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Anthony Bourdain - Parts Unknown Premiere (Myanmar)

I didn't see a discussion on this, and since the first episode just finished, I figured I'd start one. What does everyone think?

It reminded me a lot of No Reservations with a few key differences. The cinematography is a major improvement. No Reservations always looked good, but the crew behind Parts Unknown is in a different league - just some seriously beautiful shots. There was also a greater focus on the non-food cultural elements, with some great background on what's been going on in Myanmar politically and why things are as they are.

On the other hand, the actual food coverage seemed to be less in depth than No Reservations usually managed. Sure, there were plenty of meals shown, and some great food porn shots, but I felt a deep analysis of the actual dishes, and the history behind them, was somewhat lacking.

Overall it was a good show though, and I'll certainly DVR the rest of this season and likely watch them soon after airing. I'll be interested in seeing how the balance of food coverage vs. general travel, culture, and history goes.

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  1. I've DVR'ed and not yet watched, but your post has me thinking that this wil be
    Parts Unknown
    not
    PLATES Unknown.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Kris in Beijing

      Now viewed.

      AB looked jet-lag puffy in the beginning of the episode.
      He didn't really connect as well/ as much with "the locals" as he often did in NR.

      I'm wondering when that was filmed. Appears to be the transition of rainy season [June to October] to cold season [November to February].

      I'm also wondering what types of management transition AB had with the filming and production teams-- he'd gotten fairly adept at making shows with a fairly set group and CNN's crew seems to have different skills.

      There were no "bad boy" moments although there was a little jab at his wife's style.

      Overall, if this was the first episode filmed and produced, then by the 2nd season it will surpass NR.

      We'll see what Korea brings...

        1. re: JAB

          Yes. Sorry for the ...um... "abbreviation" !!

    2. I admire your optimism and generosity. I was disappointed by the program content, but in all fairness I am also left wondering why and by whom Myanmar was chosen as the subject of this debut show. I suspect it was a decission heavily influenced by political news media interests rather than food aesthetics or the desire to inspire viewers to put Myanmar at the top of their most desirable vacation destination list. But I still have videos of some of his better shows from previous Bourdain series, such as his visits to The French Laundry, touring Tokyo with Masaharu Morimoto, and hanging with Eric Ripert. For me, this show was grunge television of food and tourism. I hope it turns out to simply be a clumsy start. Meanwhile I'm grateful I can revisit the old shows I still have on file... Good thinking, Caroline! '-)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Caroline1

        I had read that a major reason that Bourdain moved to CNN was that they were able to get insurance coverage to shoot in places that the Travel Channel couldn't. So Myanmar may have been on that list, and if a significant reason for the move was to go to more "difficult" places, then I would expect to see a lot of that.

        Just looking at the list of shows on Wikipedia, they list Libya and Congo - all places that I imagine may have been chosen just because he can now get to those places. Regardless of what anyone's eating.

      2. Considering the episode was in Myanmar, I was expecting a less food-centric episode. The NoRes episodes of similarly troubled areas like Haiti and Kurdistan were like that too. And I don't imagine the crew is any different from his other shows considering Zero Point Zero are this one as well.

        Overall I really enjoyed the episode. Tony seemed a little reinvigorated and it had a really nice balance of the food, history and the new direction for Myanmar. The one benefit of not being on the Travel Channel is I get the sense that it won't be oriented to travellers (ie. less ziplining/ATVing scenes). I prefer a documentary approach, because I think Tony and the ZPZ crew are great storytellers.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gomes

          >>Tony and the ZPZ crew are great storytellers.<<

          Absolutely agree.
          The most--touching?- episodes of NoR for me had much more history than food.

          My ranking of NoR episodes is basically aligned to the amount of alcohol AB consumed per episode. With each drink, the appeal for me [and maybe His focus?] was reduced.

          I didn't pay enough attention to see ZPZ in the credits, but I vaguely recall some drama about AB trying to move the whole team and resistance from both CNN and the people behind the NoR DVD's.

        2. Apart from the locale, it seemed pretty much like NR. Almost formulaic at this point. Eat street food. Take some dodgy form of transportation. Talk to the brave dissident.

          For me, the very best Bourdain travel docs were Libya and Ghana. Baja was also great.

          Not to say I didn't enjoy it. I did. I just think the PR about how this is different from NR is ridiculous.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Just Visiting

            Formulaic, for sure, but the video work is far, far better than NoR. And while Bourdain turned me onto some new cuisines to explore and try out in my home kitchen, I personally prefer an in-depth history of a nation, and he gave one, not really deep but I learned some things from this episode about a part of the world I am curious about. Those incredible Buddhist temples that encompassed a whole region that were evacuated by every person? Now a tourist trap? I could not have known that, nor ever imagined the beauty.

            1. re: pitterpatter

              I've visited Borobudur Temple, near Yogyakarta (in Central Java, Indonesia). This Hindu temple is amazingly beautiful. Similar in feel to the Buddhist temples in Myanmar.

              1. re: Midlife

                not to pick nits, but borobudur, one of the most beautiful man made things on this planet, is buddhist, not hindu.

                and, the region of bagan was not 'evacuated by every person.' the locals were relocated by the government, not too too far away.

                also, i would hardly call it a 'tourist trap.' it's a beautiful place, and people do live there.

                1. re: linus

                  I stand corrected on Borobudur. I thought I'd seen that descriptor on line when I was looking for the name of the place I'd visited.

                  I'm not responsible for either of your other two nits. ;o]

              2. re: pitterpatter

                pitterpatter said: "Formulaic, for sure, but the video work is far, far better than NoR."

