Anthony Bourdain's Posthumous Parts Unknown

Thursday, October 04, 2018

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The first episode of the 12th and final season of Anthony Bourdain's award-winning travel show Parts Unknown aired on CNN on Sunday, September 23. The chef sent shock waves across the world in June when news broke of his sudden and unexpected death. Before his passing Bourdain filmed five episodes of his show and to close the series, CNN will air two tribute episodes.

Season 12 opened with journalist Anderson Cooper sitting in a dark room with a photograph of Bourdain projected behind him. Cooper mentioned how viewers felt when Bourdain told a story — he took them someplace. In this episode, Bourdain travels to Kenya with American stand-up comic and host of CNN's United Shades of America W Kamau Bell. In the intro, Bourdain narrates how he and Bell met in a CNN control room. Immediately, Bourdain asked the African-American Bell if they were to do a mash-up of both of their shows, where should they go? Without hesitation, Bell mentioned Kenya. In the opening montage, Bourdain quips about the name of the mash-up show, among them “United Shades Unknown”. His humour was always on point.

In the episode, Bourdain and Bell eat fried tilapia; discuss colonialism, Kenya's independence, the rising middle class in Nairobi (which means “cool water” in Masai) and where clothes donations oftentimes end up (you'd be surprised); walk through city slums; and spend time at an eco lodge. As with all episodes of Parts Unknown, the first episode of season 12 gave just a mere peek into the complexity of life in places that are for many, unknown. The rest of the series will take viewers to Asturias, Spain; Indonesia; West Texas; and Manhattan's Lower East Side.

It was difficult to hold back the tears while watching the episode, though filled with Bourdain's acerbic jokes and thoughtful observations. At the end of the Kenya episode, Bourdain narrates, “I do my best. I look, I listen. But in the end, I know it's my story. Not Kamau's, not Kenya's. Those stories have yet to be heard”. We will miss Bourdain's gravitas. Cooper said: “Seeing the world through his eyes, it did something to you”, mentioning that it was his privilege to bring the five last episodes to viewers.

Bourdain was more than a chef (though he referred to himself as a cook), an author and television host. He was a cultural anthropologist who saw a beautiful story even in the simplest of ways in which people live their lives. There aren't enough words to appropriately convey the void that he has left. So we'll repeat what Cooper said at the end of his introduction: “au revoir and bon appetit.”


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