TV Reviews: CNN’s ‘Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,’ HBO’s ‘The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington’

One of the more disappointing attitudes stoked by the recent political culture has been a quadrant virtually devoted to closed-mindedness and exhibiting little interest in what’s happening beyond narrow borders, whether national or ideological. In that respect, bon vivant Anthony Bourdain and late war photographer Tim Hetherington — tragically killed in Libya two years ago — are kindred spirits, and thus perhaps appropriately the subject of a new CNN series and a moving, deeply personal HBO documentary, the latter titled, “Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington,” premiering the same week.

The “true traveler,” Bourdain explains in the debut of CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,” is “relentlessly curious, without fear or prejudice.” Bourdain applies that approach to visiting Myanmar (formerly Burma), where most of the people he encounters have spent time in jail for speaking out against a government only now, slowly, beginning to relax its crackdown on dissent.

Bourdain’s show is its own kind of acquired taste, mostly because of the way he mixes history, current events and (inevitably) lots of tantalizing local cuisine into one big travel/lifestyle/foodie gumbo. Yet the insights are honest, direct and occasionally funny, including Bourdain’s harrowing ride that illustrates the country’s dismal train system, and the confession he stuck to designated areas because parts of Myanmar remain off-limits to foreign visitors. “There is shit going on they do not want you to see,” he says.

The second hour, set in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, seemed a little strange at first, if only because it almost unconsciously juxtaposes a neighborhood within a major U.S. city and a foreign country. But Bourdain zeroes in on the area’s complex history during and after the Los Angeles riots — when there was widespread looting and destruction — before diving into the wealth of eateries hidden in mini-malls, including an unexpected trip to (of all places) a local Sizzler.

Mostly, Bourdain’s show creates its own modest destination for CNN — which is clearly eager to bring some personality to the network — while playing like the kind of dish the host himself seems to appreciate: Many different ingredients, and compared to most travel fare, unexpected bite.

Hetherington — who, with Sebastian Junger co-directed the Oscar-nominated Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” — possessed a slightly different form of curiosity, primarily devoted to the nature of young men in war zones. Although slow going at the outset, Junger’s tribute to his fallen comrade is a loving and sobering look at the courage of photojournalists in unsettled regions, augmented by compelling images in much the way HBO’s recent documentary series “Witness” was.

The film is more powerful and haunting thanks to the ample footage incorporated of Hetherington himself, a cheerful soul even when faced with evidence of unimaginable cruelty, such as photographing those blinded during the war in Liberia.

Hetherington is remembered for his strong humanitarian streak, approaching his subjects with compassion and not just journalistic detachment. Through interviews with his colleagues and family, viewers not only acutely feel their sense of loss but — contemplating such a promising talent and life so abruptly silenced — might even share in it, too.

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

(Series; CNN, Sun. April 14, 9 p.m. ET)

Host: Anthony Bourdain

Produced by Zero Point Zero Prods. Executive producers, Chris Collins, Lydia Tenaglia, Sandra Zweig. 60 MIN.

Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

(Documentary; HBO, Thurs. April 18, 8 p.m.)

Produced by Goldcrest Films. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins; supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; producers, Nick Quested, James Brabazon; co-producer, Gretchen McGowan; field photography, Brabazon, Hetherington, Junger; editors, Geeta Gandbhir, Maya Mumma; music, Joel Goodman. 78 MIN.

TV Reviews: CNN's 'Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,' HBO's 'The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington'

More TV

  • Mike Fleiss

    ‘The Bachelor’ Creator Mike Fleiss Accused of Attacking Wife

    “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” creator Mike Fleiss has been accused of attacking his wife Laura Fleiss at their home in Hawaii on July 4, according to documents obtained by Variety. The documents show that Laura Fleiss, who is currently pregnant, filed for an emergency domestic violence restraining order against her husband after he allegedly [...]

  • James Cordon Drag Race Handmaids Tale

    Emmys Trivia: 20 Surprising Facts From 2019's Nominations

    For a show that technically wasn’t eligible at the Emmy Awards in 2019, “The Handmaid’s Tale” did quite well this year. The Hulu drama picked up 11 nominations, including major ones like outstanding directing, writing, guest actress and guest actor, thanks to a quirk in the TV Academy’s Emmy rules. As previously noted, most of [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost

    'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost to Pop's Profile

    The core executive team at Pop TV expected to be disappointed, but they still gathered at the CBS-owned cable channel’s Playa Vista offices early Tuesday morning for the reveal of this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. They were not disappointed. “Schitt’s Creek,” the quirky comedy series that has punched above its weight for Pop since [...]

  • Beyonce-HOMECOMING-Netflix

    Beyoncé, Sara Bareilles Vie for First Emmys as Ramin Djawadi Looks to Reclaim Throne

    Beyoncé and Sara Bareilles could add Emmy trophies to their awards shelves this year, having been nominated in key music categories Tuesday by the Television Academy. Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” special on Netflix was nominated in six categories, and four of those include a nod for the pop superstar herself. Only one of those is in a [...]

  • Disney Content Sales President Janice Marinelli

    Disney Content Sales President Janice Marinelli to Depart

    Janice Marinelli, president of global sales and marketing at Walt Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international segment, said Tuesday that she would step down from her role after a 34-year career at the company. “It has been an honor to work for this company and a privilege to work with so many outstanding professionals,” said Marinelli in [...]

  • Dusty Slay

    Late-Night Bookers Take to the Internet in Search of Emerging Comics

    With Netflix releasing a comedy special every week and YouTube offering a portal into both cutting-edge performance and the best comedy sets in history, it’s never been easier for audiences to access an endless stream of standup. But for fledgling comics, there’s still no more game-changing showcase than a five-minute slot on a late-night talk [...]


    CBS Warns DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse May Drop Network

    Some of CBS Corp.’s biggest stations and its flagship network could be dropped from AT&T’s various cable and satellite services if a carriage agreement between the companies is not reached by July 19. “CBS has reached timely, fair agreements with hundreds of other cable, satellite, telco and internet providers to carry our industry-leading, fan-favorite programming,”  [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content