If there's one message that Gordon Ramsay repeatedly hammers home in Kitchen Nightmares–UK and US–it's that restaurants are businesses first and foremost, no matter how much owners and chefs want to bask in the abstract wonders of the culinary arts. Tonight's episode–the first half of it anyway–was old-school KN, with a dialed-in, frustrated-but-not-mean Ramsay storming Long Island landmark The Seascape Inn and explaining how easy the restaurant should be to turn around. The bookings may be falling off, but The Seascape Inn has customers, and a tradition that dates back about a half-century. A steam-cleaning, a coat of paint, and new menu ought to fix what's ailing the place.
Because of that fundamental lack of suspense, "Seascape" is more or less done after 30 minutes. (In the second half of the show, the producers even stop the "Coming up on Kitchen Nightmares" teases, probably because there's nothing exciting to tease.) But man, that first half hour! We get a pair of classic KN doofuses (or is that doofi?): A Culinary Institute Of America-trained chef named Doug, who thinks Ramsay's intrusion into his kitchen is "a slap in the face," and a sous-chef who responds to all of Ramsay's commands with a grumbly "whatever." And though in the past Kitchen Nightmares' creative editing has raised questions about how truly nightmarish its kitchens are, there's no denying the cruddiness of The Seascape Inn's food, which we see heated up in microwaves then sprinkled with so much parsley that Ramsay can blow gently on the plate and make the tablecloth in front of him look like a Christmas Tree skirt on December 26th.
But the food's not the only problem. (When is it ever?) The Seascape Inn has rotting walls, an open/closed sign sloppily hung on a traffic barrier out front, and a kitchen caked in grease. (Ramsay to the Seascape's owner/manager, Peter: "Touch a wall! You filthy pig!") There's spoiled food in the fridges and freezers, and Chef Doug gives not the shit. In fact he's so pissed about Ramsay's meddling that he refuses to taste one of the new dishes the upstart super-chef has prepared. ("I basically know what striped bass tastes like," Doug mutters.) And when he and his sous chef try to prepare the dish, they overcook it. So Ramsay has them both fired. And .
Well, that's it for real drama in "Seascape," though there's some manufactured drama still on the docket, as Ramsay pulls out a standard gimmick from the UK series, engaging the owner in a little light athletics and pep-talking. He drags Peter into a boxing ring, and Peter delivers an undoubtedly sincere but still scripted-sounding monologue about his late father–The Seascape Inn's former owner–and how because of Dad's withholding of love, Peter's never learned to stand up for himself. Then, just when all seems lost during a backed-up dinner service at the restaurant's relaunch, Peter predictably pulls himself together, starts barking orders to his staff, and the day is saved.
Obviously, this one half-assed emotional breakthrough is all Peter and The Seascape Inn needed, so the Kitchen Nightmares editors can feel free to spend the last three minutes on one of their patented deleted scenes montages. Ramsay hosts a clam chowder cook-off! Ramsay teaches Peter how to buy fresh produce! Peter turns the business around! Oh, and by the way, Peter sold the restaurant five months later. The end.
What the hell? Still, this was half of a really entertaining episode, and the slightly less obnoxious Ramsay offers some hope that Kitchen Nightmares might become more reliably diverting and less hair-tearingly annoying.
-I have a hard time keeping my Ramsay Belgian maître d's named Jean-Something straight, but didn't Jean-Baptiste appear on The F Word? Anyway, it was good to see a Ramsay staffer on KNUS, though I wish he'd been given more to do than just working the expo line. He was supposed to be there to show Peter how to work a dining room–something that might've been fascinating to learn–not just to slap ramekins of tartar sauce onto the Captain's Platters.
-Shirtlessness again! Always a signifier of a quality episode.
-I loved the image of Ramsay riding into Islip, NY on a boat, his naval jacket stiff against the wind and hair rippling. And I loved Peter's fawning response when Ramsay entered the restaurant: "His height threw me off. I didn't realize how tall he was." Next week: A restaurateur comments on how clean Ramsay smells, and how he has the neatest fingernails of any man he's ever met.