In 2005 — before Bradley Cooper was an Academy Award nominee, but after he had sex with Michael Ian Black at a summer camp — he starred as Anthony Bourdain (sort of) in Fox’s short-lived but reliably entertaining sitcom Kitchen Confidential.
Very loosely based on Anthony Bourdain’s bestselling memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, the comedy is similar mostly just in name and basic themes (Cooper played “Jack Bourdain” rather than “Anthony”), focusing more on Jack’s attempts to restart his life in a new restaurant. After some hard-partying years of booze, drugs, and women, Jack finds himself basically blackballed from most restaurants and working instead at a kiddy Italian joint for his girlfriend/boss. He gets a mysterious opportunity to be head chef at Nolita and spends the pilot putting together a ragtag kitchen team.
The best part about Kitchen Confidential is its cast: Cooper, of course, is funny, charming, and smarmy enough for the lead role. He’s a chef that you want to smack and make out with in equal measure; you want to hate his egotism but you desperately want to eat his dishes. Rounding out the talented cast is Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who plays off every other character brilliantly; John Cho (Selfie), who is always amazing, never ages, and nails his delivery with every line; John Francis Daley (Freaks & Geeks), who remains as adorable and awkward as always; and Owain Yeoman (The Mentalist), whose stealth charm gives Cooper a run for his money. The series also features Jaime King, Bonnie Somerville, Frank Langella, and Erinn Hayes. It should’ve been renewed based on that cast alone but, well, this was also the year that Fox canceled Arrested Development, so Kitchen Confidential never stood a chance.
The pilot episode is shaky like all pilot episodes, but it sets up what most of the series will be about: silly kitchen mishaps, Jack’s ongoing attempts at bettering himself (and not breaking sobriety by slipping backwards into temptation), the restaurant’s struggle to thrive, rookie chef Jim (Daley) trying to prove himself in the kitchen, bro-y competitions, and the weird emphasis on the series’ confluence between sex and cooking. It was certainly set up to be a “racy” version of a cooking show: down and dirty, slightly crude, trying to be sexy, and just a bit misogynistic (there are many blonde women in low-cut shirts who disappear just as fast as they appear). The show certainly had a problem with writing women as actual characters, rather than just set-pieces, but if you don’t think too hard about it, it’s easy to just roll your eyes at the obnoxious sexism and move on. The episodes get sharper and funnier as they go along, and Erinn Hayes’ Becky becomes a stand-out character, so it’s not off base to assume that the show would’ve figured itself (and its gender problem) out as it went along.
That said, it still managed to be in its short run — and occasionally even great, largely due to the cast. The storylines were very low-stakes and fun (Jim trying to lose his virginity, chefs competing to see who makes a more popular dish, Jack trying to convince a hot vegan to eat meat, for some reason) but make for a great, mindless weekend binge-watch. The entire season, only 13 episodes and available on Hulu, won’t take long to watch — you’ll find yourself absently watching the next episode, and then the next, until you’ve reached the end and you’re suddenly clamoring for more.