Thoughts on one of the worst No Reservations episodes in years

Where does one start, with the No Reservations Ozarks episode? The worst-case scenario I had going in – that the Ozarks was going to be reduced to a meth-fueled hillbilly-den – was bypassed entirely and reassembled as an unutterably boring series of lame and ill-fated hunting expeditions. Honestly, you’re fifteen minutes into the show before you catch yourself wondering: “Are they going to hunt/fish their way entirely through the Ozarks? Is there nothing else?”

“No,” comes the answer loud and clear. You’re just beginning. The only indoor activities turn out to be arm wrestling and chili on spaghetti. Well, thanks for stoppin’ by.

Squirrels figured prominently, no problem there. I wouldn’t eat the fat, plastic-chewing bastards in my backyard until well into the zombie apocalypse/nuclear winter, but in general, I bet they’re fine.

But what was with the patronizing – and patently false – notion that “nowhere was the Civil War worse, the fighting more fierce” than in the Ozarks? It was referenced outright in an opening sequence and later, in equally absurd terms. Missouri had its share of border battles, but let’s get real: Wilson’s Creek amounts to a quiet hour at Antietam or Gettysburg.

I did like the Daniel Woodrell elements. “Winter’s Bone” may make the state’s tourism board avert their eyes, but I found plenty to be proud of in the film. And though Bourdain stupidly chucks a fishing spear into the ground in front of a moving boat and breaks Woodrell’s shoulder, the author was a highlight. I’ll read the rest of his stuff.

The biggest failing in the episode is the people themselves. The woman who makes Bourdain’s squirrel pot pie hadn’t even made it “until about three years ago.” None of the duck hunters Tony goes hunting with actually know how to cook, you know, duck. The coon hunters haven’t actually eaten raccoon. The people aren’t ridiculed as hillbillies, and for that I suppose we can be glad, but Bourdain’s not supposed to be Jamie Oliver here, teaching people how to eat. Everywhere else Bourdain goes for the show and learns something. One wonders what he learned here.

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

11 thoughts

  1. Not only did the duck hunters not really know how to cook duck, they weren’t that great as hunters either… they did have a very nice blind set-up though.

    I too was disappointed in the episode. It was bizarre, but not in the usual Anthony Bourdain good kinda way.

  2. thank you for saying what I have been feeling both times I watched it. It just wasn’t a good episode regardless if it’s our state.

  3. the episode was setup as a “eat what you have during hard times” episode and it ended up being pretty embarrassing in terms of blatant wastefulness. The raccoon part shouldn’t have even been included because it didn’t include a single “local dish” so it wasn’t really about Missouri food!

    At least we can be proud of fluffy hushpuppies?

    My father is a waterfowl hunter, so I feel I can safely say the only shining moment in that whole segment was the dog returning with the ducks feeling SO PROUD of himself, loved that.

    Agreed that AB teaching the locals how to properly cook a duck was so hard to watch.

    To me, the lowest point was AB getting taken in arm-wrestling for $200 for “lung cancer” or some bullshit….I hope he wrote a check and that cash didn’t go towards more cigs for that shady lady or worse….(you know you thought of it too!).

  4. Didn’t see and have no intention of seeing this, but based on Scott’s commentary I have a few thoughts:

    Having cooked and eaten both raccoon and squirrel, I can easily state that both are excellent when well-prepared. Too bad they couldn’t bother to find any of the many people who do both hunt and cook.

    The scale of Missouri’s Civil War battles is small, but the personal brutality was often just as harsh. There’s a small, obscure historical marker on J Highway halfway to Harrisburg describing a small battle in which Confederate and Union forces counter-ambushed each other including numberous scalpings. I suspect the TV people had heard something about the really nasty Kansas-Missouri border troubles, but were too East Coast to know the difference between NW Missouri and the Ozarks. “Nowhere” is overdoing it, but I think it’s fair to say that for the individuals involved, those border troubles were on the same plane of personal devastation as much of the rest of the war. Hyperbole is more fun, I guess, especially when most of your audience won’t know the difference either.

