Tuesday, April 19, 2016
On Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown
I do not usually indulge in television food pornography and therefore had good reason to never watch this CNN program or interact with Mr. Bourdain in anyway. However, as I sat in a local Chinese restaurant last night eating spicy garlic shrimp, I watched the Parts Unknown episode dealing with Libya. What I watched was not, to my pleasant surprise, food pornography. Instead, this program offered something palpably distinct.
Shame on me for judging a program based on its presenter.
Mr. Bourdain's Parts Unknown is equal parts food programming, travel documentary, and cultural observation and criticism. The presenter uses the universality of food and dining culture to explore various cultures across the globe. Mr. Bourdain is intelligent, snarky, and curious, traits that make for, in my opinion, a fantastic television presented. However, the power of the program is that it does not hinge or rely on any one of it's characteristics too heavily. Dining and cooking segments are balanced nicely with Bourdain's often unique adventures. He interacts with locals in a genuine manner, conveying neither complete idiot-tourist or know-it-all. Bourdain is, quite simply, a genuine traveler. Part of this is conveyed in his presence on camera. He does not rely on breaking the fourth wall often, and lets the many interesting characters he encounters speak for themselves.
A note on the narration: Bourdain's cheeky, intelligent narration adds nicely to the program. At no point does one feel as though he is ridiculing any particular person, country, city, or site. His humor, a balance of high-brow-cultural and gritty New York observational, is the final touch to a marvelous program.
For lovers of travel, food, and history, Bourdain's Parts Unkown should leave them informed, salivating, and satisfied.