Category Archives: Reviews

A review of Bar Rescue.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m not big on watching television these days. In fact, a few days ago I had thought it was better to watch 6 hours of 24 than watch anything that was on TV at that moment. Since most of my blog hits as of late come from my Restaurant: Impossible review from a few months back, I thought I might as well review yet another Kitchen Nightmares knockoff that debuted recently. This one comes from Spike TV and it’s called Bar Rescue.

Our host and expert for the show is a guy named Jon Taffer, who may not have a Wikipedia page but does have an official site that lauds him for managing and rescuing various bars. Certainly better credentials than Robert Irvine, anyway. Bar Rescue seems to follow some of the trappings of Kitchen Nightmares, where a famous chef/entrepreneur observes a failing establishment, tries to find the cause(s) of the problem, and fix them in the course of a few days. Bar Rescue feels different, and in a good way.

The show starts out almost identical to KN, where Taffer and his wife observe the booze and food, as well as the decor. Afterwards he meets up with the staff and tries to find out the problems of the bar, with help from a few specialists in mixing and food preparation. This isn’t a bad thing, everybody has their specialties and passing yourself off as a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none isn’t a good thing.

One other thing that I saw that Bar Rescue does compared to its competition is that they seem to show the “science” of running a bar. Showing that overpouring liquor can cost a bar money, that having common liquors in the same place result in serving drinks quickly, even how cooking certain foods can be a loss leader but still make money when people buy alcohol with it. This is something I wish shows of this ilk did more: Thinking about the business side of how a bar/restaurant works. That’s a slight problem with a lot of these shows: You can only improve the decor and clean the place up so many times before it becomes very boilerplate and repetitive every show. Showing precisely why your business is failing is something I wish Kitchen Nightmares touched on a bit more.

Is this show worth watching? I’d say yes. I’m not a bar goer, but watching this made me understand just a few reasons why some bars are successful and some look like absolute shitholes. It’s miles better than Restaurant: Impossible. But then again, you could do a local knockoff of Kitchen Nightmares and it would look a million times better than R:I.

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A review of Restaurant: Impossible.

For some reason, I watch a lot of Food Network. For a while, it’s been my go-to channel when nothing’s on. Food Network has a pretty diverse schedule: Cooking shows hosted by goofy couples and fat chicks who name their show after a 1950s film, 5-6 clones of Iron Chef America, bundled with episodes of Iron Chef America and Unwrapped. It’s not the best network, but it’s better than me tuning into TruTV to see people riff on YouTube videos with “humorous” overdubbing, which is what 90% of that network’s schedule has been for the past year anyway.

I had recently heard of a new show on Food Network titled Restaurant: Impossible. A spinoff of Dinner: Impossible, hosted by well-renowned chef talentless hack Robert Irvine.

If you’re not in the know of TV chefs, Irvine was outed for being a compulsive liar: Saying he made the cake for Lady Diana, made meals at the White House, you get the idea. But it was later revealed he did no such thing. After that, his contract with Food Network was severed, his cookware line pulled, etc. But mysteriously they decided to re-hire the guy about a year later, and now he’s one of the major faces of the network, next to Guy “Don’t call me Ferry” Fieri and Alton Brown. Well, that and when Irvine was fired, Iron Chef Michael Symon took over Dinner: Impossible and supposedly made it suck more — although, I wouldn’t know, I don’t watch Dinner: Impossible that much.

So Restaurant: Impossible’s premise is that Irvine goes to failing restaurants and has two days to make it look like a competent restaurant. Sound familiar? Yeah, this show is a poor man’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Not content with hiring a hack to be the face of the network, Food Network decide to rip off an existing, better show. I love Kitchen Nightmares, both its original UK version and its overblown US counterpart, and Restaurant: Impossible already has one major problem: The host. Mr. Irvine, I know Gordon Ramsay, Gordon Ramsay is a friend of mine, you sir, are no Gordon Ramsay. (I don’t know Ramsay. I wish I did, though.) Ramsay is the major reason Kitchen Nightmares is compelling, because he is literally in-your-face and brutally honest about everything. Even if he is a bit brash. So already we’re off to a rough start because of the difference in personalities between Ramsay and Irvine.

What makes this different than Kitchen Nightmares? Well, first, instead of Gordon trying the food alone, Irvine brings a posse of 3 food critics to help him taste the mediocrity. In addition, The restaurant and kitchen inspections are considerably longer than Kitchen Nightmares. Of course, this might just be the case of the episode I saw, as there was a big pile of junk in the building, and loads of bugs and rats at the place. If Gordon found this place instead, he’d scold the owners for about 10 minutes screen time, not waste half the episode looking at the condition of the place.

Other than that, it followed a lot of the boilerplate rules of Kitchen Nightmares: Chef inspects the place, puts down a plan to improve the place, redesigns the restaurant, and successfully relaunches the place. But since Irvine has two days to fix the place instead of Ramsay’s seven, you don’t get the feeling and atmosphere of the people who work at the restaurant. Hell, they seemed to be in the background while Irvine just worked with a design team to redesign the restaurant. There’s a reason this is glossed over in both Kitchen Nightmares series: this isn’t Home & Garden TV and it’s pretty boring to watch people talk about improving a restaurant’s looks. (Coincidentally, Scripps Networks, the owners of HGTV, also own Food Network.)

At the end of the episode, Irvine and the owners oversee the two day “relaunch,” and that’s it. No drama, no tension, just falls flat like a walking narcoleptic. There was no bickering between Irvine and the owner, there was no bad customers or anything like that, which is the major point of why I love Kitchen Nightmares. Even the most mediocre of Kitchen Nightmares episodes had something happening, even if it was just an annoyed customer who may or may not be an actor planted for the show.

