Great TV Shows Taken Before Their Time: Kitchen Confidential

In the fall of 2005, Fox pulled two sitcoms for November sweeps while also announcing 13-episode orders for each. One of those sitcoms was the critically adored Arrested Development in its third season. The other was Kitchen Confidential, a freshman comedy with an all-star ensemble cast that was based off of Anthony Bourdain’s best-selling memoir

Welcome to Jack Bourdain’s world.

The series pilot introduces us to Jack Bourdain (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover), a once revered New York City chef whose career took a downward spiral after the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle that comes with being a top chef in the world’s capital got the best of him. His attempt at a comeback brings him to Nolita, an upscale restaurant that shares the same name as the trendy area of Manhattan in which it is located. Rounding out his staff on less than 48-hours notice, Bourdain brings in former colleagues of his, some whose pasts are even more questionable than his own. Seth Richman (Nicholas Brendon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is Jack’s go-to Pastry Chef, Teddy Wong (John Cho, Harold and Kumar), his seafood guy, and Steven Daedalus, (Owain Yeoman, The Mentalist) a professional thief who doubles as Bourdain’s assistant chef. Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daly particularly shines as Jim, a rookie chef who may be better-suited to work in the kitchen of a Chuck-E-Cheese rather than a top New York establishment.

Part of what makes Jack Bourdain the protagonist you root for is that he is so flawed. His sketchy past makes him relatable more so than polarizing, and an early season arc focusing on the character’s struggle to walk the straight line offers a glimpse at the sort of dark themes this series embraced. Bourdain maintains sobriety by trading his addiction with booze for an addiction to work, and the layers would continue to be pulled back as the season progressed. One such layer is the way in which he celebrates his success as one of New York City’s top chefs with a revolving door of women, including a memorable guest spot featuring Community‘s Lauren Stamile. There are movements towards a potential steady love interest in his culinary school rival, Becky Sharp (Erinn Hayes, Children’s Hospital).
Had they been on another network, perhaps the Nolita crew would have had a lot more to toast to.
“No, Seth, I don’t know why all the good shows get axed.”

Of all the sitcoms that will be featured in this series, Kitchen Confidential being taken off the air after only four episodes aired is the biggest travesty. With what was a unique premise for a sitcom, great writing, and an exceptional ensemble that had brilliant chemistry, this should have been the perfect single-camera series to pair with its Emmy-Award winning lead-in. It should have been a match made in heaven, but that was the year Fox fully established itself as the network where good comedies die. Fox has since maintained a reputation for being the anti-sitcom network. Aside from The CW, which exclusively airs teen dramas, Fox is the last network expected to showcase a successful sitcom.

Kitchen Confidential: The Complete Series

During Fox’s annual scripted-program early season hiatus for the Major League Baseball Playoffs, the network announced that each series would receive 13-episode season orders. Fox then pulled the pair for November sweeps, extending this hiatus another month. With Kitchen Confidential having only aired three episodes prior to a two-and-a-half month hiatus, it was a prime example of Fox’s incompetence at properly developing what was, in fact, a brilliant sitcom. The series would be cancelled after its fourth episode aired in early December before, which suggests Fox’s strategy for development was four episodes over a four-month timespan. Even more disappointing is that the showrunners were in serious talks with HBO when Fox picked it up. The entire 13-episode series was made available on Hulu and has since been released on DVD.


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