We've seen Ramsay scream curses at poor money managers and imbecilic line cooks. We've seen him spit unappetizing food on to the floor of a restaurant in a way that makes the prospect of eating even tasty food totally unappetizing. We've also seen his hair jut out at absurd angles like platinum stalagmites and his shirts get tighter season after season. Yet never have we seen this natural-born screamer at a loss for words. At times during last week's episode, he was.
While who knows what miracles of exclusion the show's editing staff have wrought, the Australian-born owner of Burger Kitchen admits to snatching $250,000 from his son's inheritance to keep the business running -- without his son's permission. Other crimes pile up. He has flown in dry, pre-made patties of Australian Waygu. He has bounced checks left and right. Even worse, he has, it seems, instructed his cooks not to add salt to the restaurant's burgers.
No one comes off too pretty in the episode, from the head chef throwing around crazy eyes and telling the owner's wife to try Prozac; to the owner's wife, simultaneously serious and nutty, making a stink about a bit of wine added to some sauteed mushrooms; to the owner himself, bumbling yet confident, numb to criticism, grinning as he dubs himself a "meat expert." Even the desperate son, the logical protagonist, ends up in screaming matches.
If the power struggle isn't gory enough on its own, the countless shots of glistening half-raw burgers hacked up on plates drive home the conceit -- domestic carnage, a family funneled through the grinder.
Not that Kitchen Nightmares is a show about food. Though you'll see a well-appointed plate from time to time, there's very little cooking on it, and even less successful eating, as Ramsay's curses and spitting constantly remind us. Foremost, it's a show about humiliation, human folly, and hubris. Idiots turn shockingly bad ideas into restaurants. Good cooks show off a dizzying lack of business sense. Inept bosses heap blame on underlings, even as the ship they've steered sinks.
As reported in August, Burger Kitchen now boasts an "interactive blackboard," fried pickles, and a burger called the "Juicy Lucy," but the story is just too sad and nasty for us to want to give it another shot. Whether or not the re-tooled food can transcend the on-screen mayhem is a question for the Yelpers, and having watched this first installment, they're already circling like vultures.