Yeah, it’s true. I came into this show with preconceived negative opinions before I even saw it. While this is certainly better than airing hours of Food Network Challenge, Chopped and Cupcake Wars, all three of which follow rip off the Iron Chef format of making items in a short amount of time, it still smacks of unoriginality. It seems Kitchen Nightmares is still the king of “bad restaurant” shows. I hope that Restaurant: Impossible doesn’t get past a season, because I doubt they’ll have anything that rivals episodes like Dillon’s or Sebastian’s on Kitchen Nightmares.

Review: Instant Jam (Facebook)

courtesy of some MMO site.

For a long time, I had thought to myself that I could never get into the plastic instrument music game genre. Cost was the main factor, as well as me going through a phase where I was listening to nothing but film scores and NES tunes. But in early 2009, I had gotten the chance of a lifetime: A copy of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for $10, which came with a free guitar controller. That was when I started getting into the genre; now I own several Guitar Hero games, as well as games of competitor Rock Band.

Despite Activision’s idea last year that “more Guitar Hero games = more profit,” — leading to oversaturation as a result — the genre is still going strong, and developer InstantAction decided to do their own version of it: Instant Jam. The game is an online Facebook application playable from your web browser, with only an installation of Java required. The game is currently in beta as I write this review.

What’s Instant Jam’s advantage compared to Rock Band or Guitar Hero? The answer is simple: the game’s set list is your MP3 collection. Sick of begging for Muse in Rock Band? You can play songs by Muse and a myriad of other bands previously unseen in those other games in Instant Jam. You can also play songs by bands that aren’t rock-focused as well. Ever wanted to play Daft Punk or Pet Shop Boys in those games? You can in Instant Jam. I was even able to play Haddaway’s “What is Love?” in the game, which was an amusing novelty considering its cult status for being that song used in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Once you have your set list, you choose a song and one of four difficulties: Casual (like “Easy” in Guitar Hero or Rock Band), Normal (“Medium”), Hard, or Expert. The problem here is that some charts only have Casual or Normal difficulties, others only have Expert charts. Only a few of the songs actually have all four difficulties from what I saw. I also had problems where songs didn’t want to play, dumping me with a mysterious error that ran in an infinite loop until I hit refresh on my web browser.

image courtesy of Eurogamer

For those unfamiliar with the genre, it’s relatively simple: Hit buttons in time to a music track to score points. Some notes will glow a different color and give the player energy that when activated, doubles the score multiplier. After the song is complete, you’re given stars to determine how well you did. Instant Jam does the same features that those games have: Five notes in the respective green-red-yellow-blue-orange colors, their equivalent of Star Power called “Jam Power,” and lightning bolts replacing stars. You can use the keyboard to play the game, or plug in a USB-powered Guitar controller, which works perfectly fine for playing the game. I used my Gibson Xplorer guitar controller for the Xbox 360 and I could play and strum just fine, which is a big plus.

For Instant Jam to have song tracks to play in the game, the game has to scan your entire computer for MP3s. Now I have MP3s scattered all over my PC, and it will pull its playlist from whatever songs that match their charts. But even when it doesn’t have an Instant Jam chart, the MP3 will play in the game’s menu while choosing songs, messing with the shop, or fiddling with other options. I’ve had film scores, video game music, and former GFW editor Jeff Green yelling at Anthony Gallegos play in the background. It would be nice to limit it to whatever songs are in the “my songs” category, and it baffles me why they designed it that way. If you don’t have a song that Instant Jam has charts for, you can buy them off Amazon or iTunes and have them work in the game. The problem is that I had songs that have IJ charts, only to find the the game does not detect them. You can play them with the MP3s that you have, but all this does is lead to charts not syncing properly with the music most of the time. Other times I had songs disappear from my songs list, mysteriously not being detected by the program despite being detected and playable when I last played it. Overall, their song detection seriously needs work.

The biggest problem I had with Instant Jam is how the songs are charted. At times, the game made me play keyboard sections instead of guitar (Caesars’ “Jerk It Out,” Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love”), or switch awkwardly between the guitar and bass (Cake’s “The Distance”). The overall charting seems really awkward. I didn’t think InstantAction could rival Guitar Hero III-era Neversoft in really awkward charting. Of course, this may be nitpicking on my part, but unless there’s no playable guitar track, I should be playing the guitar from beginning to end, not switching between various instruments for the sake of variety.

Instant Jam limits the numbers of songs you can play to three a day, unless you level up, where your play count resets. Every time you finish songs, you unlock credits to buy new guitars, new backgrounds, and new notes on the fretboard. Some don’t unlock until you reach higher levels, others don’t unlock unless you pay money, which is something I really don’t like. I feel that this type of subscription model leads to “nickeling and diming” your audience, but due to the popularity of other online mediums doing the same thing — exchanging real cash for in-game goods — I’m not surprised InstantAction decided to adopt the same business model.

Outside of the gameplay, there are more issues in this beta. Settings not being saved, screens mysteriously shrinking before the main menu loads, even times where the game absolutely refused to load on my various web browsers. Coupled with the problems I already mentioned earlier, it makes the game look like an inconsistent buggy mess.

Now, I can forgive these guys slightly since it’s a game in a beta state. But right now as I write this review, the concept is solid, but the execution is awful. Since there are a lot of Facebook users these days, Instant Jam could be massively popular to the casual crowd if it is well designed and properly marketed. But right now, I can’t recommend that anybody should play this. This non-recommendation is not just for music game diehards, Facebook users and casual gamers in general should also stay away from this. In fact, I’d suggest that you try Frets on Fire instead, which is a free PC game that essentially does the same thing as Instant Jam does, but without all the bugs. Here is hoping that in six months time, they polish the product considerably, because this looks promising.

FINAL SCORE: 2/5.