Monday, April 21, 2014

Things I Like: Chef!

With the introduction of shows like Downton Abbey and Sherlock, British television has really begun to reach mainstream America in a way that it really hasn't, before. But PBS has been showing British TV for a long time, and there are some of us who've been interested in it since we were little. I watched Doctor Who when I was little, but we also watched other stuff. There was Monty Python (naturally), Are You Being Served, Black Adder, Mr. Bean, Keeping Up Appearances, As Time Goes By, Fawlty Towers, Waiting for God- a really huge variety of shows. I didn't really watch a lot of 'normal' television before I turned 12 or 13 (my brother and I watched the Simpsons for a few episodes, but Mom banned it), it was mostly these shows that I watched.

One of my all-time favorites, and one I don't hear a lot of people talk about, is Chef! (The name of the show is Chef!, I'm not being over-excited about it.)

The show revolves around Gareth Blackstock (played by Lenny Henry), Chef de Cuisine at La Chateau Anglais, and is either the best chef in England or the best chef in the world (depends on who you ask).

Gareth is very good at what he does, and gets furious when his kitchen doesn't meet his exceedingly high standards. He has no true people skills (when it comes to comforting someone going through a rough time or talking with customers about their meal, he's terrible) and is even worse at maintaining an even keel with his wife, relying on large romantic gestures to close the gap when he's fucked things up again.

I have heard that Gareth's character is based partially on Gordon Ramsay, but I haven't been able to find that substantiated anywhere, and so I can't say for certain. I can certainly see why people might say that, though, and there are definitely similarities. 

The true humor of the show comes from the contrast of Gareth, who reigns his kitchen with an iron whisk, being thrust into incredibly awkward situations. It's about seeing the fish both in and out of water.

There are only three characters that are consistent for the run of all three series (as it's a British show, series = seasons), Gareth Blackstock, his wife Janice, and Everton (a kitchen aid who grows into a talented chef under Blackstock's tutelage).

Series One:

Series One is mostly about Janice and Gareth selling their house and car so they can buy La Chateau, which was being terribly mismanaged, and their adventures in keeping La Chateau afloat. Everton, who went to school with Gareth long ago, wants to work under him because Everton wants to be a chef, but he knows nothing about cooking, so he is started as a kitchen menial. It is, without a doubt, the best series of the three, which is a little unfortunate. It culminates in the only Christmas episode in all three series.

Series Two:

Let's be clear: I really like the second series, too. It's not quite as good as series one, but it's still really good, and it ends in one of the best episodes in all three series. La Chateau is doing well, as a restaurant, though they are critically understaffed. They take on a new chef, who (it turns out) is an amazing chef, but also is an alcoholic who must be watched around the wine. He's also a sexist jackass. Everton, it becomes clear, has learned a lot under Gareth and really can cook. Much to Gareth's annoyance.

Series Three:

The problem with series three is that it, largely, takes place outside of the kitchen. People watch Chef! to see Gareth deal with his kitchen, but for the most part, it runs without him. Or he's far too depressed to do much more than show up and cook.

Janice leaves him (which is only surprising, honestly, in that it has taken so long). This series deals with the fallout from that. Everton's growth as a chef is pushed aside by a new character, an incredibly annoying American woman. Everton's relationship with Gareth also seems to have been retconned a bit- they act a lot more like old school chums than they ever did. In previous series, Everton and Gareth had attended school together, but only really kinda knew of each other. It's also possible that this wasn't retconned, but had just never been explored in previous seasons.

However, series three also resolves a lot of plot threads that have been laid down since series one, so if you're really involved with the characters, it's worth watching. (Honestly, meeting Everton's Auntie Clarice is worth the price of admission, in my opinion).

**Important Edit: just discovered that Chef! is available on Hulu Plus, for those of you that have it.