On Netflix’s new restaurant makeover reality show Restaurants on the Edge, the camera glides around, nearly always in motion, floating and hovering, whether it’s a drone skimming across the top of a mountain in Austria or just flying across the top of a burger in Costa Rica. It’s entirely smooth and almost ethereal, with the only jarring moments being the awkward transitions that were bridged by commercials when the show originally aired on Canada’s Cottage Life TV.
This is the opposite of the frenetic pacing of most restaurant makeover shows, especially Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and 24 Hours to Hell and Back. In fact, most elements of those shows are missing: no stress tests, no meetings with the staff, no screaming assholes.
That’s a welcome change, and makes Restaurants on the Edge’s six episodes to be a much less intense experience, both for the restaurant owners and for us.
The show’s title refers to both the restaurants’ struggles and their views, though the type of view they have really varies, from a rickety patio overlooking a houses on a river to spectacular, expansive vistas.
Most of the show follows its three hosts—chef Dennis Prescott, restaurateur Nick Liberato, and interior designer Karin Bohn—as they go out into the community and meet people.
That makes the series far closer to the Samin Nosrat’s Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat than it is to, say, Restaurant Impossible, on which Robert Irvine gives lots of hands-on help: cooking in the kitchen, working on finances, training staff members.
There are basically no staff members or servers or cooks on Restaurants on the Edge, perhaps because the establishments are too small, or too new, or too in the red. The restaurants really vary in size: One is basically two tables behind a gift shop, which challenges the definition of “restaurant.”
This series is also closer to Gordon Ramsay’s NatGeo show Uncharted than it is to Ramsay’s increasingly dramatic attempts at restaurant makeovers—though on Uncharted, Ramsay leads with his ego rather than curiosity.
Starting with the meal that Dennis, Nick, and Karin share with the restaurant owners at the actual establishment, it’s clear their focus is on helping. There is light critique, but it’s more like Here’s what you can do better than You’re a failure and a loser.
The problems with the restaurant are mentioned, but not dwelled upon, and kind of drift aways as the camera floats to the next beautiful shot. As the camera glides around gracefully, there is a lot of slow motion, which can sometimes make the pacing seem leisurely bordering on sluggish. Some of the slow motion shots are gorgeous, though you will also watch a lot of people walk in slow motion for no apparent reason.
Nick Liberato spends time with the owners, getting a sense of their lives and their challenges, and these are often the most interesting segments. The ones with Dennis Prescott are my least favorite, because as he goes out to explore cuisine and ingredients, he’s a little aggressive. It may be enthusiasm, but it comes off as he’s talking at people instead of listening to them. Karin Bohn is mostly shopping, even when she participates, like when she helps make a clay pot.
None of them are Gordon Ramsay, so they are not making these moments all about themselves and their star power. They’re so opposite of ego that I didn’t really get a sense of them as people or individual characters. Perhaps that’s for the best, as the focus then stays on the restaurant owners and their communities, but it also makes the show less engaging than it could be.
And I still can’t quite shake the way their explorations are ultimately about mining a part of local culture, whether it’s produce or a piece of art, just to incorporate it into a restaurant. The majority of the series is three Canadians parachuting in to a community for a few days, and while they’re giving free advice and resources to a struggling business, they’re also professing to understand local cuisine and culture after just brief meetings/scenes for a reality show.
The show comes from Canada’s Marble Media, which produced last summer’s Netflix glass blowing reality competition Blown Away. (In the interest of full disclosure, I know the show’s creator and executive producer, Courtney Hazlett, who worked at msnbc.com when I was a contributor there.)
In the same way that Blown Away breezed over the actual construction part of glass blowing, so too does Restaurants on the Edge drift past the details.
Karin, Nick, and Dennis meet with each other to discuss what kinds of changes they’d like to make.There maybe a shot of paint going on a wall, or the mention of a type of dish, but the transformations and changes mostly happen off-camera. It’s not a show about takeaways, or about restaurants operations or small business management.
Restaurants on the Edge is mostly a series of attractive images and dips into culture, though its places and people tend to drift away more than they leave an impression.