Compact, bald, and sleepy-eyed, Anthony Melchiorri looks like the guy Evan Handler might be imitating when he slips into his pushy-aggressive mode. Melchiorri is a hotel fixer whose previous experience in television consists of an executive producer credit on the 2008 Alyssa Milano TV-movie Wisegal, and he makes a singularly charmless star for this reality series. The awkwardly titled Hotel Impossible models itself on one of the smartest and most entertaining shows of its kind (at least in its original British incarnation), Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
On that series, chef Gordon Ramsay, who bears only a passing resemblance to the shrieking madman of that same name who stars on Hell’s Kitchen, parachutes into a failing restaurant, samples the food and the atmosphere, sizes up the staff and the management, and, based on his instant analysis of the establishment’s strengths and weaknesses, implements a makeover. Compared to the whole run of reality competition series (which Ramsay also has both thumbs and part of a toe in), it’s a refreshing series because it’s not about putting amateurs in a potentially humiliating situation but about a successful professional offering his expert advice to other, struggling professionals to help them become better at what they do.
There seems to be something inherently entertaining about the process of maintaining, screwing up, and/or saving a restaurant that doesn’t translate to hotels. Or maybe it’s just that Melchiorri is no Gordon Ramsay. When Ramsay finds an under-appreciated but talented chef slaving away in a vermin-infested kitchen under a head chef who's risen above the level of his own natural talents, his efforts to instill self-confidence in this budding master and help them achieve their true full potential can be inspiring. His love of cooking as a craft and an art form makes the whole process seem elevating, even when it takes the form of bellowing at the less gifted people in the room that they need to pull their heads out of their asses and get with the program.
There may be a way to transfer that kind of feeling to a show about hotels, but Melchiorri, even when he has a point, mostly just seems pissy. His obsession with cleanliness makes him sound like Howard Hughes wondering if someone has broken into his suite and used his toothbrush. Querying the maids at Gurney’s Inn at Montauk, he breaks into a little disquisition about how the remote control for the TV is invariably the least sanitary thing in any room, because “everybody touches” it. Touch the remotes, hell. He acts as if he’d seen security camera footage of people using them to scratch their bare crotches, and seems on the verge of ordering that all the remotes in the hotel be boiled.
Other atrocities that draw out all the umbrage he can muster include an inner toilet rim that does not pass his toilet-paper test with flying colors and a waiter who licks his fingers no fewer than three times while being observed on hidden camera. A bellman—“the ambassador of the hotel!”—whom he observes passing a guest without saying hello also gets right up his nose. When Melchiorri is upset about things like this, he waves his arms when he talks. He also waves his arms when talking about how happy he is about something, claiming to be pleasantly surprised, paying tribute to the wonderful beachside view, and asking for the time. When he’s really excited about something, the crew has to attach lead weights to his ankles so that he doesn’t take flight.
The first two episodes of Hotel Impossible nicely sum up the show’s range. The Gurney’s show gives Melchiorri the chance to visit a thriving establishment with a long, respected history and scold the owners for having grown complacent and out of touch. Gurney’s has been around since the 1920s, but it became a local legend after it was acquired by the ambitious innkeeper Nick Monte in 1956. Members of the Monte family still run the place, and Melchiorri is quick to identify Paul Monte as a stolid, clueless impediment to the hotel’s continuing greatness.
He blows a gasket when he arranges a meeting with Monte and is kept waiting, because, Monte explains, they’re on “Montauk time.” “We’re on fuckin’ Montauk time?” Melchiorri asks the camera man later, when they’re alone. “Are you shittin’ me!?” But then, he’s almost as appalled when he calls a “stand-up meeting” of the staff and walks in to find that some of them, not sharing his relish for the literal, are sitting down. (Paul Monte has already done his share of spin control by telling the Long Island paper Newsday that the TV crew was “running around here for over a week, trying to create and find drama. They thought they were coming into a family-run operation to find people backstabbing and backbiting, and they didn’t find any of that stuff,” and that by jerking Melchiorri around, he was just trying to do his part by helping to create “some drama for them.”)
The second episode is designed to show that, when he’s not speaking truth to power with the big boys, Melchiorri can also seek out deserving small timers and try to take them to his bosom. This time, he’s in Florida, visiting the New Yorker, which he describes as a “hidden gem” and a “diamond in the rough.” It’s so rough, in fact, that when he checks in, he’s greeted on his first trip to the bathroom by an unflushed toilet, something that, if he’d had to put up with it at Gurney’s, probably would have inspired some hotel-improvement advice that involved a can of gasoline and a match. But because he wants to use this down-at-the-mouth hotel to show off his softer side, he lets it slide.
God knows the owners, Shirley and Walter, can use every break he’ll cut them. A sad, tinkly piano is heard as Shirley enumerates their woes. She’s recently been diagnosed with MS, she and her husband are a million dollars in debt, and they’ve been reduced to moving themselves, their triplets, and Shirley’s parents into a room of their hotel. If only they could land a big corporate account that might bring some money in. Shirley mentions that she actually received an email from some company looking to dump some business in their laps, and one of these days, when she’s not busy pasting her kids’ pictures onto her unpaid bills to make herself feel better about not spending more time with them (the kids, not the bills), she might actually respond to that email. Melchiorri demonstrates the depth of his commitment by getting on the phone and working out an arrangement with the company, while Shirley demonstrates the hopelessness of his efforts by standing nearby, looking as if she’d rather be in a field somewhere chasing butterflies.
There’s no question that Melchiorri cares about the hotel business, maybe as much as Gordon Ramsay cares about restaurants. And maybe there’s no reason that a man who says that he’s wanted to be in the hotel business since he was three years old can’t sound just as inspirational, and be just as entertaining, as a man who talks about how his bad-boy youth naturally led him to want to take the culinary world by storm. I don’t know how Melchiorri can learn from Ramsay in troubleshooting hotels in a way that makes for good TV. But it would probably help if, so long as he’s on-camera, he at least keeps his hands out of the toilet. Though he does get credit for not waving them around in there.