Warming Up to ‘The Layover’

By Karen

I started writing very different impressions of Anthony Bourdain’s new series, The Layover, which premiered on Travel Channel last night. But I wanted to watch the Singapore episode again before shooting my mouth off, so I just checked Verizon’s On Demand for it in hopes of skipping the step of fast-forwarding through 20 minutes of commercials.

Predictably, it wasn’t there — but the as-yet-unaired New York City episode was.

Travel Channel strikes again. But more on that below.

Bottom line: Singapore left me underwhelmed. The 3- and 4-way split screens quickly grated. But let’s begin with what I liked…

  • Testimonials and tips from locals — they found friendly, articulate characters who complemented Bourdain nicely.
  • Tony navigating like a normal person. In No Reservations, he magically appears at destinations without logistics — unless his mode of travel is bizarre and feeds his idea of “the story.” But now we know he’s royalty at Singapore’s Grand Hyatt and thinks the airport is the world’s best.
  • The subtitles. I loved the maps, lists, and spellings of locations, businesses, and foods.
  • All the practical advice about transportation, hotels, and pricing (which will, unfortunately, date the series).

But aside from that, it was essentially Tony walking around, looking cool, and eating.

I get his reluctance to hit tourist traps. He’d have probably run in to Samantha Brown on that Ferris wheel. But I doubt anybody with one day in Singapore would eat 15 times.

At one point, I thought the show was wrapping up because it seemed I’d been watching Bourdain eat for hours, but the clock said it was only 9:29. That’s never a good thing.

But then I lucked into episode 2 in New York City. The format’s essentially the same, but used far less split-screen. It just felt better and held my interest.

If there’s anything Bourdain can teach us, it’s how to avoid being ugly American tourists. The tips NYC locals gave did just that. I was waiting for one to say, “Ladies, never wear a scrunchie.” (FYI: Sex & the City reference.)

After seeing New York, I like the The Layover. Let’s face it, if you were in foreign surroundings, who better than Anthony Bourdain to keep you safe and show you the good stuff?

Now, back to Travel Channel…

They are partnering with Rand-McNally’s Tripology.com to help viewers trace Bourdain’s footsteps in The Layover, virtually ensuring that Tony will indeed “destroy the things he loves.”

From their press release

Viewers can go to Travelchannel.com to watch additional video from a particular show and then research locations and activities. The site then connects them with Tripology.com, an interactive referral service focused on connecting travelers with qualified top-rated travel specialists. With Tripology.com, a user tells specialists where they want to go and what kind of experience they want. The request goes to a Travel Channel tripologist who specializes in the area, and is armed with actual itineraries from programming. Usually within 24 hours, the user will receive an email or phone call from a Travel Channel tripologist who can help plan the trip, and book with them directly.

Travel Channel “tripologists.”

What a stinking job title. I imagine incarnations of those hapless schlubs from Room 214 who tried to make TC a force in social media. They’d never met Tony and could tell you nothing about him or his travels beyond what TC’s PR flaks dribbled out in emails and video snippets.

It smells like Travel Channel has found a way to skim a little off viewer-to-travel-agent referrals. If you’re sucker enough to trust them, you’ll probably be spending your vacation in the wrong country.

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12 Responses to Warming Up to ‘The Layover’

  1. Gizmo's mom says:

    ” I doubt anybody with one day in Singapore would eat 15 times”

    You read my mind… my stomach hurt just watching this…. I get that he wanted to give people lots of options, and that realistically you’d only hit 2 or 3 places…. but honestly, wayyyy too much food.

    btw, I also stay at the Grand Hyatt when in Singapore and it is fabulous… Straits Kitchen is not to be missed. I have a colleague who is from SIngapore and returns regularly to visit her family, and she always has great suggestions of places to go… I hope Tony uses more suggestions from real locals and not just his cronies in each city.

  2. Zappa and Zappa's mom says:

    I must share a deep,dark secret. I actually like Samantha Brown. She is a touch cutesy poo at times,but I would rather shop in a cosmopolitan European capital than eat fermented snake guts anywhere in Southeast Asia. She also has a cute spouse who pops up on camera occasionally.

