(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The SeriesRestaurant: Impossible

Where You Can Stream It: Select episodes are available on Hulu, but I’ve been streaming them on-demand via AT&T TV.

The Pitch: Impossibly buff English chef Robert Irvine visits failing restaurants and, armed with a crew of experts and a budget of $10,000, sets out to give the dining space a much-needed facelift and inject some additional flavor into the menu. And if he saves marriages, heals familial rifts, and makes everyone feel confident about themselves along the way…gravy!

Why It’s Essential Viewing: A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bar Rescue, the addictive but shameless and grotesque show about a bloviating “expert” who “saves” failing establishments by shouting at everyone who works there, using volume and humiliation to break everyone down. But what if there was a long-running alternative to that junk food madness? What if there was a show that does everything that series claims to do, but in a way that showcases genuine humanity via a host who has an aura of kind, masculine authority that Bar Rescue‘s sweaty, screaming Jon Taffer could never, ever hope to achieve? That’s Restaurant: Impossible and host Robert Irvine.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Restaurant: Impossible is great television. I certainly won’t say it completely sidesteps the cliches and tropes of reality TV. And while Irvine’s onscreen presence is the exact spiritual antithesis of Taffer, he has certainly not been without sin. However, I will say that this Food Network series, which recently began its 17th season after taking a few years off, uses its power and platform for good. While Bar Rescue – a show I watch like a glorious trainwreck – indulges in the worst humanity has to offer before trying to offer a brief optimistic note in the final minutes to justify its nastiness, Restaurant: Impossible is a reality show that is structured to be about a good person helping good people.

Granted, Bar Rescue probably leaves its most humane moments on the cutting room floor. And Restaurant: Impossible may trim every scene where people are deliberate assholes to one another. But you can’t argue with results: I finish each episode of Bar Rescue hungry for another one, ready to watch more people at their worst, and I finish each episode of Restaurant: Impossible actively considering how I can be better to myself and to the people in my life.

Is it all reality show smoke and mirrors? Maybe. But the “character” of Chef Robert Irvine, a stoic, often brutally honest, but always kind-hearted fixer of broken restaurants (and sometimes broken marriages) is one that I am drawn to. When he raises his voice, it’s because someone has proven it necessary. Most of the time, he’s quietly intense, exuding a specific kind of authority you often don’t see on shows like this: the hyper-masculine male who is comfortable enough to speak softly.

This really is the Robert Irvine show – the camera loves finding ways to frame his bulky frame in small kitchens, and his quiet pep talks are given as much screen time as his more commanding moments. While his real-life track record is far from perfect (more than half of the restaurants he “saves” have closed over the years), the image he projects onscreen is one that I can’t help but be drawn toward. It’s not only okay for tough guys to be sensitive and to give a shit, it’s awesome.

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