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The high-profile restaurateur Gordon Ramsay has returned to the helm for his fourth series on Fox. The intense Brit’s familiar face has become a prolific brand for the network, and Fox’s impulse to install him in a new scene — hotels, inns and B&Bs — was a good one. Ramsay is a stern bringer of hope to unsightly environments, the horrors of which Hotel Hell relishes in uncovering. Although Ramsay can be coarse and prone to fits of anger, he is always fair in his assessment and restructuring of unfortunate establishments.
The two-part pilot is slated to run on consecutive nights, and it showcases a crackerjack story right out of the box. The beleaguered Juniper Hill Inn in Windsor, Vt., seems poised for disaster, despite Ramsay and his guest experts attempting to right it. The series hits all right notes of drama — untold horrors, an evil villain (but can he be redeemed?), a hardworking and put-upon staff — all under the roof of a mansion on a hill that is rife with snobbery in what is otherwise a working-class community.
The aforementioned villain is, like the pilot itself, twofold: the responsibilities are shared by Juniper Hill’s co-owners Robert Dean II (who says on camera in an early montage, “we don’t want people without money”) and his humorless business partner boyfriend Ari Nikki. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Dean and Nikki are — because of their pretensions and reckless spending — people without money. As Ramsey puts it aptly from the start regarding Dean, “What a muppet.”
Dean and Nikki’s frivolous expenditures and complete incompetence regarding inn keeping (they buy antique items but don’t pay their staff) is extremely frustrating to watch, and viewers will want to cheer when Ramsay intervenes. The inn hemorrhages cash every year as it sits nearly empty, serving no lunch yet boasting three-course subpar dinners at outrageous prices. Despite owning the sprawling and gorgeous building, the owners live outside in an expensive RV (“it’s actually a motor coach … that’s the more ‘upscale’ version,” Dean says) and keep a trio of potbelly pigs indoors in one of their many storage areas. The storage areas that house their immense collection of antiques are particularly cringe-worthy. “This is like a special edition of Hoarders!” Ramsay exclaims, which is exactly what’s so great about it.
Of course, the issue with the owners is never so much structural as psychological. As such, Ramsay is alternately a screaming coach, a disappointed father, an irritated guest and an understanding confessor to Dean, who has to go through a breakdown before Ramsay is able to get through to him the dire circumstances of his business. It’s emotional and cathartic television, especially seeing the completely abused staff begin to smile and hope, for the first time, that change might be real. As executive chef Giulian Jones said of Ramsay’s trademark style, “He had to rip some people down and bring them up again, but it was necessary.” Jones speaks from experience, as he too was subjected to Ramsay’s sharply critical eye and furious tirades.
Ramsay naturally creates drama wherever he goes, and despite a few forced scenarios, the fly-on-the-wall editing smoothly and engagingly creates narratives amid the chaos. The fun stuff is uncovering the abominations of mismanagement and hearing Ramsay’s expletive-ridden comments about them, but there’s always a redemptive arc as well. Although there are many who might quickly wish for Dean — or any of the featured incompetents of the series — to be sent down the burning elevators in the opening credits, there are few among us who don’t appreciate a good comeback story. It’s satisfying, and makes one ready to dive into whatever fresh hell Ramsay is up to tackle next.