                I guess I'll have to go back and watch it again because I thought the cutting and editing of the new intro -- in fact, at least the first three to five minutes of the show -- were... hmmm... How to put it? Less than polished?

                I highly suspect the location was chosen as the result of some heavy hints from the State Department (as in USA). There is a lot of "courting" going on to encourage Myanmar/Burma to keep up the good work in relaxing their "iron fistedness." It's not all that long since Hillary made a diplomatic visit there. Other stuff too aimed at encouraging tolerance.

                Long and short of it, I think Bourdain worked VERY VERY HARD on this episode! I didn't feel much joy emanating from the show overall. I'm hopeful the future shows won't be as politically motivated. Or maybe I just knew too much about the problems in Myanmar going in....?

                With that, I'll add that (imo) interesting food related television is hardly ever related to "good food" any more. It's about manipulation of viewer's thinking (do you REALLY think a chef and two sous chefs whip up five great and complex dishes in 60 minutes? HAH!), eating for the wrong reasons (eat a 20 pound hb at one sitting or down more truly toxic chiles than it takes to make a vat of Tabasco without having your eyes pop out of their sockets), or trying to get good cooks/chefs to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (Chopped). Thank God for Jacques Pepin...! So how come Bourdain has never spent a show on Jacques????? What is he thinking...!!!

                1. re: Caroline1

                  i cant imagine the mechanism wherein the state department has any stake in where anthony bourdain goes.
                  bourdain has been to a lot of places. there is a finite number of places. myanmar is an interesting, exotic place he hadnt been to, so he went here.

                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                      yes, they're required to visit myanmar. they cost anywhere from 30-75 bucks, maybe, at the airport in bangkok. or can be purchased via mail in the u.s.

                      where does the state department pushing anyone into going anywhere fit in?

                      1. re: Kris in Beijing

                        I think assistance with a visa alone wouldn't be enough reason to sway a production company to go to Myanmar. However, if the State Department could assist/influence with getting them a low insurance fee to cover production there - that could be a high enough amount to sway production to choose to go there.

                        Also, given that it's CNN, a news tit for tat (you cover Myanmar, and we'll give you this exclusive) would make more sense to me than just greasing the wheels on a visa process that ultimately costs very little.

                      1. re: Kris in Beijing

                        Fun! Thanks. Bourdain and Ripert seemed almost to be joined at the hip there for a while, but I've never seen Bourdain and Pepin together. Wish there was a video! '-)

                2. Is it the same Anthony Bourdain formula of "visit developing world; glibly make some platitudinous observations; end with trite Anthony Bourdain phrase like 'we did good' (pull the string: he has another 9!); roll credits"?

                  4 Replies
                    1. re: mugen

                      I hate this expression, but, you nailed it mugen

                      1. re: mugen

                        Disagree completely. He commented frankly on challenges that a country with Myanmar's past will be facing- particularly ones that if you haven't traveled to developing countries, you may not be aware of. He also provided insight into how he and his crew were treated off camera.

                        Seems more glib to make a comment that reduces a program about a different country every episode as merely a formula.

                      2. I watched it last night - it dragged a little for me. I thought the food part was a little thin, but it was interesting. The real reason I watched is because I am going to see him speak next week, and I figured he's going to be talking about his new show.

                        I will watch it again, because the focus areas are so unknkown to me.

                        1. >>"On the other hand, the actual food coverage seemed to be less in depth than No Reservations usually managed."<<

                          My first thought, on hearing the AB was going to CNN, was....... Sheesh! What is CNN up to with a food show?

                          No Reservations (and most of Bourdain's material) isn't really recipe-oriented or how-to anyway, so I'd think a food-focused/travel/social commentary show would be about as far as CNN would want to go. But then the ratings worlds is something far above my pay grade, so who knows what a network might do.

                              1. re: Midlife

                                I think what HawaiiiFoodTours meant by S.O.S. was that the show reminded him or her a lot of No Rez, and he/she was just saying "Same Old Stuff", about this one. (Well.... Maybe not "Stuff"....)

                            1. It is No Reservations with a better, probably bigger, budget.

                              1. The show is produced by Zero Point Zero Productions, the same team behind No Reservations and the Layover. He's said in interviews that they have better budgets and access to places now at CNN. But it's basically the same show as NR.

                                I just came back from northern Thailand and Laos and met travelers who were going or coming from Myanmar. It's the new "frontier" travel destination in that region. I thought the episode was a little slow but overall I enjoyed it. Want to hear more about all those interesting salads. I tried lahpet, the preserved tea leaf salad, at a food fair in NY last year and enjoyed it.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  I'm worried that Tony will morph into a sort of Rick Steves' on 'roids'.

                                2. I just watched a AB show where he demonstrated cooking techniques. What a joke! He made 'BB'. If he had made it in any decent restaurant on the planet he would have been fired on the spot. It wasn't even a decent beef stew let alone a 'BB'.
                                  At one point we see the concoction happily 'hard' boiling away and he has the nerve to say "Now you don't want to boil this". Anyone else see the mess?
                                  As to his 'Parts Unknown' show. I predicted a year a ago here that now that he's rich and can basically 'do his own thing' series-wise he would move into the 'politics' of the places he wants to go to. In another year he'll be doing 95% politics and 5% 'food' in his next show. That's fine by me. Just saying.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                    Uyes, it was an abominable beef Bourguignon! But he did have others show how to cook other things well. I've heard Bourdain make self depricating remarks about his own cooking when in the company of "super chefs." After watching his bB, I believe him! BUT....! His very simple mushroom soup is excelent! Nobody can be bad at everything! '-)

                                    However, bad as Bourdains bB was, sans mushrooms and pearl onions and tomato paste and all that jazz, imo Mark Bitmann's is even worse. To each his own!