×

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.

Popular on Variety

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

More TV

  • Norman LearVariety Showrunners Dinner, Inside, Los

    Norman Lear Accepts Creative Conscience Award at Variety Showrunners Dinner

    Norman Lear accepted Variety’s Creative Conscience Award Tuesday night at the publication’s annual Showrunners Dinner. The award honors Lear for his work promoting important causes both inside and outside the entertainment industry. Lear, who appears on the current cover of Variety, recently renewed his overall deal at Sony Pictures Television. Speaking at the Showrunners Dinner [...]

  • Maria Bartiromo

    Maria Bartiromo Renews Pact With Fox News Media

    Maria Bartiromo will be on Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel for a while longer, after striking a new multi-year deal with Fox News Media. “Her exceptional insights and incredible work ethic have been of tremendous value to Fox Business and Fox News and we’re thrilled to have her continue anchoring each of her [...]

  • Lisa Simpson Tapped as Head of

    Lisa Simpson Tapped as New Head of Talent Relations at Fox Entertainment

    Fox Entertainment has appointed Lisa Simpson as its new head of talent relations. In her senior vice president role, Simpson will oversee the talent relations team, providing strategic support to all of the company’s talent and their representatives. She will report directly to Jean Guerin, executive vice president of publicity and corporate communications at the [...]

  • Mark-Paul Gosselaar 'Was Never Approached' for

    Mark-Paul Gosselaar Says He 'Was Never Approached' for 'Saved by the Bell' Revival

    The Bayside gang is reuniting, but Zack Morris isn’t invited — for the time being, at least. Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played the good-looking yet incorrigible Zack in NBC’s beloved “Saved by the Bell” series, said he was never approached to take part in the show’s forthcoming TV sequel, which will reprise roles from Mario Lopez [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    How Showrunners Handled Staffing Season Amid WGA-ATA Feud

    This year’s TV staffing season wasn’t quite like any before. Described as a “free for all” by “Batwoman” creator and showrunner Caroline Dries and “like the Wild Wild West” by “Legacies” creator and showrunner Julie Plec, the WGA-ATA debacle has had deep-seated effects on the way showrunners staff their writers’ rooms and search for fresh [...]

  • 2020 TV Season Preview

    How 2020's Fall TV Season Is Already Shaping Up

    Aiming to stand out in a crowded field, broadcasters this season have leaned on the stability of their schedules and the return of established hits. But for many of the same reasons, they’ve also begun to seed the ground for next year’s crop of shows, considering that top performers like “How to Get Away With [...]

  • David E Kelley

    Looking Back on David E. Kelley's History-Making Double Emmy Wins 20 Years Later

    David E. Kelley thought there’d been a mistake. On Sept. 12, 1999, the prolific showrunner was backstage at the Shrine Auditorium, having just accepted the best drama series Emmy for “The Practice,” when he heard his name called again. Kelley immediately figured that the producers were summoning him out again to take the award away [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content