5 Things We Learned from the Behind-the-Scenes Episode of 'Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown'
The final season of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown has been a cathartic if heartbreaking farewell to the series' late host. Just seven episodes long, only five locales are getting the Bourdain treatment this time around, while two hours have been devoted to Bourdain's legacy and, in last night's second-to-last episode, to the crew who went on those adventures with him.
While we might like to think traveling the world for a TV show is all beautiful vistas and good times, the crew admits "fun" wasn't really a word they'd use to describe the challenging experience. And when it comes to the beauty of the world clashing with the realities of production, nothing sums that up more than the cold open which shows Bourdain and José Andrés in Asturias, Spain with a gorgeous landscape at their back and—in the direction the pair are actually looking—the bathrooms.
Here are 5 things we learned about Bourdain and Parts Unknown from the behind-the-scenes special.
Bourdain was Bourdain, on- and off-camera.
Certainly, the curmudgeonly personality of Bourdain came through on his series, as did his heart and caring for people. The crew acknowledged that viewers were getting a look, if a slice, of the real person. "He's not nice," one crew member put it bluntly. "But that's okay." Not one to dole out praise, Bourdain was caught on camera repeating an adage about praise and gratitude that was familiar to those who worked with him: "Only pet the baby when he's sleeping."
Bourdain shot in the moment.
Not a fan of stopping the camera to do a second take, Bourdain can be seen in footage balking at the prospect of filming anything twice. He also shirked traditional TV production terms like "action" and "cut," preferring to let the reality play out naturally. As one director put it, the idea wasn't so much to try to direct Bourdain as it was to attempt to manipulate him (to varying levels of success).
Bourdain told the story.
While the narration and monologues to camera were obviously in Bourdain's physical voice, they were also an extension of his artistic voice as well. Bourdain hated "stovepiping"—having producers or directors put words or ideas in his mouth for him to regurgitate on camera. When he thought things were getting too scripted, he'd command "go wide," meaning the close-up shots of conversation and voice-over had just been cut off. But that meant that, in the end, as producer Tom Vitale assures, "It was Tony."
Parts Unkown defined itself along the way.
At the outset, nobody had a real sense of the full scope of what Parts Unknown would endeavor to explore. One crew member said the producing the series forced them to "embrace the feeling of being lost," which usually meant they were truly showing people something new.
Parts Unknown was personal.
For Bourdain, his personal investment in the series manifested itself in a number of ways: From locations with personal meaning like the Congo to meeting famous figures he admired in the world of entertainment, food, and more. But the grueling production schedule also meant that the camaraderie among them influenced the show. "We were his best friends," one crew member put it. And just like friends, they discussed movies, music, and books, many of which become thematic and visual inspirations that helped every episode feel like its own individual documentary.
In the end, Bourdain saw the show as his legacy, striving for each episode to be better than the last.
The final episode of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unkown, focusing on Manhattan's Lower East Side, will air Sunday, November 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CNN. Find out more at explorepartsunknown.com.