Welcome to the first long weekend of 2018. I’ve got a few TV recommendations as well as a roundup of the week’s entertainment news, but first, it’s time to take a deep dive into an unusual new show that’s making its debut today.
Somebody Feed Phil is too cute by half
Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, is the star of this new food-centric travel series on Netflix that’s basically a rebranded version of his James Beard Award-winning PBS endeavor I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. I really wanted to like this program, but while watching the first few episodes, there were a handful of issues that I just couldn’t quite get past. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) It’s unclear why Rosenthal is hosting this show in the first place. Phil obviously likes to eat and travel — who doesn’t? — but he seems to know as much about the places he visits as any tourist armed with a Rick Steves guide. Unlike his fellow middle-aged white guy travel hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, Rosenthal doesn’t have any kitchen experience or deep historical expertise to draw from. He really just calls it like he sees it. Which brings us to the next problem with this show…
2) His observations are non-observations. “In New Orleans you can hear world-class jazz played every night of the week,” Phil remarks in the Louisiana episode. “You can’t go to Vietnam and not try their two most famous exports: pho and banh mi,” he mentions at the start of the Ho Chi Minh City trip. “When you cook with beef fat and garlic, it tastes amazing,” Phil later muses. None of these are hot takes, or even… takes, really. Rosenthal seems perfectly content to state the obvious wherever he goes.
3) The theme song is annoying: This dopey ditty, from the band Lake Street Dive, sounds like it should accompany shots of a family getting ready for school and work at the start of a mid-’90s TGIF sitcom. It’s nice that Netflix gives you the option to skip ahead and start 20 seconds after the opening credits.
4) Phil’s jokes land with a thud: The least you might expect from someone who created one of TV’s most durable sitcoms is a few snappy one-liners, but somehow, Rosenthal also falls short in this department. There are some real groaners sprinkled throughout the show, but most of the comedic beats are just Phil mugging for the camera.
5) This show has no discernable point of view: The message, it seems, is that if you’re an affable, open-minded Hollywood guy who travels the world, people will love you wherever you go. By far, the best moments of the show are when Phil is talking with chefs like New Orleans legend Leah Chase and Ho Chi Minh City star Nickie Tran, who have lived interesting lives and are important members of their communities... and yet the story always veers back to Phil’s most pleasant journey. I wanted the camera to linger longer on the chefs doing their things in the kitchen, and for Phil and his crew to dig deeper into each location and see what food means to the people who live and work there.
Season 1 of Somebody Feed Phil is now available to stream on Netflix.
Streaming recommendations du jour
Find it on: Netflix
The gist: Rotten is a long, strange trip through the world of food corruption — and it might just change the way you think about a few basic pantry staples. Episode 3, “Garlic Breath,” is one of the strongest episodes because it zeroes in on the bizarre but fascinating relationship between two tiny New Mexico farms and the Chinese mega-company that’s trying to use them as pawns in a game of global garlic domination. This episode includes several unexpected twists and turns, and a few revelations that are hard to shake off — like that fact that some of the garlic that’s commonly found in American grocery stores comes from Chinese prison-farms where the inmates remove the bulbs from the roots with their teeth.
Portlandia, “The Brunch Special”
The gist: One of TV’s best sketch comedy shows, Portlandia, returns for its final season next Thursday. As a refresher — the show often lampoons the way that yuppies and hipsters eat and drink — check out the epic, star-laden brunch saga from Season 2. In this lightly dystopian tale, the entire town of Portland somehow ends up fighting for space in the brunch line snaking out the door of a trendy (and sadly, fake) restaurant called the Fisherman’s Porch. The 45-minute director’s cut includes a few extra characters that aren’t in the made-for-TV version, plus a mockumentary-style behind-the-scenes featurette starring Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, and showrunner Jonathan Krisel.
One bonus streaming note:
The BBC’s breathtaking nature series Planet Earth II was recently added to the Netflix catalog. Episode 6, “Cities,” features an outrageous scene where a bunch of rhesus monkeys ransack an outdoor food market in Jaipur, India. It’s perfect.
And in other entertainment news…
- After a season full of inexplicable sexual innuendos, New York Post writer Johnny Oleksinski wonders if it’s time for Top Chef to call it quits. My personal take is that this show should keep on chugging — it’s great entertainment, most of the time — but the producers need to edit out all the garbage. Its camera people film so many hours of interviews and footage for each episode that there’s no reason to include sexist nonsense in the proceedings. As the John Besh debacle proved, Top Chef’s producers can edit anything out of the show if they need to.
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a great show that’s set in the bars and coffee houses of Greenwich Village in the 60s (and has a lot of food throughout), is streaming for free on Amazon because the show and star Rachel Brosnahan won Golden Globes last weekend.
- The trailer for Atlanta Season 2 features Donald Glover and his crew at a diner/strip club combo, while the teaser for Billions Season 3 shows Paul Giamatti drinking some brown liquor at a swanky Manhattan bar. Both shows will return in March.
- Leah Chase, Ed Lee, and Nicole Taylor are a few of the culinary experts in a new documentary called Holy Bird about the history and art of making fried chicken. There’s no trailer or premiere date set yet, but Daniel Thoennessen’s film already looks like a winner.
- Ben Feldman, the guy who played Ginsberg on Mad Men, tipped the waitstaff at Eleven Madison Park by having a drag queen friend show up to entertain them during a pre-service meeting.
- Aziz Ansari likes to go to In-N-Out after an awards show, while Leslie Jones prefers to have Jack in the Box delivered to her hotel room.
- “Steamed Hams” is officially the weirdest food meme of 2018.
- And finally, Hell’s Kitchen Las Vegas, the world’s first reality show-themed restaurant, has already booked 12,000 reservations and its grand opening isn’t even till the end of the month.
Have a great long weekend, and if you’re looking for a cooking project to go along with all that TV watching, maybe considering frying up some pad Thai using this great recipe.