16 January 2013

Alan Waldman : 'Chef!' is One of the Funniest Sitcoms Ever

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
Lenny Henry is astonishingly good as the overbearing chef on a classic BBC comedy.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / January 16, 2013

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

One of the most brilliant, hilarious performances I ever saw was Lenny Henry as arrogant, acerbic, condescending restaurant owner and top cook Gareth Blackstock in the 20 episodes of the BBC’s wonderful 1993-1996 series Chef! Eight episodes were written by Henry himself and nine others came from super-talented scribe Peter Tilbury (who co-wrote the very, very funny 2006-2012 series Not Going Out).

Chef! was nominated for the 1994 Best Comedy Series BAFTA award, and it was critically highly acclaimed for its “its high production values, its comic-drama scripts, and its lead performances” (according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications). More than 94.5% of viewers rating it at imdb.com gave it thumbs-up, with 30.2% calling it a perfect 10.

What really set Chef! apart from other sitcoms are the endlessly inventive strings of insults that Gareth unloads on his staff and some customers. In one case he tells a subordinate, “Let me explain the order of things to you. There's the aristocracy, the upper class, the middle class, working class, dumb animals, waiters, creeping things, head lice, people who eat packet soup, and then you.”

Chef Blackstock serves eclectic French cuisine at his gourmet restaurant Le Chateau Anglais. His search for perfection makes him ride his hapless staff hard -- particularly his fellow Jamaican exile, sous chef Everton Stonehead (wonderfully played by Roger Griffiths). Caroline Lee-Johnson is very enjoyable as Gareth’s clever wife.

All three seasons of Chef! are on video and Netflix, and several episodes, such as this one can be enjoyed on You Tube.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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