"Kitchen Nightmares" on the BBC was a compelling reality series that saw chef Gordon Ramsay go to various small restaurants across the countryside and somberly assess the difficulties at the restaurant and sometimes sternly have to set the ship straight. The series was a highly engaging one that still stands up well.
"Kitchen Nightmares" came to the US and the result was an entirely different series. The Ramsay of "Kitchen Nightmares" and "The F Word" was replaced by the yelling Ramsay of "Hell's Kitchen". The series became locked into a formula (Ramsay comes to restaurant and sees disaster, owner yells at Ramsay for trying to change anything (help, in other words), Ramsay changes it anyways and owner suddenly is thrilled. Later on, it was discussed in the media that many restaurants featured on the show did not last and some were such a spectacle on the series ("Amy's Baking Company", which was the only time Ramsay gave up) that they gained infamy from it.
As for "Bar Rescue", the series is basically the bar version of the US version of "Kitchen Nightmares". That's not a bad thing as much as it is the idea that the show is what it is. Add a layer of SpikeTV on top of it and the show is geared perfectly towards that audience.
The series focuses on Jon Taffer, who certainly brings experience to the table, owning a nightclub/bar consulting firm and who has flipped over 800 bars in a few decades of experience. We quickly find out that there's just as many bars with issues as there are restaurants. Taffer and his associates certainly do their research: they investigate the bar, do market research, start to gain an understanding of where the facility could be improved, do stress tests and then a discussion of a new concept and potentially new menu, among many other details. The show is in real time and according to Taffer, none of it is scripted.
While I can say that the show does follow the US "Kitchen Nightmares" formula and the yelling (Taffer is far from subtle), it does actually provide a pretty decent look into all aspects of running an establishment. Where Ramsay was largely about the food and the look, Taffer really explores the business from top-to-bottom, including customer service and even the perfect pour of liquor. That's not saying that the bars don't sometimes slip back into their bad habits: they are under no obligation to keep any of the improvements that Taffer has brought into the business during the episode.
I'll recommend this talk with Taffer from "Talks With Google". It's about a 50 minute discussion of Taffer's history and philosophy, as well as how the show came about. As yell-y as the show can sometimes be, I think this 30 minute interview is a very insightful and more subtle exploration of what Taffer does. I'm rather impressed after watching the interview and can appreciate the series more after hearing all of the detail that goes into the process and into the bar business in general. I think this is a must-watch for fans.
That said, the DVD - which only offers four episodes - is not a great value ("Twin vs Twin", "Bad to the Bone", "Turtle on its Back", "Hostile Takeover"). Hopefully full season sets will be coming soon.
Video/Audio: The show is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The series looks fine, with satisfactory detail even in the lower-light scenes. A little bit of artifacting is seen at times, but the picture otherwise looks similar to broadcast quality. Overall, quality meets expectations. Audio quality was also pleasant, with well-recorded dialogue.
Extra:: Taffer's 10 Most Disgusting Bars feature. I'd love to have commentary by some of the bar owners for episodes, who look back on the episode and talk about some of their mistakes and how they've done since.
Final Thoughts: "Toughest Rescues" only includes four episodes and I don't think that's a particularly good value. However, this is an entertaining series and hopefully full season sets will be made available. I also have a whole new appreciation for the series after watching Taffer's discussion linked above.