His name is Bourdain, Anthony Bourdain. He writes, he eats, he travels, he's hungry for more, and frankly so am I.
Now just who is Anthony Bourdain? I'll be honest. When I first caught his show No Reservations on the Travel Channel about a year ago I had no idea. I heard of "Kitchen Confidential" but never actually read the book and yet there I sat amused at the prospect of watching this guy eat his way through the bowels of some foreign country.
The show felt like a blend of Great Hotels, Fear Factor, and Phantom Gourmet all rolled into one and yet it was its own entity. Bourdain's dry sense of humor and outlandish "hard-edged" gave No Reservations a tone that few shows in this genre had. You won't find a bubbly tour guide on this trip. Instead, expect to watch someone smoke too much, drink to excess, and in some cases, quietly insult the natives. Naturally when I heard that Travel Channel was releasing a collection of first season episodes I just had to check it out.
For a fan coming into this DVD set it's important to know right off the bat that this isn't the complete first season. There are only eight out of the nine episodes that aired in 2005 (the Uzbekistan episode is missing if you're counting). It's also important to know that there are no frills with this DVD. No commentary or special feature grace any disc and the episodes are shown in their made for TV censored format. With that in mind it becomes quite evident that this is as barebones as you can get but No Reservations is such an entertaining show it's easy to overlook these flaws (somewhat).
In this set you'll see Tony visit Paris, New Jersey, Malaysia, Iceland, Sicily, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Vegas. Whether he's abroad or here in the States there is something in each episode to appreciate, though some are better than others.
For instance, I felt that the Las Vegas episode was one of the weakest found in this collection. All jokes and insults to Bobby Flay aside there wasn't a lot that "popped" from his particular adventure. Tony visited the usual spots in Vegas and had some fine commentary on the New York, New York hotel but it was all more or less forgettable. The same could be said for Iceland which was another weaker episode. He had a few decent adventures and ate some poisonous shark that was fermented in its own urine. He admits it's the most disgusting thing that he's ever eaten and apart from watching him be emasculated by a group of muscle-bound Vikings the rest of the episode was kind of boring (though the abandoned on an icy tundra bit was amusing).
Once you get past those two bumps in the road the rest of this set is mighty fine. I loved the Paris episode for the simple fact that Tony tries to convince us that France indeed does not suck. I don't know if he actually pulls it off but he shows us a side of France that is oft romanticized yet not shown as frequently as it should be. Oh, and he gets drunk on illegal absinth which is something you don't see every day.
Vietnam was another favorite episode of mine from this collection. Throughout the episode Tony keeps pretending to be James Bond and you never understand why until the very end. He winds up on an island resort with a host who behaves more like an evil mastermind than purveyor of touristy excitement. Other highlights from this set include the Lord of the Rings backdrop New Zealand, New Jersey (with a guest spot by Mario Batali), and Malaysia where Tony eats bull penis.
No Reservations is a fun travel show that will make you want to get out and explore the world. Bourdain is the perfect guinea pig with a cast-iron stomach for these adventures as well since he's not afraid to stray from the beaten path. Forget dining at four-star resorts and seeing the sites through a tour group and map. Tony shows us how fun it can be to immerse yourself in a native culture and do as the locals do. Ok, so I won't exactly be eating spleen sandwiches, snacking on lamb's head, and drinking rocket fuel but the show certainly excites one to see the world.
Each of these eight episodes aired in 2005 and offer quality comparable to other shows in the genre. Considering these adventures were shot abroad and without the benefit of having a studio No Reservations you can't expect near HD quality. The image includes a fair amount of grain and the overall picture is on the softer side of the spectrum. The contrast is handled well and the natural colors of the environment are presented nicely though some focusing issues and edge enhancement can be spotted as well. This DVD set doesn't appear to have been touched up in any way so if you've seen the show on TV you can expect it to look like the broadcast.
Just like the video quality, the audio is presented strictly in the manner of its broadcast. That means you can expect a 2.0 stereo English track to be the only method of listening to No Reservations. The quality is very good for what it is though the way that the program was recorded leaves some static or hiss in a few spots. The volume can also be a little pitchy at times but again that seems to be a byproduct of the recording rather than the mastering of this DVD. The presence on the soundstage is like you'd expect and offers little to no immersion.
There are no extra features on any of these four discs. It's a shame really because a commentary from Bourdain or documentary about the show would have been a great addition. Still, this is as good as it gets for fans so I suppose beggars can't be choosy.
When you look at the myriad of travel programs out there No Reservations stands out among the crowd. This is thanks to its host, Mr. Bourdain. He brings a certain charm and acerbic wit to the show that is simply out of the ordinary in the genre. This is a funny show with a message to be found in each episode as Tony narrates his thoughts about a culture in the only way that he can. A complete season with bonus content would have been appreciated but otherwise this is about as close to that as you're going to find. For the quality of the show alone I'm going to recommend this DVD.