When I first encountered Ramsay on Hell's Kitchen, I couldn't stand him -- pompous, mean-spirited and vulgar. But over on BBC America, I see a different guy -- still pompous, yes, and vulgar, but not so mean-spirited. Maybe FOX puts it in his contract to amp up the nastiness.
Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is riveting. You enter a struggling restaurant -- a vegetarian joint in meat-loving Paris, a buffet stuck in a blue-haired rut, a Welsh pub with feuding owners -- and Ramsay sets to making it right in a week's time. First, he tours the kitchen, eats a meal and invariably declares, "That's just ghastly." Then he gathers the troops and declares, "OK, we're in the sh-beep!" (Tons of words get beeped out -- Jon Stewart's got nothing on this guy.)
What you learn on the BBC that is harder to see on FOX is that this guy is a pro -- he hasn't won 12 Michelin stars on bluster. A one-time aspiring pro soccer player, Ramsay has an empire going, with restaurants popping up all over the world and a seemingly insatiable appetite to star in one reality TV series after another.
That relentlessness is exactly why he makes great TV. What he really should do is write management books. Like a hard-ass soccer coach riding a bunch of underperformers, he cuts through the crap and solves problems. By the end, after a no-nonsense overhaul of their menu, he's usually molded a team that, finally, plays together.
On FOX, the competition to land a chef job in one of his restaurants comes smothered with made-for-TV cruelty. I like the BBC program better, where, under all his fire-breathing, you can see Ramsay's love -- love of the restuarant business at its most basic level and, of course, love of food.
NBA on TNT
The NBA playoffs are always fun -- just about any game has its moments, whether that means overtime, a great dunk or just a chance to catch up on all the players' fresh ink. (Seriously, some of these guys are bordering on Illustrated Man territory.) But the real fun is when the games are on TNT and the halftime and post-game shows are ruled by old stars Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith along with Ernie Johnson. Those guys are hilarious. (Throughout May, TNT)
Catch the final two installments of PBS's 10-part miniseries on the deployment of the USS Nimitz to the Persian Gulf in 2005. It's finally homecoming, after six months at sea for the 5,000 sailors aboard this floating city/airport. (Thursday, May 1, 8 pm, PBS)
With TV so screwed up with the big black hole of continuity from the strike, an old comfortable show like The Simpsons, which doesn't require much in the way of attention to subplots, can be just the thing. This time, Lisa's home movie gets accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, where offbeat director Jim Jarmusch makes an appearance. Thanks, Homer, for always being there. (Sunday, May 4, 8 pm, FOX)