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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

October 31, 2005
Arrested Development// Modern Sitcom// FOX Mondays, at 8:00pm
Rating: 8.5

Kitchen Confidential// Modern Sitcom// FOX Mondays, at 8:30pm
Rating: 7.0

Prison Break// Drama// FOX Mondays, at 9:00pm
Rating: 6.0

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations// Travel and Cooking// Travel Channel Mondays, at 10:00pm E.S.T.
Rating: Rating: 8.0
---

Was it really a good idea for FOX to move a Nielsen ratings challenged show like Arrested Development from is post-Simpsons slot of last year to Monday night as its prime-time lead in? Probably not. But the bad ratings aren't entirely FOX's fault, they have been promoting it consistently (even though they do tend to use the lamest clips from the show they can find) and were nice enough to renew it for a third season. Most networks probably wouldn't have brought it back for a second, much less a third. I'm sorry to be the pessimist, but Arrested Development is (barring an act from God or similar forces) not going to be the next Seinfeld. True, Seinfeld was a Larry David show which also had initially poor viewer ratings matched with great critical reviews before going on to attract 20 million viewers a week. Arrested Development is not going to attract 20 million viewers a week. It seems destined to forever be a show on the edge of cancellation. And that's fine, so long as it doesn't fall off the ledge.

Season 3 finds America's 35th favorite T.V. family (just an estimation), the Bluths, stumbling a bit. At least it is stumbling by their standards anyway. The season opener, "The Cabin Show," crammed in enough sexual innuendo to make Drew Carey blush. Not that sexual innuendo is a bad thing, mind you, especially when the writers can come up with stuff on par with Lucille's (Jessica Walter) "How am I supposed to find someone willing to go into that musty old clap trap?" comment after son Michael (Jason Bateman) suggests that she take a man up to the family log cabin, after an awkward pause, he responds "The cabin! Yes, well, that would be difficult, too." Still, the episode suffered from a few overused gags and ultimately came off as occasionally brilliant but mostly underwhelming.

The second episode, for all its absurdist glories, was muddled at best and sub-par at worst. The most recent installment however, "Forget-Me-Now", found Arrested Development back in peak form. It, like the previous episode, focused on Michael's courting of Rita (guest star Charlize Theron), who may or may not be a little slow mentally and who is most certainly spying on Michael. On their date, Rita asks Michael about his family, he, somewhat understandably, tells her that he doesn't have a family. A lie of course, a lie Rita herself soon discovers, and forgets, after Michael's family kidnaps and drugs her in a horribly failed attempt to do something nice for the long suffering Michael.

This show lives and dies by its cast and writing, the directing is usually topnotch as well, but this isn't really a visual show. Arrested Development's best episodes are those in which either every character (there are nine of them) has something interesting to do, usually interlocked in someway (hence the good writing), or when focusing on Michael's relationships with his son George Michael (the underrated Michael Cera) and deadbeat magician brother Gob (Will Arnett).

At this point in Arested Development's run the characters are well-defined. Michael is the show's main protagonist with Gob and George Michael acting as his most consistent wing-men. Lucille still excellently fills the role of the antagonist of sorts. Tobias (David Cross) and Buster (Tony Hale) are generally the series' go to guys for quick one-liners usually intended to be taken out of context, i.e. Tobias enthusiastically proclaiming "I can just taste those meaty leading man parts in my mouth!" But thus far, both of those characters seem to come off as a tad overbearing and the producers consider them to be the shows most expendable (they both miss about an episode or two each season) despite being fan favorites.

More alarming however, is the treatment of the remaining characters. George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is now under house arrest in the condo he used to share with wife Lucille and has little playing in his favor, though I'm curious to see how they develop the surrogate angle (George Sr. hired a guy to follow the family outside of the condo to act as his eyes and ears). Maeby (Alia Shawkat) is also finding herself with a weak story arc, and even though I'm all up for seeing more Jeff Garlin on television, the film studio executive storyline has played itself out. Thankfully it has only been refrenced once this season. Furthermore, the producer's appear to be completely uncertain as to what they should use Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) for this season; so far it's essentially the same thing as last year with her attempting (and failing) to pursue the open relationship her and husband Tobias agreed upon, with new attorney Bob Loblaw (sounds like Blah Blah Blah when pronounced).

The season is still young however, and we shouldn't forget that season 2 got off to a slow start as well. I'm positive that Mitch Hurwitz and company can reclaim their undisputed title as the best show on television. Still, when a show is as good as Arrested Development has been, it's hard to fault it without feeling guilty. Which brings us to Arrested Development's followup, Kitchen Confidential.

Like Arested Development, Kitchen Confidential is a modern sitcom (that is to say, a single-camera sitcom with no laugh-track) that is based on Anthony Bourdain's best-selling memoirs. It is the best match for Arrested Development available to the Fox network and, coincidentally, is also regularly flirting with cancellation.

The characters in Kitchen Confidential harbor an inherently unlikeable quality. The shows star, Jack Bourdain (played by Alias' Bradley Cooper; named changed to Jack so more stories can be fictionalized) is a recovering alcoholic/ drug-addict/ sex-addict/ et cetera who is given a second chance to run a five-star restaurant. The show's theme centers around the fact that he doesn't want to screw up again. He sets out to assemble a crew of the best chefs and specialists in the business, all of which are equally unlikeable in someway or another.

But these characters are all unlikable in the good British sitcom way. Sure the British chef (Owain Yeoman) is a shady kleptomaniac and the pastry expert (Nicholas Brendon) is somewhat menacing in an unidentifiable way, but flaws are what make people interesting. Because, simply stated, perfect people are boring and, ultimately, unlikeable in the bad way. Besides, you can't have perfection in a show about second chances, now can you?

Kitchen Confidential has, thus far, improved with each episode. From the marginal pilot to the great "Dinner Date with Death" episode featuring John Larroquette as Jack's mentor who has returned to request Jack to literally feed him to death. This show could be among the best of its generation, if Fox is as nice to it as they were to Arrested Development. Just cross your fingers and hope it returns strong after the playoffs.

Following Fox's new cooking drama is Prison Break. I'm not really a fan of the show, but I'm a completest and will go on to call it a competent, but very bland and by the books, dramatic series that moves along at the rate of a snail and whose characters are more cardboard than those found in Ayn Rand novels. And I can't be alone in thinking that it probably would have functioned better as a mini-series.

Far more interesting however, is the real life Anthony Bourdain's travel/food show on the Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Bourdain, unlike the characters on Prison Break, is multi-dimensional and interesting. As a former power player in the NYC cuisine scene, Bourdain obviously knows food. And what better way to educate us culinary philistines than by traveling the world, showcasing each country he visits unique cookery?

Bourdain is deeply knowledgeable (obviously), sometimes outrageous, often times witty, possesses just the right amount of smugness to be considered charmingly arrogant and can always find a way to make you hungry. And right now, it just so happens I'm craving a cheesy review cliché, so I will end by saying that Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations will always have a reservation in my heart.

--
Tim Smith
LAS' resident television expert.

See other articles by Tim Smith.

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