Anthony Bourdain set the bar so high for travel series, I wonder if we should retire the format for a generation, like a super-athlete’s sports jersey, after watching Zero Point Zero’s Nomad with Carlton McCoy on CNN.
I feel sorry for Bourdain’s heir. Carlton McCoy is tracing incredibly deep tracks without the experience or maturity to either fill or reshape them.
Scheduling Nomad at 10 p.m. (ET) Sunday, CNN did McCoy no favors because he follows Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. After an hour of Tucci charm, sophistication, wit and easy Italian banter in gorgeous settings, McCoy barely stands a chance.
I’m speaking with generational bias. McCoy is 37, with a shaved head, one of those itchy-looking stubble-beards, and tats all over. His personality reminds me of Rick Steves, and not in a good way.
McCoy’s quick backstory: Father Black, mother Jewish, but raised in the Pentecostal church of his paternal grandmother. Grew up in Washington D.C.’s tough, underprivileged Southeast section. Bounced around high schools, but managed to graduate with a scholarship to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America).
While working in restaurants, he studied wine and became a master sommelier. Only 5% who take it pass that exam, and there are fewer than 300 master sommeliers in the world.
He brings to the show a chef’s knowledge of food and what makes a good wine pairing. So far, that’s about it.
Remember Bourdain’s voiceover opening to No Reservations?
“I’m Anthony Bourdain. I write, I travel, I eat, and I’m hungry for more.”
This is McCoy’s…
“I’m a nomad, driven to move in and out of different cultures, different worlds. We celebrate diversity by embracing what makes us both unique and the same. After all, we carry our travels with us to our next destination. That’s what life is all about. Let’s do this.”
OK, wake up, I’m not finished!
Like Bourdain, McCoy’s voiceover is clear (more on that in a minute), but the content is as personally insightful and humorous as a book report about the dictionary.
Nomad’s inaugural episode is Paris, a place McCoy has visited before. The B-roll included all the usual tourist sights. The show wraps at Elysée Palace (the French White House), where McCoy talks to one of President Emmanuel Macron’s chefs.
But to its credit, for most of the episode, McCoy is in the seedier outer arrondissements, the banlieues parisiennes or No Go zones.
Nomad emphasizes the new, the next generation, with little acknowledgement of origins. Cultural context was Bourdain’s forte, thanks to his insatiable study of literature and film.
Nomad feels like early No Reservations. The camera work is safe and competent, and scenes tick the usual boxes…
- Bowl of noodles at hole in the wall
- Famous chef cooking in Michelin starred restaurant
- Host strolling the streets
In the second episode, Korea, McCoy meets up with an old CIA classmate, and they immediately hit Seoul’s open-air market, including a meal of blood sausage and chicken feet washed down with local booze and beer.
Has your déjà vu alarm gone off yet?
When McCoy leaves Seoul for the countryside, they load the car with hard-sided, unscuffed luggage.
OK, that’s something new.
I can’t remember ever seeing Bourdain’s luggage. He wanted us to think he could and did go anywhere with just a carry-on. Stanley Tucci probably has steamer trunks for his impeccable wardrobe, but he’d never show them.
In the third episode, McCoy travels back to D.C. and hangs out with old friends, relatives and teachers. It seemed far too early in the series for him to be showing us his roots.
At the end, I expected to see Bourdain’s crew all over the credits, but there were only Chris and Lydia as executive producers. On second thought, new names mean Tony’s crew has moved on, and I’m glad. They reached the Emmy pinnacle for cinematography and writing, so going back to scratch with a noob would have been unthinkable.
With time, McCoy will probably grow into the job. But if he gets a second season, ZPZ must address his sloppy diction. His conversations almost need subtitles. His voice isn’t distinctive and he speaks too fast and slurs his words.
One other beef: He needs to lose that ridiculous New York Yankees baseball cap that screams, “I’m a dumbass American tourist!”
In the remaining season, McCoy travels to Ghana, Toronto and Mississippi. If you want more details on his early life, I found this excellent article by Amiee White Beazley.