‘Parts Unknown’ friends, co-hosts and directors remember Anthony Bourdain in the series’ latest episode, out this Sunday.
Buckle up for the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”
CNN’s globe-trotting series returns Sunday at 9 p.m. with the first show since the host’s death by suicide three months ago.
W. Kamau Bell, the Emmy-winning host of “United Shades of America,” who accompanied Bourdain to Kenya for the Season 12 premiere, called the opening episode an emotionally twisty “roller coaster.”
“There are parts that are super funny, we ate weird things, we talked to all sorts of people, we deal with big global issues affecting Kenya and Nairobi,” he told Moneyish before a first-look screening at the Tribeca TV Festival on Saturday night.
“But there’s also stuff that you feel very deeply because Tony is gone,” he added. “It feels like a tribute to him.”
Anthony Bourdain with W. Kamau Bell in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya on February 25, 2018. (photo by David Scott Holloway)
In a way, it is. This was the only episode that was fully completed before Bourdain, 61, died on June 8. So the Kenya episode features the usual narration from Bourdain, but all other episodes in the upcoming season were completed using footage of Bourdain and interviews with the people he met with on his travels.
Over the years, Bourdain’s unbreakable rule, according to “Parts Unknown” director Morgan Fallon, was simple. “Don’t be an a–hole. The guiding principle on the show was to be a humble, respectful and open guest. Not being that,” Fallon added, “would get you uninvited very quickly. That’s what made the show work.”
Work it did. Which is why Fallon said he was “flattened and crushed” when he learned that 61-year-old Bourdain was found dead by suicide in his hotel in France. “The last time I’d seen him,” he told Moneyish, “was a week before that and it was the happiest I’d ever seen him.”
During the show in Kenya, Bourdain looks engaged and happy as he serves Bell a goat eyeball, a local delicacy. Likewise as he converses with women boxers, LGBT activists, badass bus drivers and, in particular, as he and Bell gaze out over an expansive vista.
Recalling how he was “dunking fries” when he was 43, Bourdain marvels, “I cannot f-–ing believe I get to see this.”
Part of that owes to ambition, and part to Bourdain’s endless curiosity, according to Fallon. “Tony had a ravenous mind — hungry all the time in every way and for every kind of experience and interaction.”
For Bell, the best one-on-ones with Bourdain happened off-camera. Like seeing “Black Panther” in Nairobi with his fellow traveler.
“My favorite parts were conversations in cars while going to locations. When we weren’t filming we talked a lot about everything. We talked about our kids. He talked about martial arts and how he was good friends with his daughter and how he was letting his daughter be who she wanted to be. He was very involved in the Metoo movement. This is all the stuff we talked about in cars. The best part for me was getting to hang out with Tony.”
Fans of “Parts Unknown” likely feel the same way about Bourdain, who parlayed his 2000 best-seller “Kitchen Confidential” into a high-flying TV career.
“Bourdain left an indelible imprint on TV, but I think his main contribution was giving muscle and edge to food reporting,” longtime TV critic David Hinckley told Moneyish. “There had been loud food shows before, like Gordon Ramsay, but Bourdain put testosterone into the recipe. He turned the search for food into the equivalent of a jungle safari, with the meal being the trophy. And all the while he kept it fun.”
Bell, whose T-shirt for the screening was adorned with a picture from when he met Bourdain, confirmed that trekking with Bourdain was big fun. His take on what Bourdain’s legacy will be? “I hope it is that we find more nontraditional storytellers and put them at the center of TV and let them be in charge of their own stories,” he said. “Like Tony.”
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