Thursday, November 3, 2011

Generic British Humor And BBC Conceits Sink Chef! The Complete Third Series On DVD!

The Good: The final episode and DVD bonus features
The Bad: Overbearing soundtrack, Largely not funny, Predictable character and plot arcs
The Basics: Predictable, not terribly funny, and overbearing with the soundtrack and laugh track, Chef! - The Complete Third Series flops.

Sometimes, I wonder why I do it. After all, it does take some serious dedication to sit through some of the things I sit through. I mention this because after sitting through the first DVD, I discovered I didn't much like Chef! (reviewed here!). It was little surprise, then, that when I persevered on with Chef! - The Complete Second Series (reviewed here!), I liked it even less. Yet, for my readers, I suffered through the third and final season (series in the British jargon) of Chef! on DVD. And now that it's done, I'm not quite sure why I bothered.

Chef! fills a niche that is so seldom filled, a comedy set in a kitchen. In fact, American audiences only got the second course when FOX released Kitchen Confidential, which was slightly more edgy and generally funnier than Chef! but clearly owes something to Lenny Henry for paving the way. In its final series, Chef! has only six episodes before being put to rest and it's none too soon for those who haven't been enjoying the series.

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. Indeed, this is a terribly un-funny series by this point and were it not for the way the series finale pulled the set up (as do the few DVD bonus features), it would have been much easier to knock this down to the one-star rating.

What makes this season of Chef! so bad? First, there has been a production overhaul on the series. As a result, there is an overbearing soundtrack that accents each and every emotion in the way that most shows stopped doing in the U.S. by the mid-1980s. Instead of the occasional subtle notes or a classy soundtrack, the show moves from dramatic emotional punctuation in "Gareth's True Love" to scenes that have music in virtually every scene, including Gareth singing in "Love Is In The Air" to a Reggae and dance soundtrack for "Rochelle." This is a noticeable change from earlier seasons and it immediately telegraphs the emotions in a way that is more intrusive than well-conceived.

Similarly, the laugh track in this season is especially sparse, which would usually be a good thing. Unfortunately, though, when it pops up it is more like a dictation, than a reflection on actual humor within the show. In other words, when the laugh track goes off, it is like the producers saying "Laugh!" as opposed to an audience joining the viewer in finding something funny. I laughed once during this season of Chef!

The plots are generally predictable in this season of Chef! Strangely, from the opening frames with Gareth it seemed like he and Janice were on the outs and it did not take long before she was leaving, giving him the inevitable last chance - which he blew - and finding himself in the company of his kitchen staff. As with the prior season, the kitchen staff has been rotated out, though there is some indication in the final episode that Gustav is intended to be the same as Gustave in the prior series (if so, he was recast and outside the vague alcoholic reference in the finale, there is no other indication that the character is the same). Everton is the same Everton as in the rest of the series. Cyril, though, is the new manager which puts a dynamic in play much like in the first season before Janice and Gareth bought Le Chateau Anglais. Renee adds virtually nothing to the mix, but Savanna fills in as a sous chef with a new twist; ugly American. That's the stereotype of Americans; she is played by Lorelei King, who might as well be a stand-in for Kim Catrall. King appeared in the BBC film Painted Lady and she is quite good in this as Savanna.

But the characters outside Janice, Gareth and Everton are hardly interesting. Renee and Cyril are both archetypes of the rich snob. Similarly, Savanna is simply an "ugly American" and Gustav fits into the role of "male chauvinist" without any real flair or distinction. Jancie is her usual harpy self, though she does get to soften some with her unfulfilled desires in regards to Gareth and having children.

But Gareth makes all of the most predictable and obvious mistakes, from the moment he buffonishly asks Janice where she is going when she walks out on him. The problem is, Chef! in this season takes on a much more generic brand of humor than what the series had before. As a result, Le Chateau Anglais is a simple setting for humor that has largely been done before.

Caroline Lee-Johnson does fine as Janice in this season, adding a little shading to her otherwise monolithic portrayal of Janice. This season, she is a real woman with needs that have not been met. Similarly, Roger Griffiths shines as Everton, fleshing the lackey part out to a very real character with ambitions and desires of his own. So, for example, in "Rochelle," Griffiths gets to take more of a starring role as Everton arranges a wedding, illustrating that he can handle the spotlight.

But much of the series lands on the comedic talents of Lenny Henry as Gareth Blackstock. Unfortunately, Henry decides this is the proper series to begin channeling Brian Blessed and Hugh Laurie's comedic routines from Black Adder. His performance oscillates between a sudden obsession with physical humor and dancing and routines he has played before as the bellowing chef.

Ultimately, this is an easy series to leave behind and 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.

In other words, there are better comedy series out there to watch and collect.

For other comedies that died in the third season, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Veronica Mars - The Complete Third Season
Arrested Development - Season Three


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

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

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment