Last night, we managed to catch two episodes of the US version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, which is titled just Kitchen Nightmares. The star’s removal from the name wasn’t the only change. Instead of the UK original’s set-up, in which we experienced bland sauces and crematorial grilling through the eyes of master chef Ramsay, complete with his biting narration, now it’s more a typical US story of redemption. The clueless owners, indifferent chefs and long-suffering waitresses are interviewed, giving their sides of the story, and we never hear Ramsay’s thoughts.
While the show remains compulsively watchable — last night’s tale of three muscle-bound bozos trying to run a seafood restaurant on a frozen lake was hilarious, especially when one of the goons was cautioned for talking to patrons with his head cocked, “looking like a chimpanzee in the zoo,” — the show is significantly less entertaining when the most entertaining thing about it — the star — is toned down. (Ramsay’s legendary swearing is not only bleeped but his mouth is masked so we can’t even lip read.) In the UK version, Ramsay is clearly the hero, traveling from hapless pretentious bistro to chronically mismanaged brasserie, dispensing some sharp words and the classic advice to grill fresh local produce. We don’t really care about the staff of the various restaurants — they’re just foils for Ramsay’s cooking advice.
In the US version, as mentioned, in the tradition of makeover shows, it’s more about these losers finding themselves and learning to be better restauranteurs, complete with sad piano music when things go terribly, terribly wrong. In addition, we’re made to believe everything is fixed after a mere three days — in the UK version, Ramsay visits six months later to see how things have taken, and the restauranteurs have usually succumbed to the entropy of their own failings.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re addicted to both versions. But it’s interesting to see UK TV toned down for US standards. The worst example is the current US version of Little Britain. The original was sometimes hard to take — stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams had no pity for anyone, even themselves — but watching their inventive contempt (“The only gay in the village”) made laughing at the misfortunes of others a guilty pleasure.
In the US version, the whimsical British touches have been removed, so now it’s just mean, dumb, scatological humor. To gvive an example of a sketch that just doesn’t work in the US version, take the gay prime minister, please. In the original, it was a flamingly gay AIDE to the PM who ponced around visiting dignitaries and found this or that head of state dreamy. The PM’s exasperated patience with the aide made it all the funnier.
In the US version, the PM is just a flaming gay guy who comes on to a character obviously meant to be Obama. The original had different levels of humor; this is just on the nose and embarrassing to watch.
Anyway, different countries, different senses of humor. Generally speaking, we’ll take no hugs and no lessons, whatever the source.