Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown: Like No Reservations in Slow Motion

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Bourdain trying some curry chicken in Myanmar.
If one were to describe Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, it would have to, quite simply, be "just like No Reservations -- with slow motion."

Bourdain has said that he left he Travel Channel and moved to CNN to gain access to places that he couldn't go to with No Reservations. There was never any expectation of something completely new -- he said many times that he would still "travel the world on his stomach" and his production crew remained the same.

So, the only marked difference we could see was the introduction of strange slow motion cutaways that suddenly speed up.

In the premiere episode, Bourdain travels to Myanmar. The country has just emerged from a 50 year information embargo and dictator regime and it's interesting and disturbing to see Bourdain question his hosts over dinner about prison sentences and their still-shaky futures.

When Tony meets journalist Thiha Saw for tea, he asks the newsman how he avoided jail. Turns out he didn't. It's after some uncomfortable silences, we realize that even though the country has been opened for Americans to come visit, not much has really changed for the people -- especially people who dare to talk back to the government.

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Tony also sits down with local indie rockers, Side Effect, at a restaurant on 19th Street, the Burmese equivalent of South Beach, for a few beers and a chat. We learn that all song lyrics are submitted to the government, who then, in turn, "suggest" alternative phrases. Though that's a far cry from music here, there's one thing that all musicians have in common no matter where they play -- a disdain for Christian rockers Creed. "The worst band in the history of the world," Bourdain enthusiastically agrees.

Serendipitously meeting up with owner of Les Halles, Philippe LaJunie, the two take the "midnight train going anywhere". A ten hour-long journey to travel 600 km turns into a kidney-jarring 19 hour odyssey of pain and boredom before they get to Bagan, a surreal city of four thousand temples and buildings built thousands of years ago.

Though there are still more goats than tourists, we see Phillipe being cajoled and harassed to buy trinkets and postcards by teens while Tony muses that with tourism comes prosperity, yes..but also prostitution and hustling.

Tony then says what we're all thinking. That while he and his crew can go home, the people that he spoke to on camera are home and might suffer consequences of talking out of turn. He confides that a lot of people politely declined his invitation to appear on the show, stating that they had already been in jail and had no appetite for returning. While for the moment, things seem to be moving in the right direction, Tony muses that only time will tell if the new-found freedom of speech will last.

Though this first episode was certainly in line with a one-hour show for a cable news network, it remains to be seen what the coming episodes will be like. He'll go to Los Angeles (which is next week's episode), Congo, Colombia, Canada, Libya, Peru, and Morocco. That's a world tour geographically, politically, and culturally. Let's see how Bourdain stirs the pot in the weeks to come.

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I watched the episode and was disappointed that he did not seize the opportunity to create a new type of show. His personal brand that was so distinct in the early years has mellowed with age, and this relaxed appearance can be perceived as complacency in a cushy travel job based on his celebrity status. I miss the 'ol "A Cook's Tour" days when he was still a bad ass cook from NYC and his commentary was as sharp as his knives.

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