The Good: Moments of humor, Interesting running storyline, Interesting characters
The Bad: Lack of DVD bonus features, Predictable humor, Low repeatability, Light on character development/acting
The Basics: Perhaps best when one catches only a single episode when far away from home, Chef! - The Complete Collection is not worth your time, attention, or money.
Sometimes, I am terribly wrong about a series and it does not take much for me to admit it. So, for example, a few years back I was traveling and I was in a place where there was nothing much to watch on television, save PBS. And they had Chef! I watched it and I recall enjoying it. So, I picked up Chef! The Complete Collection because I had nothing but fond memories of the show I saw. Now, though, I have nothing but the opposite.
Chef! is repetitive, low on character (despite being serialized), and on DVD remarkably light on extras. The humor is predictable, as are the plots, and most of the supporting cast changes each season (series) without any explanation.
This is a simple bundle pack of:
Chef! - Season 1
Chef! - Season 2
Chef! - Season 3
There are no bonus features, extra discs or features unique to this boxed set. This is simply the previously released discs in a new slipcase.
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 sous chef Lucinda, the lackeys Piers and Otto, and his new intern Everton.
Outside the kitchen, Gareth is having monetary problems. He and his wife are having a pretty standard marriage when the man is a boar and the woman is a nag, but the two decide to buy Le Chateau Anglais, which forces them to make even more cutbacks in their budget.
Chef! is a strange bird to evaluate because it is a rare serialized comedy - which I like about it - 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 in the autumn and early winter at le Chateau Anglais.
Chef! begins with the restaurant manager asking Gareth to cut back his kitchen budget by 20%, which Blackstock finds difficult because he has never fired anyone before. Janice concocts a scheme for Gareth to take on an intern, Everton, and promote Lucinda while firing the worker who never shows up on time and shows no aptitude in the kitchen.
The episodes continue with the Blackstocks deciding to buy the restaurant, but discovering the financial pitfalls of owning it will require them to sell their house and bribe bankers and police with free meals. Gareth smuggles illegal cheese in to use in one of his recipes, cooks Creole food he cannot stand and hunts down the best turkeys in England on the eve of Christmas.
In the second season, he is working with a 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.
In the third season, Gareth's devotion to Le Chateau Anglais has pushed him and Janice to the edge of bankruptcy, which led them to sell the restaurant to Cyril. Cyril is something of a dimwit, but he is absolutely loaded and he allows Gareth to run the restaurant the way he wants, for the most part. When Janice threatens to leave him, Gareth resigns from Le Chateau Anglais and Cyril and the kitchen staff plunge into chaos. Having a meal at the restaurant, Gareth comes to the rescue and, in the process, loses Janice.
This suits the new sous chef, Savanna, perfectly, as she has her eyes on Gareth and now that he is available, she feels she may make her move. Cyril continues to butt in, though, inserting his spoiled daughter Renee into the kitchen at Le Chateau Anglais. As Gareth struggles to reconcile with Janice, she begins to move on and Gareth's heart is continually broken as he witnesses her kissing another man and in the process of splitting up their assets, they go through the record collection, put on some Barry White and make love. Shortly thereafter, Gareth is reintroduced to an old flame, Rochelle and Janice drops a bomb on him.
Like the first season of Chef!, the final season is highly serialized. As a result, actions have consequences for Gareth Blackstock and his intrepid kitchen staff. Unfortunately, this does not make it funnier in any significant way.
First, what works: Chef! is funny. Gareth is amusing to watch for his very British seething moments of anger when he has to restrain his temper as well as for the vindictive outbursts which he tears apart his staff with. He is cruel in humorous ways, always arrogant and consistently well-performed by Lenny Henry. Well, it starts out as funny anyway.
Unfortunately, much of the humor is obvious and the viewer sees coming well before the first chance to laugh. So, for example, in the first episode, after insulting almost all of his staff, Chef Blackstock tastes a sauce and begins to angrily demand who made it. When Lucinda takes credit, we get the obvious reversal of Chef declaring that it is perfect. Throughout the series, such reversals become commonplace as Chef Blackstock has to apologize to others or admit was wrong to his wife.
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.
The DVD bonus features are remarkably simple. Henry and Lee-Johnson are interviewed in one and the other had Lenny Henry on "The Good Food Show," which is amusing to see once, but not terribly enduring.
With only twenty episodes, this show hardly holds up over many viewings and it's an easy one to pass on.
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© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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