First season covering the opening of Rocco’s on 22nd was pure train-wreck television — the visceral appeal was all in what could go wrong next and who will be affected. Up and running as it heads into a second season, “The Restaurant” producers are starting to take their cues from other unscripted series, whether it’s the postcard-perfect Manhattan visuals that populate Mark Burnett’s other Peacock hit, “The Apprentice,” or the clear delineation between good and evil among the characters.
The editing in the first two episodes is not friendly to star chef Rocco DiSpirito, who is no longer the boyishly cute chef devoted to his mother. Now he’s a star-tripping, egomaniacal womanizer absent from his namesake restaurant and the eatery that brought him fame, Union Pacific, with little concern for his employees or his financial backers.
In the first two segs, DiSpirito is seen everywhere except the kitchen of his namesake restaurant. He’s at book signings and cooking classes, wooing young women in public and then taking a limo ride to JFK to pick up a guest chef from Italy. He only ventures into the restaurant for confrontations. (DiSpirito and a g.f. broke up the week before season two’s premiere, during which time word of his plans to host a talkshow leaked. Will he ever cook again?)
Season one turned Rocco’s into a tourist attraction and indeed the majority of the patrons seen in act one of season two are asking “Where’s Rocco”? Few seem to be interested in the food — they want their picture taken with Rocco or Momma. DiSpirito, meanwhile, is captured complimenting himself on his every move and insulting the chef at Rocco’s. It’s obnoxious.
The financier of Rocco’s, Jeffrey Chodorow, meanwhile, is looking to have a greater role in the management of Rocco’s. He says it’s the only one of his 22 restaurants losing money. (Since the second season was shot, Chodorow and his China Grill Management have sued DiSpirito and the chef has countersued. Chodorow accuses the DiSpirito of losing $600,000 and wants to be declared 100% owner of the company; Rocco says China Grill cooked the books, locked him out and has stressed him to the tune of $6 million.)
Chodorow, though, is the sympathetic figure here. He shows a willingness to hash out issues with DiSpirito, meets with the staff to explain the game plan and appears to crave a solution other than shutting the restaurant. His big misstep is believing an intern can be a player in the reorganization of the restaurant — perhaps he thought the only way to fight belligerence is with belligerence.
Supporting cast isn’t as interesting in the second go-round: a busybody waitress; an incompetent, but cute, waitress; a greasy bartender; the still-silent manager; and Chodorow’s corporate team. After just two segs, show feels padded and stylized to fit the visual and musical formula of “The Apprentice.” That said, there’s enough drama to keep viewers coming back for second helpings.