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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (FOX)
(Mondays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)
The network's description: "Based on renowned chef Anthony Bourdain's best-selling autobiography, KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL explores the deliciously crazy world of upscale restaurants. Chef JACK BOURDAIN (Bradley Cooper, "Alias," "I Want to Marry Ryan Banks") found enormous success at a young age, but his culinary genius also led to a lifestyle of boozing, womanizing and drugs. After hitting rock bottom and deciding to sober up, the only job he could get was slopping soggy pasta for the masses at a tacky opera-themed restaurant. Out of the blue, Jack is offered an opportunity to get back in the game as head chef at a top New York restaurant. There's just one problem: the owner gives Jack a mere 48 hours to fully staff his kitchen and prepare to dazzle over 300 customers � including the food critic for the New York Times (who also happens to be a jilted ex). Jack hastily assembles a renegade crew of colleagues from his past, including chefs STEVEN DAEDALUS (Owain Yeoman, "Troy"), SETH KLEIN (Nicholas Brendon, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and TEDDY WONG (John Cho, "Harold & Kumar"). Also along for the ride are TANYA (Jaime King, "White Chicks," "Pearl Harbor") the hostess, a rookie pastry chef named JIM (John F. Daley, "Freaks and Geeks"), and the owner's daughter, the gorgeous MIMI (Bonnie Somerville, "NYPD Blue"), who can't wait for Jack to fail. In KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, executive producers Darren Star ("Sex and the City") and David Hemingson ("Just Shoot Me," AMERICAN DAD) expose the secrets of the restaurant business through the delectable story of a talented chef who's determined to climb back to the top of the food game."
What did they leave out: Andrea Parker ("Less Than Perfect"), Frank Langella ("Unscripted") and Bitty Schram ("Monk") all guest star in surprisingly meaty roles, as Jack's current girlfriend, his new boss and his food critic ex-girlfriend respectively.
The plot in a nutshell: After self-destructing at the top of his game, "bad boy" chef Jack Bourdain (Bradley Cooper, now forced to cook pasta at a theme restaurant) finds himself on the road back to success after an out of the blue invitation arrives to run Bistro Pino, a potential new hot spot owned by (you guessed it) Pino (Frank Langella). With some prodding by his girlfriend Suze (Andrea Parker), he accepts and quickly finds himself racing against the clock to assemble a staff and get things ready. It's here we meet the rest of the cast - there's Steven (Owain Yeoman), a tough-guy/womanizing sous chef; Jim (John F. Daley), an Opie-ish line cook; Seth (Nicholas Brendon), a gambling obsessed pastry chef; seafood chef Teddy (John Cho), who goes along to help his staff get visas; and Tanya (Jamie King), a dim-bulb but ridiculously attractive hostess. Also thrown into the mix is Pino's daughter Mimi (Bonnie Somerville), whom Jack mistakes as Pino's girlfriend. Suffice it to say the usual kitchen hijinx follow with the group struggling to impress Reese Ryder (Bitty Schram), a food critic and Jack's bitter ex.
What works: The producers have assembled the most recognizable, talented and interesting cast of any new fall series this season. Nearly everyone involved in front of or behind the camera (hell, even the guest stars) have ties to some of the best TV shows in recent memory ("Alias," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Freaks & Geeks," "N.Y.P.D. Blue," "Sex and the City" to name a few) and the gloss they provide is obvious. It's just plain cool that as every character is introduced, there's an added rush of "I'm glad to see him or her involved." Overall despite a somewhat uneven start, the show just feels like it's going to gestate into a winner.
What doesn't: I have to confess that I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed after viewing the end result. In many ways the show just feels very disjointed - a lot of the humor is forced (oh no, we lost Steven's thumb in one of the entrees - I wonder if it will show up in the plate of the food critic who will make or break us?) and Jack's transformation from successful chef to washed up chef back to successful chef feels ridiculously rushed. Even more troubling is that one can't help but feel if the supporting cast wasn't played by the actors involved, they could easily be written off as one-note characters. But these gripes aside, it's almost impossible not to root for this show - there's just too many charming and interesting actors involved to write it off this early.
The challenges ahead: After stumbling with "Miss Match," is this "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star's next big thing? And when FOX's other single-camera shows struggle for viewers in spite of lavish praise by critics and the like, is there room for one more on the network? We'll find out this fall on FOX.