  5. I’ll correct my own words to reflect Joanna’s point (as someone born & raised in the Arkansas Ozarks) that the Ozarks suffered plenty of personal deprivations from guerilla warfare, too, even if I instinctively think of the Kansas/Missouri border wars when I think Civil War ugliness here. I was unfair to focus on the NW border and downplay the Ozarks; especially given that the show was about the Ozarks, it’s fair that they used that example. Really, you’d have a hard time finding very many places in the East in which the civilian population suffered significantly more terror, killing, and destruction than the events in the West, especially when you consider the neighbor-on-neighbor aspect here.

  6. Eric, I think you raise valid points, but I’m not in any way convinced the show was referencing the very real and very cruel deprivations of guerilla warfare. I think they were just lazy. And just for debate’s sake, would you rather live in Civil War Joplin or mid-siege Vicksburg?

  7. I won’t argue with the assumption that they were being lazy, but for debate’s sake, if we’re talking about the entire stretch of the Civil War, I’ll take Vickburg. I’d rather eat rats for 40 days in Vicksburg than live in daily fear for 5+ years in Joplin.

    I guess I see this especially from the perspective of Missouri homesteaders given what we’re doing here. We’ve put five years of hard work into our farm and expect to be here most of the rest of our lives, and I’m scared at times of losing it all in various ways. Yet anything we’ve done or experienced is nothing compared to the work and risks the real settlers underwent.

    I’ve lain in bed at night before, here, thinking about what it would feel like to put in five/ten years, even generations, of work building a farm, only to spend every night for years longer listening for the sound of hoofbeats that means they’re coming for you that night, coming to burn your barn and take your food, kill (or worse) your wife and children, or just let you slowly starve because there’s nothing left to eat or work with. Knowing that it might be your neighbors who might turn on you, knowing that years or even generations of hard work could be destroyed in a few hours of vigilante “justice”.

    From my perspective, in few areas of the war did civilians suffer as much, for as long, as homesteaders in the West.

  8. Thanks for the update. I missed the show because I headed off to see flowers in the southeast and eat fried green tomatoes in Clarksdale Mississippi. I found tiny ponies in the Ozarks. Perhaps they should have added those to the show? They were pretty cute. Bourdain with mini ponies in the flowers may have been even weirder than him with arm wrestling and squirrel hunting though.

    I love spaghetti under my mom’s soupy chili. Its actually really close to pasta e fagioli in flavor and ingredients. Of course cheese grits and polenta are kinda, sorta, almost the same thing too I think. The chef makes the difference in good or bad more than the country, with most food.

  9. Tamara, grits and polenta are indeed virtually identical. Polenta is often a bit more finely-ground, but yes, they’re roughly interchangeable if you ask me.

    Bourdain on tiny ponies wouldn’t been a glorious addition.

  10. Hello,
    I just watched AB’s Ozark episode and I have to say I was fascinated. First of all, because I miss MO! And second, because sometimes things just go real bad and that’s just the way it is! The coons outsmart you, you break someone’s shoulder, and the people are oblivious to the natural resources they are surrounded by (and sometimes are wasting).
    I really hate the cooking shows where a “famous chef” goes into a sterile kitchen and flambés a piece of meat and it ends up the size of a toddler’s mea, costing $50!!l. Give me backwoods cookin over a campfire ANY day!
    Anthony Bourdain tries to give city dwellers a glimpse into the REAL world, and sometimes it’s a chest-squeezing cold night with no success, so you better have some sketty and chili on the burner til the huntins good again! That’s where humans need to be! I know people who eat fast food drive thru for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but won’t touch a venison steak that my boys hunted and we cooked over a fire and veggies we grew in our garden! Nope, they want chemical-laden food that our bodies can’t digest. Their entire family is overweight and they sit in front of the XBOX when they aren’t sitting in front of the computer. Good people who are scared to death of reality! So really, I thank Mr. Bourdain for at least having the cahones to take his city arse out there in the freezing dark and also thank him for showing that everyone can learn something from another.
    My grandparents were from MO, but I didn’t recognize the red butter they were putting on the corn. Any ideas?

  11. I love all of Anthony’s shows. I could listen to him talk all day. He has a way of making every one and every place interesting and respectable. But I do have to say, I am soooooo glad I don’t live in Joplin anymore.

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