thanks to a culinary miracle man named Ramsay. He's got that accent, so those working the failing establishments chosen to be rescued by him had better listen and listen good. If he can't save their sorry clueless butts, nobody can. Not that this necessarily makes for top-notch drama or anything. But let it be said that the opener is nothing if not entertaining despite its clockwork predictability.
To be sure, the "Kitchen Nightmares" concept is another of those international phenomena imported to America, this after having found success in more than 50 territories worldwide. The one thing that evidently binds the nations of the world is their propensity to produce troubled restaurants.
The premise here has Ramsay visiting a new eatery that's losing its shirt each week, and he's given a week to help it get its shirt together, so to speak. His strategy is to sample the cuisine, identify everything that's wrong, scream and shout, demonstrate tough love by shining a mirror that helps the staff see the error of their ways -- then give them all of the tools (new equipment, reworked menu, improved mindset) to help them succeed on their own. It's like "Supernanny" for restauranteurs.
Of course, the show isn't really about illustrating prescriptions for success in the food biz but capturing the in-fighting and meltdowns spurred by Ramsay's presence.
This certainly is the case in the first hour, when the ballsy Brit pays a visit to the dysfunctional Peter's Italian Restaurant in Babylon, N.Y., a family-run affair being driven into the ground by the mercurial, lazy and not terribly bright head guy Peter. He has allowed his place to dive into the red and go to pot with a dull menu, shoddy, broken-down kitchen, lousy quality food and plummeting morale.
Ramsay does what he needs to do to have them all face the truth: they're going under. All except for the dimwitted Peter, of course, who will need further humility lessons (including near-violent run-ins with bill collectors) before it penetrates his thick skull.
"Kitchen Nightmares" pushes all of the proper emotional buttons to draw we viewers in. But we're never for a moment able to suspend the notion that we, the audience, are being played.
Exhibit A: Eyeing the crawl credits, I noted no fewer than 18 (that's right, 18) staffers in casting roles for the opening installment. Those include casting coordinators, associates, editors and even something called a "casting risk manager." What does that even mean? Is this someone who oversees the casting of the casting people themselves? Why do you need so many casting crew members -- or even one -- for a so-called reality show set inside a real-life restaurant? Are you casting people who don't really work there? Is it naive even to ask? This isn't to mention the five credited "story producers."
Anyway, such is life in the world of "unscripted" TV, where "Nightmares" figures to find the fall season footing especially rough on Wednesday nights at 9. They're up against against a trio of well-hyped newcomers in ABC's "Private Practice," the CW's "Gossip Girl" and NBC's "Bionic Woman," not to mention CBS' retooled "Criminal Minds." This could well turn out to be a short-lived nightmare.
Granada America and Optomen in association with A. Smith & Co.
Executive producers: Arthur Smith, Kent Weed, Gerry McKean, Patricia Llewellyn, Curt Northrup
Supervising producers: Rachel Tung, Rob Buchta
Coordinating producer: Simeon Soffer
Associate producers: Cherisse Corbin, Brian Pargac, R.C. Patterson, Vanessa Ranko
Line producer: Michael E. Gretza
Director: Brad Kreisberg
Director of photography: Laurent Basset
Lead editor: Andy Castor
Art director: Jennifer L. Beck
Composer: David Vanacore
Costume designer: Barbie Hatch
Casting: Sheila Conlin
Narrator: J.V. Martin
Chef: Gordon Ramsay