    ZM

  3. catsworking says:

    ZM, does Samantha Brown still have a show? I haven’t seen her in ages. But I boycott Travel Channel unless it’s to watch Bourdain. I have to agree with you, as TC’s token female, I like Samantha Brown, too. The last time I saw her, she seemed to have really grown into the job and was less in awe, more confident. She also goes to more places I would like to see. The male hosts spend a lot of time in slummy, unsafe-looking places I would never dare to venture. Yeah, I know, hanging out with locals. But really, who DOES that? We don’t all have “fixers” screening people in advance.

    Gizmo’s mom, Tony said in one of these Layover shows that he always tries to suss out a culture through its food. Fair enough. But in doing so, his audience will dwindle to die-hard foodies. How many hours do the rest of us want to waste in this life watching him stuff food in his face? He’s such a bold traveler, but seems reluctant to venture too far from his comfort zone of food/restaurant workers.

    And he needs to get off his high horse about obesity when much of what he eats is deep-fried. In NYC, he ate a tube of FRIED MAYONNAISE with David Chang. He’s just lucky that his metabolism lets him get away with it. If men had menopause, he’d be big as a house.

    My favorite moments out of both shows was when he visited the bookstore in NYC and pulled some of his favorite books off the shelves. OK, it was a bookstore devoted to books about food, but I’d rather see what he reads about it than him eating it. And he visited the STRAND bookstore! I was there in 1999 and hadn’t felt such a thrill since I found the old multi-story Foyle’s bookstore in London when I was a teenager.

  4. adele says:

    The one thing I got from the Sinagpore show was a better picture of what the city looks like, and I appreciated the tourist tips in both Singapore and the New York shows. But I was clutching my abdominal area as well — I was just in NYC, and if I’d eaten even 1/4 of what AB ate in 24 hours, I would have been dead, But I’m really sorry I didn’t know about Bemelman’s Bar; I loved the Madeleine books and would have loved to see the murals.I also like a good old style cocktail. I loved the book stores, too — I’ve been to St. Mark’s bookstore, but never to the Strand or Cooking Arts and Letters, either of which I would have happily spent hours in.

    When my digestion permits, I love a good hot dog as much as anyone, and if I’d felt better, I intended to stop at Gray’s Papaya this trip to NYC, but by my count,Tony had at least 5 hot dogs in about 36 hours. In fact, except for the trips to M.Wells and Takashi, I think he ate nothing but sandwiches. I expected to have many regrets about the eating establishments I never visited, but such was not the case.

    I’m hoping that in future shows, we get a little more about hidden away gems; I do love a good bookstore, dive bar or unexpected park in a big city.I am something of a foodie; I like to cook and plan meals and visit new restaurants, but what we all love about Bourdain, aside from his humor and his snark and his way with words, is that we know there’s way more to him than just the journeyman chef that he was — I hope some of that comes out more on future Layover shows.

  5. catsworking says:

    The reviews of the show are starting to trickle in. Here’s one titled, “Tony Turns Tepid Travel Guide,” from Miami New Times:

    http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/shortorder/2011/11/anthony_bourdains_the_layover_2.php

  6. Zappa and Zappa's mom says:

    Fried mayonnaise? What did that look like?

    I’m not sure if SB still has a show. I haven’t had Travel Channel in some time. With their emphasis on dumb ass guys doing dumb ass guy stuff,I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been bounced from the lineup. Who wants to watch a travel show about travel to chick places?

    PBS has the best cooking and travel shows and it’s “free”, I hardly miss cable tv

    ZM

  7. catsworking says:

    ZM, the fried mayonnaise was in a tube like a hot dog, and it looked battered. I think Chang called it a “Wylie” because it was supposedly concocted by Wylie Dufresne. (Adele, the human, correct me if I’m wrong here. You seem to watch this stuff with a magnifying glass, with far better retention than I have.)

