Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: "Holiday Special"

Illustration for article titled Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: "Holiday Special"
Illustration for article titled Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: "Holiday Special"

So how different is the Anthony Bourdain Christmas show from the Larry The Cable Guy Christmas show, really? Both are riffing on classic '70s TV specials, though Bourdain is more overt, sitting suited in front of a fire and saying into the camera, "Remember those old Bing Crosby specials?" Both feature musical guests: Kid Rock fronting a massive rock outfit for Larry; and Queens Of The Stone Age donning ironic sweaters and playing carols acoustically for Anthony. Both make references to drugs and strippers, though Larry pretends to be living that lifestyle, while Anthony's winking at (or boasting about) a sordid past that's reportedly behind him.

The difference is that I like Bourdain. But of course, I'm supposed to. A cynical smart-ass with a store of pop-culture knowledge, a punk-rock attitude and an urbane intellect? The whole reason Bourdain's on TV is that advertisers expect my key demo–middle-aged over-consumers with disposable income–to tune and watch his culinary monkeyshines. So I have no illusions here. In terms of entertainment value, a slobby faux-redneck comedian and a rakishly ruffled faux-badass chef probably aren't so far apart. It's all a matter of taste.

That said, No Reservations does offer a little more variety. As always with the show, this "Holiday Special" lives and dies with its quirky set pieces. The episode presents the premise that Bourdain is cooking Christmas dinner for his brother's family (and Queens Of The Stone Age), and so he travels the northeast looking for fresh ingredients, decorating tips, and wholesome recreation. When Bourdain brings in professional "decorators to the stars" to work with his sullen teenage niece and foul-mouthed tweener nephew on trimming the tree, the bit dies on the vine, cocked up by the youths' poor acting and the absence of any useful information. But when Bourdain takes his cameraman up on his curling challenge, the results are much more fun, because…well, because curling is awesome.

But the best parts of the special–aside from the actual cooking scenes, which were as perfunctory and matter-of-fact as Bourdain could make them, since he's not really a "TV chef" per se–were the scenes of our host traveling to nearby farms to buy free-range turkey and foie gras. In one segment, Bourdain argues for sustainable farming and uncaged livestock. In the other, he takes a stand against PETA's campaign against fattened duck liver. In both cases, he's really arguing for getting what he wants–tasty, tasty meat–without feeling guilty about it.

I mean…isn't that what the holidays are all about?

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-No Reservations has one of the longest pre-commercial teasers in basic cable, such that I'm never sure if I'm watching more actual show or just the commercial for more show.

-"Crapload" = 2 lbs.

-"Of course, the obligatory testicle-eating scene."