4 February 2006 | film-critic
I loved the first season of Chef!, in fact, I thought that we were going to served a plate of classic Fawlty Towers with a side dish of Hell's Kitchen. To my surprise, we were. The first season demonstrated the comic genius of Henry and his ability to bring humor to the kitchen. Sadly, unlike most other reviews of this series, it is lost after the first season. The second season is watchable, while the final season is so glossy with obvious financing that you completely loose the characters, the structure of the original series, and everything that one could fall in love with. I had to check the box to with the final season to ensure that I picked up the right series. I nearly didn't recognize it. I have always wondered why most of the BBC's television programs only last a couple of seasons, and Chef! explained it to me perfectly. If this had continued further, we would have only deepened our loss for Henry's original obnoxious character and would have filed through nearly all of Britain's finest "would-be" actors to play the part of the ever-changing staff. It would have been a debacle of grand proportions that would have left this series with a horrible hangover that could never have been remedied.
I will state it one more time. I loved the first season of this television series. It was fresh, it was funny, and it had so much imagination that one could simply watch this first series over and over again while experiencing the same enjoyment they had the first time they viewed it. I loved watching Henry argue with the staff, continually sleep on his days off, while still showing quite a human element to his wife Janice. While they did argue throughout the program, I thought that it was nothing more than "love" spats between the two. I felt, at least in the first season, that Gareth and Janice knew each other, accepted each other, and supported each other. Similar to Fawlty Towers there was a bond between them that could not be broken. In fact, they wanted to go in to business together to support each other. This was the beginning of a great series. While this drama happened outside in Gareth's personal life, it was what occurred inside the kitchen that provided most of, if nearly all, the laughter. The connection with the staff, the education of the inexperienced and Henry's obsession with perfection created a very original program. It was bright, it was intelligent, and it was
to sound repetitive
funny. This was not a show that could succeed in America, and I think that is what I loved about it. Then
as if the forced that be were against this program
the second and third season were created.
The second season isn't bad. It does falter a bit at times, perhaps giving us a subliminal indication of what is to come, but it still can stand on its own. Gareth and Janice have their restaurant and are attempting to boost their business. They argue about the finances and the staff, but the love is still there. The staff has completely changed, but I was willing to ignore that for this time. Everton was still present in the kitchen, so I felt a bit comfortable with the lack of familiar faces. Henry is still obnoxious and himself. He stays true to his character from the first season constantly yelling sarcasm to institute perfection from his staff. The timing seems a bit off, but overall it feels like the original. As we chuckle (not quite laugh) our way through this season, there is no way to prepare ourselves for the horrid disaster that we shall simply call, "How Money Ruined Chef!" also known as season three.
The final season was a disaster. The characters that we fell in love with are have completely disappeared. We are introduced randomly to new characters that we are forced to laugh at and enjoy. There is no indication of this at the end of the second season, so it felt like hitting a brick wall. Lenny Henry is not funny. I would go so far as to say that he completely lost his character from the first season. He isn't angry, his sarcasm is very weak, and he does things in the kitchen that I would have never imagined him doing in the first season. Gareth Blackstock lost his spine in this season. While he has a personal crisis happen near the beginning of the season, that does not have to be the central focus of the show. What made this show fantastic in the beginning was the kitchen, and somehow in this season we completely disregard the kitchen (the basis for the show) and bring the comedy out into the "real world". For me, that didn't work. It is obvious that this season had more money due to the crisp visuals and Americanized standards. The music was a horrid choice and displaced any humor that tried to escape. Food was not important any longer, and the structured themes that created this series were torn down with cliché lines and childish acting. This final season ruined this series for me because it wouldn't stay true to itself.
Overall, thanks to the final season, this was a mediocre television series. Lenny Henry is funny, but as the monetary dollars rose, his sense of humor seemed to fall. What began as lyrical humor eventually devolved into physical humor that wasn't funny. This series sank and never had the opportunity to resurface. If you must watch Chef! stick to the first season, you will be pleasantly surprised, while if you continue you may find yourself pleasantly angry by the results. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Grade: *** out of *****