Under the Sun
Travel show found fun instead of making fun
NOT much on television compels watching. Except for selected news programs that over the years have become journalistic habits, most of the stuff broadcast is must-avoid rather than must-see.
You have to be supremely bored to tune into what I call the "scenic channel," where video of rippling fields of wheat seems on a forever loop. Maybe wannabe doctors watch the surgery channel to acclimate themselves to seeping veins; I hate to think that someone genuinely enjoys scalpel cuts blazoned across a wide screen. Why these constitute entertainment is beyond me.
Give me the Travel Channel and "No Reservations" and I'll be satisfied. The host is Anthony Bourdain, a former chef from New Jersey with claims to New York City restaurants and perspectives. Armed with sardonic edge, Bourdain generally takes on lesser-known "destinations" with the aim of getting beneath the surfaces.
Paradise-of-the-Pacific Hawaii would not ordinarily be on Bourdain's menu, but as he told my Star-Bulletin colleague Betty Shimabukuro, he gave in to soothe a long-held upset about seeing Steve McGarrett do the Nixon thing, walking the beach in a suit and dress shoes on "Hawaii Five-O."
I find it interesting to catch outsiders' takes on this place we call home, to see what they get right, what they get wrong. Sometimes the wrongs are hilarious, like an article in the New York Times that gave an official pronunciation of haole as "how-lee."
So Bourdain's investigation of Hawaii, with the bonus of maybe seeing pal Betty on TV? That's entertainment.
At first, the show was disappointing. Bourdain checked out Ono Hawaiian, a well-worn entry in many "real-Hawaii" guidebooks, even though I wouldn't begrudge him the savory laulau. He went to Uptown Fountain, grinding on Spam musubi, Spam curry and a dozen other pink-meat entrees and declared them good. (He'd be horrified that his amazement at Spam's popularity here had been previously "uncovered" by food darling Rachel Ray, whom he absolutely loathes.)
The show was relatively ho-hum until he went to Kalihi for a garage party where ukulele, poke, dancing and beer mellowed him out. But even that had a hint of staging, which may be unavoidable in front of a camera lens.
The Royal Gardens segment probably captured the attention of viewers uninitiated in the desultory weirdness that thrives in some isolated areas of Hawaii island. Bourdain picked through a Styrofoam lunch of mayonnaise-macaroni and fried chicken with a man who lives and runs a bed-and-breakfast at one of the two houses left in the lava-devastated subdivision, an unusual snapshot of unchosen, but endured lifestyle.
Then Bourdain fell into Roberts-Hawaii, tour group mode, sitting elbow-to-elbow with Taiwan-orchid lei'd visitors at a luau buffet where middle-America types are lured to do the awkward cellophane hula.
It was an event he would normally duck, but gave himself license to look at it differently. He saw it as fun, something a tourist who saved for years for a trip to the islands would remember as wonderful revelry in a beautiful setting we often take for granted. He dipped below the facade of a facade that is Hawaii and found beneath the surface pure pleasure.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org