Review: Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice for ZPZ with “Nomad”

By Karen

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.

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12 Responses to Review: Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice for ZPZ with “Nomad”

  1. Donna says:

    I read the linked article and I disagree with him. A show from the master sommelier perspective seems much more interesting than the been there,ate that formula that AB polished to gritty perfection. The fact that so few past the master sommelier test is a good jumping off point

  2. catsworking says:

    Donna, I agree with you. The only angle he’s got that hasn’t been done better and in exhaustive depth is the wine. He doesn’t have the charisma to be a memorable “me too” in the format they’ve wedged him into. Although I’ve been watching him for a couple of weeks now, I have to confess that I couldn’t remember his name until today when I had to type it many times. But I won’t be surprised if I wake up tomorrow and I’ve forgotten it again. He just doesn’t stick with me.

    I actually expected him to do more with wine after hearing his credentials, but he treated it more like a footnote.

    Maybe they think it would limit the countries he’d be able to visit? Or watching someone swishing and swigging wine isn’t as interesting to film as food?

  3. Donna says:

    Get creative! There’s so much cool back story behind the scenes content that could be shot and aired. Grape harvest,auction and boy from gritty DC neighborhood reaches wine world upper echelon. I don’t need anymore bad boy chef eating weird wriggly things in third world countries

  4. catsworking says:

    Donna, I’m with you. I barely watch food TV now that Bourdain is gone, but I’m not aware of any show that’s devoted to wine. I see a missed opportunity here. And it’s more useful information for anybody who wants to know anything about how to deal with wine in social settings.

    Sure, it could somewhat limit where he goes, but everywhere he goes would be beautiful. And he could surprise us by hitting countries that we never suspected are making their own wines.

    I can do without seeing one more guy sitting in the dirt with a bunch of bearded guys, all scooping goop from a communal bowl with their hands.

    Hell, ZPZ could get at least an entire season out of American wines. Virginia alone is crawling with vineyards.

  5. I think someone young can fill the tracks of a really cool forbearer. But you make the points I would make Karen, and I’m in Carlton’s generation. Time will tell if Nomad takes off, but I’m not feeling a hit here.

  6. catsworking says:

    Stephanie, when I first sat down to watch Nomad (in PARIS — my love!), because it was ZPZ, I had my fingers crossed that this guy would wow me and make me an advocate for the “next gen” that started with Bourdain. Alas, it was not to be.

    I think the problem lies with lack of context. In Paris, he said he was never exposed to art until adulthood. In D.C., he said he was kicked out of several high schools and barely graduated after finding a cooking niche in home ec. So, he obviously wasn’t into English or visual arts. Whatever he learned about food at the CIA has already been done to death. He brings nothing to the table, other than the wine credentials he downplays.

    I want to see a young guy who has a cultural filter, and knows better than to walk into a meal in another country wearing a clearly American baseball cap like he’s Joe Q. Idiot.

    I’m thinking someone with the breadth of Randy Rainbow, without the show tunes.

  7. Whoever emerges as a successor I fear will have to have had a best-seller or some kind of meteoric success to put them on the map first. Personally I’d like an unknown, someone with mystery; but you know…maybe take a chance on someone out of no where like Bourdain seemed to have been.

  8. catsworking says:

    Stephanie, I’m more optimistic. I don’t think “Bourdain Next Gen” has to be someone already famous. Even though Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential” was a bestseller, I’d never heard of him before I happened to catch him on TV one night. And then I STILL didn’t know who he was.

    In fact, I forgot about him until I happened to see his face on a remaindered book called “A Cook’s Tour,” and I thought, “Oh, it’s that smart-ass guy from TV. He writes, too? Let me check this out.” I loved THAT book, and then I was hooked.

    These days, where entertainment sources are infinitely fragmented and people barely read, I think all it will take is for someone with an engaging personality, intelligence and perception, and a quirky point of view to take the baton and run with it.

    That Nomad guy is like one bro in a million, mixed race and wine cred notwithstanding. After three episodes, I didn’t hear him say anything clever or enlightening. But again, people of his own generation may find him fascinating. I just don’t know. They call movies comedies that have no humor whatsoever. Different tastes.

  9. Jordan Schaps says:

    I LOVED the show & personally, I’m not a fan of BOURDAIN. McCoy got to me heart.

  10. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Jordan. There you go. McCoy IS your cup of tea. That’s great.

    My point was, Bourdain’s producers are making this new show. And by ZPZ making it look and feel like a clone of the shows they made with Bourdain — right down to the first episode being shot in Paris — they seemed to be trying to hit the jackpot again with their formula from the early 2000s.

    Since you say you weren’t a Bourdain fan, you represent a new audience for McCoy. I’ll be surprised if he inherits many of Bourdain’s viewers simply by emulating his shows, because we’ve already been there, done that through three iterations (A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown).

    Frankly, I’m disappointed in ZPZ for a failure of imagination here. They introduced McCoy more as a Bourdain Mini-Me than as a fresh new face with a fresh approach.

  11. I do think the person has to have someone refer them to ZPZ. I’m sure they get a lot of hopefuls who believe they’re the next one who can carry the torch. Wish it would be a woman; dare I raise my hand? ☺️

  12. catsworking says:

    Stephanie, when you said “woman,” I immediately thought of Samantha Brown, who’s the only woman I know in travel TV. She had been doing a series called “Places to Love” for PBS that was pretty good and I wondered what ever happened with that.

    Voila! I did a search and found that it’s running RIGHT NOW, so I put it back in the DVR.

    I watched a bit of one and she did NOTHING with food. She talked to local artisans making all sorts of stuff.

    I would like to see her hit the angle of women traveling alone more. Of course, she isn’t doing that, but she could present the pros and cons of it in the places she visits.

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