Anthony Bourdain is clearly feeling CNN’s once-considerable “weight” on Parts Unknown. Who knows? Maybe he’s what the foundering network needs to stop being almost as big a joke as Fox “News.”
As Tony navigated through Libya, I felt like I was watching him grab the next rung up in his career — and I was cheering for him all the way.
With each new Parts episode, Bourdain’s confidence grows almost visibly as he tries new ways to expand beyond food. He’s seeking out people involved in historic upheavals, and expats who love and live in danger zones. Then he lets them take center stage to talk about life and politics — instead of food — while Bourdain mostly listens and learns.
His narrations fill in just enough history to make it all make sense for viewers.
As he drove through Gaddafi’s destroyed, deserted compound and scrambled alone through the rubble of the dictator’s palace, I thought how, if he were still on Travel Channel, that probably would have been a scene of him lunching in Tripoli at some trendy new drive-through called Muammar’s.
I was the first blogger to follow him closely “way back when,” before Eater started hanging on his every word (e.g., their “Quotable Bourdain”), so I’ve seen him rise and begin to descend once, in spite of all the award nominations that started rolling in for No Reservations. It’s truly awesome to see him ascend again at CNN.
To foreign audiences, he must serve as the antidote to the cliché of heedless Ugly Americans who spew like mold spores from air-conditioned tour buses and cruise ships everywhere, often ignorant about where they are, and interested in nothing beyond a perfunctory glance at how “the other half” lives and cheap souvenirs.
When Bourdain was in Libya, the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was still fairly fresh, and warnings were being issued about Westerners’ safety., which must have been giving him flashbacks to Beirut. As I watched Tony travel to Mizrata, I hoped to God I never awaken to news that he’s injured, missing — or worse — in some godforsaken hellhole.
But like his predecessor, the world-renowned (now largely forgotten) English writer, Somerset Maugham, Bourdain is compelled to travel to exotic places and collect stories from ordinary people, digest them without judging, then spin them into something fascinating for the rest of us.
Unlike much of Maugham’s work, Bourdain’s dominant genre is nonfiction, which takes more courage to write.
Instead of closing the Libya episode with another relatively easy meal scene, Bourdain trekked to the ancient Roman ruins of Leptis Magna, where he noted he was the only foreigner because the country’s never-ending strife has killed tourism, and that someone had “chipped off all the dicks” from the statues.
Would Samantha Brown ever share such a tidbit? I think not. But that’s just the sort of detail we expect from Bourdain.
Then, in the show’s most shocking moment, he joined a troop of Libyan Boy Scouts on a field trip, recited the pledge from memory, and revealed he was once a scout.
Anthony Bourdain — BOY SCOUT?
That notion was even wilder than the beard he sprouted there, “going Blitzer,” the reason for which was never explained.
I’m really liking this more-than-a-foodie Tony. I think he’s on track to earn that personal Emmy that’s been eluding him.