It is always an interesting experience after watching the first season of a reality show to tune into the show's second season. Things often change, dramatically. The producers have figured out new and possibly better ways of approaching the same concept. The changes, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, often have a profound effect on the viewing experience.
A few weeks ago, Last Restaurant Standing returned to BBC America for its second season. I watched and greatly enjoyed season one, but for some reason was on the fence about season two. I wasn't terribly sure I wanted to add another show to my already overburdened schedule. However, I opted to do so and haven't regretted the decision once.
Things have been subtly altered this season – the show is down to two inspectors working with Raymond Blanc, not three; rather than everyone staying together at a mansion, the teams are all at different hotels near their restaurants; the set being used for meetings with Raymond is different; and, there are, different couples. However, the core of the show, Blanc, has remained constant.
The television world is littered with “celebrity chefs.” Gordon Ramsay is practically a household name, Rocco DiSpirito had a highly publicized show a few years ago, and NBC will soon be bringing Marco Pierre White to its network for a show somewhat similar in concept to Last Restaurant Standing. There's Tom Colicchio on Top Chef and Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network. I could continue, but I think you probably get the point – they're everywhere. However, I like Raymond Blanc, I'm not quite sure why Last Restaurant Standing insists on throwing subtitles onto everything he says, his French accent isn't that strong, but I still like him. Blanc has an air about him, a kind of high brow attitude, that many of the other celebrity chefs lack – perhaps it's the aforementioned French accent.
In any case, far more than many of the celebrity chefs on TV, Blanc is riveting. One gets the sense that he truly knows not just how to cook, but how to actually run a restaurant, the ins and outs of it all. Blanc makes his point not by screaming at the top of his lungs, not by getting down and dirty with everyone, but by calmly explaining the proper way to do things, the proper way to run a restaurant. Blanc doesn't appear to be a chef sitting there talking to the other couples, Blanc appears more like a CEO with hands-on experience. He looks like someone who has been there in the trenches and while he's fully capable of returning to them if necessary, he's now ready to teach others what to do. It's a far more relaxed attitude than we're used to getting on TV here in the States.
Between Blanc and the contestants, many of whom have tons of talent but little know-how, the show is fascinating. Blanc assigns them a task to complete at their restaurant (last night it was to maximize profits and use of a half a pig), has people go out and see how the teams do, and then decides whom he wants to take a closer look at and possibly eliminate.
Perhaps the best way to describe Blanc in the show is as a puppet master, pulling the strings and making the contestants dance. He doesn't browbeat, he isn't over the top, he just explains what needs to be done and expects it to happen.
It's one thing I'm glad the show hasn't changed between seasons.