One of the potentially worst ideas of the new TV season—turning Anthony Bourdain’s raunchy, spit-in-your-soup best seller Kitchen Confidential into a Fox sitcom—has proved to be one of the fall’s best surprises. Zippy, irreverent, and black-humored (someone’s finger gets chopped off in the pilot), the series is also chock-full of cult-show stars, including Alias’s Bradley Cooper (as “Jack” Bourdain), Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendan as his pastry chef, and Freaks and Geeks’ John Francis Daley as a newbie cook. It’s Darren Star’s best effort since Sex and the City.
“Yes, I’ve traded sex for food,” says the producer-director. “I’m a foodie myself, and I think they’re related as sensual pleasures.” Confidential takes place in a fictional Manhattan restaurant, Nolita, where, in the pilot, Cooper’s Bourdain is hired to turn the swanky joint into a hot spot by an imperious owner played by Frank Langella. Cooper, after playing a cute human dishrag in Alias and a preppy prick in The Wedding Crashers, savors the lead role. “I know I’m not a conventional TV leading man,” he says by phone from Los Angeles, where the series is being filmed. “But on the other hand, the series totally dovetails with my life: Before I studied acting, I made it as far as prep cook in various restaurants in [his native] Philadelphia. Plus the fact that I get to kiss Bonnie Somerville”—the slinky blonde who plays the restaurant owner’s daughter—“is, as they say, icing on the cake.”
Nicholas Brendan, on the other hand, has a bit of a learning curve. “I opened the next episode’s script, and it says I’m ‘pulling sugar,’ whatever the hell that means, so I guess I’m gonna get a crash course in pulling sugar soon; I hope it’s not painful.” Brendan notes that he hasn’t escaped his Buffy past, pointing out that his time-period competition on Monday nights at 8:30 is How I Met Your Mother, featuring Alyson Hannigan—Buffy’s Willow. “We see each other all the time: We shoot on the same lot!” He also likes the way Confidential is shot “like reality TV,” in a vérité style, to convey the hectic pace of dinner rush hours.
Indeed, Darren Star says he thinks of “Noises Off as a paradigm”—that is, a slamming- (or swinging-) door farce, all hectic action and overlapping dialogue. “If we do it right, people will think of these characters as a little nutty because of the pressure they’re under, and also like them because they’re a little nuts.” Bradley Cooper has another comic model in mind. “I think of my Bourdain not as the dark, jaded guy in the book”—Cooper says he’s never met the author, and has seen him only “on his book jacket”—“but rather a Bourdain like Sam Malone in Cheers: the guy everyone revolves around, the semi-sane guy in a crazy place.”