Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seven Episodes, Zero Laughs: Chef! The Complete Series Two Flops!

The Good: Wow, you've got me for a change. Ummmm . . . . nice film stock?
The Bad: Not funny, No real character growth, Bland acting, Stale, stale, stale plots
The Basics: Easy to pan, Chef! in its second series on DVD is an un-funny presentation devoid of laughs or bonus features to redeem it.

Once upon a time, I was traveling and I caught an episode of Chef! and I was amused. Years later, I came upon the DVD collection of Chef! (reviewed here!) and remembered how, while on the road I enjoyed Chef! on PBS and I picked it up. And it was not good. Was wherever I was stuck in the U.S. truly so bad as to make Chef! seem good by comparison? I believe that is possible. I refuse, however, to believe that the episode I saw was from Chef! - The Complete Second Series [that's "seasons" for us Americans] Having picked that set up on DVD and watched all seven of the episodes, I have found it utterly without redemption, worth or - sadly - laughs.

When I watched and reviews Chef! The Complete Series One (reviewed here!), I made a comparison to the short-lived FOX television show Kitchen Confidential, which I have seen a few times now and at its worst makes me laugh still. The second series of Chef! did not make me laugh a single time. Not once. They had 205 minutes of my attention and garnered no laughs. It's that bad.

Le Chateau Anglais is a French restaurant where the finest food in England, if not the entire world, is prepared and served by Chef Gareth Blackstock. Gareth is high-strung, verbally abusive and something of a pain to live and/or work with. He demands the best out of his brand new sous chef - the recovering alcoholic - Gustave, the lackeys Crispen, Alice and Alphonse, and his loyal intern Everton. Everton is the only returning member of the kitchen staff and he displays a loyalty to Gareth that is uncompromising, despite coming into his own as a chef.

Outside the kitchen, Gareth is having marital problems. He and his wife are having a pretty standard marriage when the man is a boar and the woman is a nag, though in this season they work together as business partners to attempt to keep the place running. In the second series, Gareth spends a great deal of time outside the kitchen, leaving the food preparation to Everton when Everton is written about in a magazine and declared a master and when Gareth needs to prepare a romantic dinner to apologize to Janice.

Chef! in its second series is far less serialized than the first series - which is a strike against it in my book - but it involves terribly little in the way of character development. Thus, it is largely plot heavy and focused almost exclusively on Chef Blackstock. Because of that, the show is more about what happens than the people (or, in truth, person) doing it. The plot of Chef! then flows over the seven episodes (one disc) as a story of Blackstock and his staff at le Chateau Anglais and his marital problems with Janice, mostly around his lack of libido and her sudden desire for a child.

Chef! begins with Gareth scrambling to replace his sous chef. For that, he finds Gustave, a man whose cooking once impressed Blackstock, but who is now a raging alcoholic. Gareth hires him anyway, with Janice's blessing, only to discover that he drunkenly dreams of taking over the kitchen at the restaurant. Gareth puts him in his place while Everton struggles to keep the kitchen functioning

The episodes continue with the Blackstocks debating about having children and Gareth revealing his deep-seated fear of being a father. The Blackstocks run from the law when they smuggle in some unplucked pigeons against the law (with Chef Blackstock reiterating his utter inability to stand up to the police with even a simple lie) and a magazine does a feature on Everton, which makes Blackstock terribly jealous and feel out of touch. The tables are turned when Blackstock makes it onto an exclusive television show thanks to Janice's efforts, only to tear Janice apart on national television for her inability to cook. Tossed out of the house, Blackstock struggles to get back on her good side, which he does long enough for her to get him into an impossible competition in France.

Chef! in its second season is tragically not funny. There is an inane laugh track to supply the laughs that the show will not get from anything resembling actual humor. Gareth has not grown as a character and as a result, much of Lenny Henry's performance in the second season is what the viewer already saw in the first season. Henry's Blackstock work his way through long rants of insults to his workers and equally sarcastic quips to his wife, but none of them are terribly original or funny.

Unfortunately, much of the humor is obvious and the viewer sees coming well before the first chance to laugh. So, for example, in the final episode of the series, after insulting the French constantly and winning multiple second and third place awards in the contest, it comes as little surprise when Chef Blackstock actually wins the overall competition. Or when Gareth apologizes to Janice by taking her to the first place they made love only to have her point out it was not the first place they did it . . . these are standard and obvious jokes. Throughout the series, such reversals become commonplace as Chef Blackstock has to apologize to others or admit he was wrong to his wife or he simply insults his way to less-than-greater glory.

And the conflicts between Gareth and Janice soon wear thin on the viewer. After all, there are only so many times that Gareth can say "Shut up, Janice" before it loses its humor and one begins to be disturbed by the obvious cruelty behind it. So, in addition to the humor being a bit obvious at too many points, Chef! suffers because the protagonist is largely unlikable in a way that is less pleasant than amusing.

Similarly, Chef! The Complete Series Two is short. With only seven episodes, just under half an hour each, the repetitive nature of the plots and character actions is accented somewhat. Chef! wears itself out quickly on DVD, making for a poor investment for a permanent collection. Because there are no DVD bonus features, all we have are the episodes. Because the episodes focus almost exclusively on Chef Blackstock and his violent mood swings, abrasive declarations and apologies, it quickly takes on a very formulaic feel. One shudders to think how stale it would be by a third viewing. If I didn't laugh the first time, I doubt the third would make me smile.

But the truth is, because it is so repetitive and it focuses on Gareth so heavily, there is little room for any other character to shine. Indeed, I don't believe there was a single scene that did not have Gareth in it. As a result, characters like Janice soon are relegated to looking very much like a parody of a character, as opposed to a genuine character who has any depth or shading to her. She might have started the series as a schemer, but by the time the second series ends, she is almost exclusively a shrill nag who demands of Gareth in a way that almost makes one understand how he could neglect her in favor of his kitchen.

This DVD is easy to pass by; it's a comedy that is not funny, not clever and hardly original.

For the sophmore seasons of other comedies, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia - Season 2
Weeds - Season 2
30 Rock - The Complete Second Season


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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