Q. Who is Phil?
A. “Phil” is Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. His new Netflix food-travel jaunt, Somebody Feed Phil, is related to this fact in… no way this intrepid food-porn specialist was able to discern. And I would not have had a clue who he was if I hadn’t looked it up. (Guys: The formula goes like this: You have opening credits during which a dizzy montage of passport stamps and exotic dishes flashes past while a witty, pithy voiceover by the host explains his connection to the food-travel-porn industry. As in: “I’m Anthony Bourdain. I write, I travel, I eat, and I’m hungry for more,” or “As a child, I had the distinct impression that my siblings were served larger portions than I was at the family dinner table. I became so resentful I decided to get back at them by making a TV show in which I stuff my face in glam locales. Suck it, Karen: I’m on Netflix now!” or whatever.) Instead, we get an opening song, and no, it very much isn’t by the Ramones. It’s a sitcom opener written especially for this show, with lyrics about a “happy, hungry man” who will laugh with you and cry for you in his quest to understand food, so please feed him.
Point of order: If someone wants to work on an actual sitcom that pastiches food TV? I have 450 pages of material ready to rock. Call me, ‘Flixies! I will take that meeting. Not with Phil Rosenthal, though, because the man has all the edginess of a baked brie. Sorry, dude—nothing personal. I’m sure you’re a much nicer guy than Bourdain. Or even Ruhlman, who was snarky to me on Twitter once for no good reason.
Q. What new take does Somebody Feed Phil bring to the vaunted pantheon of riff-eroonies on “Dude travels, eats, experiences insights?”
A. None whatsoever. We learn that Thailand has something called a mangosteen. It is like a mango… only Jewish. Lisbon is famous for an egg custard pastry that’s “like if those egg custard pastries in Chinese restaurants were really good.” Elephants are sweet. Chili peppers are spicy. It’s not quite as cringeworthy as, say, Rachael Ray in Lima, but even a Thai mendicant monk basically tells Phil he finds “outsiders” annoying. Boy-howdy.
Q. Why does Phil keep using his valuable screen minutes to Skype his parents?
A. Not clear, but his refusal to be sensitive to time zone differences would make me send him to bed without dinner if I were his mom. He seems to think they’re funny. They’re about as surprising as breakfast at Denny’s, but then again I felt the same way about Ray Romano, so your mileage may vary.
Q. What will I learn from watching Somebody Feed Phil?
A. That people cannot stop greenlighting shows that add nothing to an overused genre but entropy. That Phil has an enormous grin, which he deploys frequently. That people who produce TV are counting on you to keep consuming things that kind of remind you of something you watched before.
Q. Do you think Tony Bourdain ever feels weird about the amount of pallid, gluten-free, casein-free, nut-free, eggless, diet tele-mush he spawned after he became successful?
A. I doubt he watches it, but I have spent enough time in the same room with Tony to suspect he would have a mild infarct if he watched this show. And a verifiable cow if someone accused him of causing it to happen, even indirectly.
Once I wrote a novel about a sadistic television chef with a Michelin star and an ill-starred travel show. In the end his put-upon videographer got wise to what was really going on with him and concocted A Dish Best Served Cold, to the schadenfreudenous joy of most of the peripheral characters. It was pretty funny. It got picked up by one of the hottest agents in Midtown, who failed to sell it, to our mutual shock. I thought maybe it was because that market was just so saturated it couldn’t absorb any more content without all kinds of weird shit precipitating out of the mixture, but I was clearly wrong, because these shows keep breeding more and more pointless progeny. Today, I am glad that novel didn’t sell, but like I said, if anyone wants to greenlight a TV version, I’m all in and my agent awaits your call.
Meanwhile, this thing. Somebody Feed Phil isn’t offensive—it’s so inoffensive it’s almost creepy. It brings nothing new to the genre. It’s polite and wide-eyed and golly-shucks and it takes us nowhere we haven’t been taken by a lot of people who have expertise in foodways, cooking, travel, specific cultures, politics, thorny environmental issues or anthropological conundrums (conundra?). I’m happy for Phil Rosenthal that he enjoys gastro-tourism, but there is no reason on this earth why he needs a camera crew with him while he’s enjoying it.
Somebody Feed Phil premieres Friday, Jan. 12 on Netflix.
Amy Glynn, writes, travels, eats and is hungry for novel content. She is like a Danish, in that her grandmother was from Denmark.