Anthony Bourdain's new CNN show Parts Unknown debuted last night on CNN. The show, which is very much like his Travel Channel show No Reservations, which ended in November of last year, took us last night to Myanmar, a country that only recently began allowing outsiders in, let alone western film crews.
The show very much followed the format of No Reservations — no surprises, seeing as it's a formula that wasn't broken in the first place, and because Parts Unknown is produced by Zero Point Zero Production, the same company Bourdain worked with for No Reservations and The Layover.
The most obvious difference about Parts Unknown was the level of cinematography. The show is gorgeous, and there are a lot of fancy slow-mo super-crisp images that create an almost dream-like feel in places. I felt as though there was almost too much of this type of ultra fancy camerawork, and it had the effect at times of making me feel as though I were inside a commercial — it's the style of crispness and romantic slow motion most often used for the emotional manipulation of pharmaceutical ads.
But the best parts of Bourdain were all here, particularly his refusal to sugar-coat anything or romanticize and gloss over the unsavory parts of travel. There were flashes of footage from the long and bloody history of Myanmar's conflicts. Bourdain spoke at length about the parts of the country inaccessible to travelers. When his travel companion spoke of how the temple ruins in Bagan blended into the countryside so beautifully, Bourdain responded with a story of how the people living around the temples had been forcibly relocated to allow for that unfettered view. He also mentioned the slave labor that was undoubtedly used to build the temples in the first place.
And of course, there was a lot of food — the intense, complex salads and stews of Myanmar, better known as Burmese cuisine.
If you missed the episode, you can watch it in full on CNN's website.
Next week, Bourdain comes to L.A. to explore Koreatown. And tomorrow night, he appears live at the Pantages theater with Roy Choi. Sit tight for reports on both of those things here on Squid Ink.
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