The F Word
BBC America • Sunday, Oct. 22 (9 p.m.)
While most American audiences know Gordon Ramsay from his profanity-laced ring-leadership of Fox's reality show Hell's Kitchen, the celebrity chef's best television work to date comes from the other side of the pond. BBC America, which already transferred Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares to U.S. shores, is now serving up The F Word.
Whereas the earlier outing focused specifically on the award-winning chef's efforts to help hapless restaurateurs operate their kitchens, The F Word (the 'f' is for 'food') is a uniquely entertaining mix of several ingredients. Ramsay puts his high-energy passion for all things culinary to work cooking for and mingling with guests at his own restaurant, as well as demonstrating kitchen techniques, mentoring aspiring chefs, competing in recipe challenges and sparring with restaurant critic Giles Coren (whose own segments, including one on the Freegans, a group who scavenge restaurants' trash bins for gourmet goodies, are another of the show's strengths). Ramsay also prepares for a literally homegrown holiday meal by having his children help raise turkeys that will presumably end up on the dinner table by season's end.
The F Word is unlikely to hook non-foodies who tuned in Hell's Kitchen for its Survivor-like competition. And British celebrity guests, such as actress Martine McCutcheon (Love Actually) and comedian Al Murray, may not be much of a draw for many U.S. viewers. But for Ramsay fans and anyone who loves food, The F Word is Michelin-star quality. — Christian Lewis
TLC • Sunday, Oct. 22 (10 p.m.)
An alcoholic television-comedy writer, a gangster turned youth counselor, a cynical EMT from Flint, Michigan, a repenting Satanist, and a 23-year-old war veteran with a prosthetic leg all walk into the desert …
That could be the beginning of a joke, but throw in 30 monks, 40 days and 40 nights and a TLC camera crew and you've got Monastery, your latest reality show. The premise: Five troubled souls are searching for God. The real question: Can they hack it in a Benedictine monastery?
Set in the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, the five hour-long episodes pit these volunteers against 1,500 years of religious order, including eight hours of prayer per day, manual labor, strict silence and seclusion in the stunning mountain desert of northwestern New Mexico.
The resulting frictions make for compelling, often humorous drama. Each volunteer is also outfitted with a personal camera to confess his thoughts in solitude, which adds an aura of authenticity. Though the long-term impact of the experience on the men's lives is of course suspect, Monastery does succeed in raising interesting questions about faith and existence — particularly Samuel Johnson's notion, voiced by the rebellious Marine: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” — George Vernadakis