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.


  1. This season of “Kitchen Nightmares” began with an hour special of Ramsey going back to several of the restaurants he helped last season, all of which were doing well. Some lost an employee or manager or two. There was a restaurant or two last season that ended with a voiceover telling us the owners sold out a month later and ran screaming, too. Some of the successes had more to do with “Gordon Ramsey Was Here!” than with actual restaurant quality, I fear. That makes them novelty restaurants, which never end well. The restaurant in nearby Fair Lawn, NJ is shipping their meatballs out around the country. Weird. Do people think the “fresh” food will age well in shipping?

    I haven’t seen the British version of the show, but I’d like to someday. (I don’t think my cable system has BBC America.)

  2. I confess than I enjoy KITCHEN NIGHTMARES (but greatly prefer the U.K. version) but if it’s food-related reality TV you’re looking for, I gotta recommend the Food Network’s new series “The Chef Jeff Project.”

    Chef Jeff Henderson grew up in L.A., got involved in drug dealing, and went to prison for 10 years. In prison, he discovered cooking, and began to turn his life around. After his release, he worked his way up to become an executive chef at top Las Vegas restaraunts. He now has his own catering firm and in “The Chef Jeff Project” he’s hired six at-risk young men and women to work there. If they complete the program, they’ll receive scholarships to culinary school.

    It’s not a competition show–the hires aren’t going to get voted off–but it’s filled with drama and heart. With its self-evident virtues, this show is like the reality TV industry doing penance for all the horrid pseudo-celebrities and trashy dating shows foisted upon us. And, frankly, I can’t understand why more folks aren’t fascinated by it. If you’ve got Food Network, give it a watch.

  3. If you think Gordon is being held back, you must have missed the Maine Lobster epside where he repeatedly dressed down one of the owners. I haven’t seen the two episodes in question yet (DVRed), but my wife and I love the show and Gordon’s potty mouth may be bleeped, but its not being edited out. Through out dinner services he always goes out the back and gives his take on how things are going.

  4. Oh Ramsay is Ramsay no matter what, I just miss those spots where he goes into the back and puts on his chef’s shirt and turns to the camera and says “These sods don’t know a curry from an ashtray…” or whatever. His adlibs are way funnier than any scripting.

    It’s also possible he doesn’t have time to do as much work on this show, what with all the other stuff he’s got going on.

  5. Ah, Gordon. One afternoon I turned on the TV to BBC America to find Gordon in full flaming fury; my daughter, two rooms away, heard the near-continuous bleeps and yelled, “WHERE’S GORDON AT THIS TIME?”

    Now if you really want perverse pleasure viewing, try “How Clean Is Your House?” My daughter and I STILL can’t watch the “bird lady” episode, it was so revolting.

  6. Just to add insult to injury, they now show the US edition of Hell’s Kitchen over here (the UK version only had Ramsay for the first series, followed by Gary Rhodes, Jean Christophe Novelli & Marco Pierre White- the latter two of whom my girlfriend finds just as tasty as Ramsay…).
    It has one enormous advantage over the US broadcast edition though – it’s entirely uncensored, so we get the full glorious foulmouthed flow of both Ramsay, and the wonderfully bitchy contestants.
    The same goes for Breaking Bad – why on earth is that censored in the ‘States?

  7. The case for Little Britain USA: Mr Doggy, revealing further and more hideous layers to the dog owner’s repressed self hatred, and the loveless married couple, as poignant as they’ve ever done.

    Although for people who want the best of Lucas and Walliams, may I recommend their Rock Profile DVD. Awful impersonations of rock stars turned into living characters and a certain familiar Lou Reed looking after the socially challenged Andy Warhol…

  8. Rock Profile IS very good, but it’s worth remembering that they were intended as links between videos for the long-defunct UK Play channel. Since the videos can’t be cleared for DVD release, you’re not really seeing it the way Lucas and Walliams intended.

  9. Being a big of Ramsey’s UK Nightmares, I just started watching the US version. It’s barely the same show. Background music, heavily edited camera shots, decor makeovers(?) – the UK version is far more entertaining, and much less contrived.

    The question I have is, “Why change it?” Does the US audience need all the bells and whistles? What does the US adaptation say about the US viewing audience?

  10. The US Kitchen Nightmares definitely tries to be more like the standard reality show with all the interview bits with the locals. In a couple of the earlier US shows, Gordon was seeming more like Dr. Phil in resolving relationship issues (even arranging for a marriage in one of the episodes). Watching the UK episodes in their original unedited form is a lot more fun. Also worth checking out on BBC America is The F Word, Gordon’s magazine show.