    I hear you on cable. I’d love to shed that expense, but I watch almost nothing on network TV anymore, except for news and PBS. My free 6 months of HBO and Showtime about to run out in a few weeks and I’m letting them go because $24.95 a month is ridiculous on top of what I already pay, but I’m going to miss the Claire Danes series, Homeland, and a bunch of others I got hooked on.

  8. adele says:

    Karen,you’re exactly right about the “Wylie” dog,and the mayo was in a deep fried tube I was watching on my small bedroom TV, but it kind of looked like another hot dog, but pale. When I heard “Wylie,” my thoughts went immediately to Wylie E. Coyote, and I wondered what kind of a dog that would be. The Chang dog was deep fried as well, and wrapped in bacon. I know AB doesn’t eat like that every day, but talk about being a poster boy for unhealthy food.That cocktail bar next to the hot dog place did look inviting — if one could get in to it.

    I swear, I’m getting rid of Showtime as soon as “Homeland” is over, but I don’t have your willpower, Karen, I’m waiting until the series is over.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! One of my assignments is pumpkin pie, and I seem to have forgotten the pumpkin. Guess I’m off to the store.

  9. Gizmo's mom says:

    You know all your comments about bookstores makes me wonder why, as an author and someone who, if I recall correctly, is starting his own imprint he doesn’t showcase more about books, bookstores, local authors (why not use some of THEM as local connections and not just chefs), literary landmarks and the like?

    I totally get his “thing” is food and that’s what he’s known for, but who’s to say he can’t subtly work some of this other stuff in gradually and balance out some of the food stuff? Surely a lot of people know him from his books and the style of his writing as well as his cooking…. It doesn’t have to be “poofy” (as in effeminate)– I think his perspective would be unique and add depth to the places he describes.

    Just a thought off the top of my head. Could be sh&t.

  10. catsworking says:

    Gizmo’s mom, you are right on target. Up until just recently, Bourdain has pooh-poohed his writing as something he never studied and doesn’t give any thought to. He’s never written anything that wasn’t published (i.e., never practiced his craft before hitting print), and, presumably, doesn’t embark on any writing project he won’t be paid for. He also doesn’t like to hang out with writers.

    But I recently read an interview where he talked about his writing, and it revealed a little more depth than he admits to. I’ll post that link soon. I’ve found a couple of other interesting things, but the new show eclipsed them this week.

    The longer he’s out of the restaurant business, the less justification he has to rest on his laurels as a chef, and we all know there’s a lot more to him than his mouth and stomach. He’s only limiting himself by clinging to the foodies.

    Back when I flipped channels and discovered him accidentally on No Res, I had no clue the show’s emphasis was food. Then one day I was in a bookstore and found his book, A Cook’s Tour, and thought, “Oh, that guy WRITES, too!”

    Loved the book for his descriptions of his travels, but STILL wasn’t getting the food obsession. THEN I read Kitchen Confidential (and every other book he’s written) and all the pieces fell into place.

    But I STILL think of Bourdain as 1) Traveler, 2) Writer, 3) Food Guy, in that order.

    Maybe writing for Treme has finally made him take his writing seriously. Now, if somebody could only get him to stop writing about restaurant chefs…

    He recently told somebody he signed the contract to write a book about spending a year in Vietnam because he thought NR would be canceled by now. I’d like to see him write one about the art of savvy traveling. It could be the companion to The Layover.

  11. catsworking says:

    Adele, Bourdain’s just lucky that fried mayo scene didn’t air before his slap-down of Paula Deen. She’d have smeared it all over him — with a layer of butter on top.

    I know our talk of mayonnaise must have poor Morgan gagging. She hates the stuff so much, I watched her almost charge into a restaurant kitchen to have it removed from her sandwich. And this was within about 15 minutes of meeting her!

    I figure Homeland is nearing season’s end, and the DVD will be out soon after, and I’ll be able to catch it on Netflix. OR, I just found out my sister gets Showtime, so maybe she’ll save it on her DVR for me. I’ve loved Claire Danes since My So-Called Life, but she is really wonderful in this new series.

  12. MorganLF says:

    Fried mayonnnaise! Traumatized…. uh and the Bemelmans Bar, one of the best bars I have been asked to leave.

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