Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, David Chang’s latest Netflix series following last year’s Ugly Delicious, is several shows in one. It’s a buddy comedy, following the adventures of Chang and four famous friends (one per episode) as they eat their way through breakfast, lunch, and dinner in select cities around the world. It’s a talk show, with Chang making full use of the interviewing skills he’s honed on his podcast to get at the real version of celebrities used to hiding behind public personas. It’s a travel show that bears the obvious influence of Anthony Bourdain and his on-screen exploration of people, politics, and culture in destinations near and far. And throughout all of these different genres, the narrative device of mealtimes looms large; after all, Chang and co. are there to eat, and they eat a lot.
Which one of these distinct shows you’ll get in any given episode — or any given scene, for that matter — is wholly dependent on the precise mix of four separate elements: the relationship between Chang and his celebrity guest, the relationship between the guest and the audience, the relationship between the hosts and the location, and the relationship between the location and the audience.
That these variables play such a role in dictating how the series unfolds may seem obvious, and yet the interplay between those factors is one of the most interesting things about Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, a show that’s otherwise fairly formulaic. It’s almost like a mathematical function: tweak the input, and the output changes in ways that are subtle but significant.
Here’s what I mean:
Episode 1 pairs Chang with actor, comedian, and filmmaker Seth Rogen in Vancouver, Canada. The pair are friends, as is evident from their relaxed rapport and the way their time together plays out like a Rogen production recognizable to anyone who’s watched Superbad: testicle jokes, slapstick antics, wheezes of laughter, all while absolutely baked. Viewers may not be extensively knowledgeable about Vancouver, but the contours of the city are familiar enough to Western audiences that the setting feels comfortable, and Rogen guides Chang through his hometown with ease.
Out of all the episodes, this one feels most like a day in the life of old pals, just two guys hanging out, rolling joints, and stuffing their faces with doughnuts and dim sum. “Want to just do it again tomorrow?” Chang asks at the end of their date. “Sure,” is Rogen’s answer.
The next installment takes place 5,572 miles away in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, filled with maze-like alleys, lamb roasted in pits, bustling marketplaces, and camels to ride into the desert. The image constructed by these sights and sounds is one of utter foreignness, mitigated the barest amount by cookbook author/television personality Chrissy Teigen’s slight familiarity with the city.
Teigen (whose on-screen energy is exactly what her millions of fans might have imagined from her quick-witted Twitter presence) holds a romantic view of Morocco, but then again, the show points out, so have so many artists and visitors before her, from Jack Kerouac to the makers of Casablanca. It’s a place that has captured the western imagination for generations; fittingly, when the episode isn’t focused on Teigen’s and Chang’s lively escapades, BLD spends more time panning the camera over the landscape, zooming in on the specific frames that make up the visitors’ — and viewers’ — impressions of Marrakesh. While Chang and Teigen do touch upon the cultural stereotypes and exoticism through which outsiders view Morocco, ultimately little is done to subvert them.
Episode 3 brings Chang back to home turf — or, more accurately, his future home turf, at the time this was filmed — Los Angeles, where he meets up with filmmaker and actor Lena Waithe of Master of None and The Chi fame. Waithe and Chang are less well acquainted, compared to his friendships with Teigen and with Rogen, but the two share a complementary understanding of LA, as well as analogous experiences of having to make names for themselves in industries historically closed off to people of marginalized identities.
Set against a backdrop that needs fewer ethnographic qualifiers, Chang and Waithe have the space to grow more introspective in their conversation, discussing topics like identity and representation. They also have more space to eat; criss-crossing the sprawling city by car to demolish four meals (and one snack), they take turns introducing each other to breakfast rösti, pounds of Cajun crawfish, unexpectedly amazing food served inside a bowling alley, strawberry mochi, and hole-in-the-wall tempura and tonkatsu.
The final episode, which features comedian Kate McKinnon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is what the show looks like when the four variables are all dialed to the extreme of “unknown territory.” Chang and McKinnon are virtually strangers; this trip is their first meaningful time spent together. That dynamic comes through clearly, as does the broader enigma of McKinnon as a public figure. She is, as Chang points out, best known for her impersonations, in which she slips on other people’s personas like a skin; she has no public social media accounts to perform intimacy and amass a following; she is just as much of an unknown quantity to the audience as she is to Chang.
Without much to work off of between Chang and McKinnon, the episode hones in on Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, an unfamiliar destination picked by the Saturday Night Live cast member because: “I like countries that there’s no cohesive American conception of what is there.” The resulting episode is an admirable attempt at contextualizing the city through history, politics, culture, religion, and food — something Bourdain excelled at — but it’s slightly off, tonally. “You want to see what resilience looks like? You wanna see what pride looks like? You wanna see people who are truly taking nothing for granted?” McKinnon asks, echoing an admiration that has been repeated throughout this arc — one that glorifies, but does not necessarily humanize, the very real people who live in Cambodia. The sentiment may be sincere, but it rings hollow, reducing an entire population to inspiration porn.
The show born of these fascinating adjustments of the core variables could be called, optimistically, dynamic (or, less tactfully, uneven). It’s a series in which Chang comes into his own, fully owning the mantle of TV host and entertainment personality that he has been steadily inching toward since launching his Majordomo media group and stepping back from his Momofuku restaurant empire. He swears, he smokes weed, he lets loose in funny opening scenes. BLD comes across primarily as a vehicle for Chang to hang out with the fellow stars he would otherwise like to befriend in private — a fine enough pursuit — only framed through the act of literal consumption, for public consumption. If you’re a fan of Chang and his guests, then this will be a show for you.
All four episodes of Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner are now streaming on Netflix.
Disclosure: David Chang and Chrissy Teigen are producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.