'Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back'
Airs: The first season premieres Wednesday on Fox
The premise: Celebrity chef and curse-word generator Gordon Ramsay goes undercover at failing restaurants to witness firsthand what customers experience and identify the issues plaguing these eateries. As a 24-hour clock ticks down, Ramsay and his team work to transform struggling restaurants and bring them back from the brink of disaster with renovations and new menus.
Highs: If you are familiar with Gordon Ramsay's long-running, yet now defunct, "Kitchen Nightmares" series, you'll feel right at home with this new program. "Kitchen Nightmares" and "24 Hours" have essentially the same premise, with tweaks to the celebrity chef's tried and true fixer-upper formula.
Ramsay still is looking to help failing restaurants, but he's much more covert this time. Restaurants are being told that cameras are placed because they're being considered for a renovation series. Ramsay, who always tries the food in each place he visits, now also shows up in disguise. In the premiere episode, which takes place at the family-owned Bella Gianna's in Congers, N.Y., Ramsay wears a fake mustache, glasses and wig. He has two children and a woman pose as his family to make the ruse more believable. This deception leads to a reveal that surprises restaurant owners and adds an element of fun for viewers.
One of the biggest differences between the "Kitchen Nightmares" and "24 Hours" formulas is the addition of Hell on Wheels. This semi-tractor trailer is used as a training kitchen, as well as a place for diners and staff to witness the ineptitude recorded by cameras at the restaurant before Ramsay's arrival. Having customers see what goes on behind the scenes and then asking them to come back after a restaurant has been made over is clever. But what I appreciated most about the use of the new truck is that after Ramsay has given an introduction to the new menu, restaurant chefs work there for hours with Hell on Wheels staff to learn how to prepare meals properly. This helps illustrate to viewers how much work is put into the process.
Those who have found Gordon Ramsay to be abrasive will like "24 Hours" more than his previous shows. I laughed out loud when I heard Gordon say, "This dressing smells like the backseat of my car" and "This food looks like the inside of my grandfather's underpants," so Ramsay is still quick with a quip. But we see a softer side to the chef, with Ramsay listening more and berating a bit less. To be sure, he still has an edge, but it's a little less sharp.
Lows: The 24-hour theme, while fun, seems an unnecessary limitation except as a device to ramp up the tension. And since any restaurant Ramsay is going to visit is failing, is additional tension really needed?
The new menu Ramsay prepares for Bella Gianna's is small, with only a few items. Considering the time constraint and limited menu, it's unclear if "24 Hours" is truly setting up the restaurant for success, which is the point of the series.
Grade - A-: When it comes to restaurant makeover shows, the more troublesome the owner, the more entertaining the episode. Vinny, who runs Bella Gianna's with his sister, has shouting outbursts and cries often, which at times leaves Ramsay speechless. If the premiere episode is any indication, "Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back" will be a must-watch summer series.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.