The Quarantine Stream: 'Bar Rescue' Looks, Sounds and Smells Like a Bad TV Show, So Why Can't I Stop Watching It?

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Bar Rescue

Where You Can Stream It: The Paramount Network website (or, if you haven’t cut your cord yet, it plays constantly on the actual Paramount Network when they’re not otherwise airing ads for Yellowstone).

The Pitch: Bar and nightclub expert Jon Taffer shows up at a troubled establishment and yells at everyone until they all miraculously turn things around in a couple days. Then he vanishes into the night, ready to find more bars to save with the volume of his voice.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Remember bars? They were places where crowds could gather and you could be social while drinking alcohol and enjoying being around people. You know, all of the things we cannot do right now. But even before COVID-19 started decimating the food and drink industry, running a bar was a challenge. Even a great bar could become a money pit. So what happens when a bar is run by incompetents who are often hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt? They call Jon Taffer to come yell at them on camera.

Here’s the part of the article where I admit that I’m actually not personally streaming Bar Rescue. I’m watching it on regular cable like an old man. And to be perfectly honest, I never actually set out to watch it. Yet, time and time again, I’ll be channel-surfing and I’ll land on the Paramount Network and I’ll find myself drawn in by the show’s repetitive, addictive and utterly phony storytelling. Bar Rescue understands the base appeal of trash television in ways that’s exhausting, thrilling, and terrifying. It’s upsetting how long I will sit on my couch during one of the network’s constant marathons of the series, telling myself “Just one more episode” as the hours tick by and my day vanishes.

Every episode of Bar Rescue follows an identical pattern. A bar is in trouble. Cameras are installed. Jon Taffer watches from the parking lot as we witness a business that cannot, and probably should not, be allowed to remain open due to profound incompetence. Taffer enters and yells at everyone, threatening to not come back and fix things. The next day, he comes back and yells at them to get their life stories. He forces the bars into a “stress test” to break everyone’s spirits/test their limits. He invites some celebrity mixologists and chefs to train the crew. He remodels the bar. He stops yelling for a few minutes so the bar crew can shed tears and prove that he really is changing their lives. The bar reopens. There’s a big crowd. Taffer vanishes into the night, ready to find a new bar to yell at.

That’s literally every episode of the show. Often, you’ll do a Google search and learn that a bar Taffer “rescued” died a few months later, but the show considers him a superhero. Even when you learn that folks who have appeared on the show were coached by the producers to create storylines that didn’t actually exist, the series bends over backwards to sell Taffer as a life-changing, business-resurrecting guru whose primal scream of a voice can rejuvenate marriages and fix broken business partnerships. It’s phony. It’s ridiculous. It’s trash. And God help me, I love it.

Bar Rescue is clearly inspired by Gordon Ramsey and his series Kitchen Nightmares (specifically the American version, as the UK original is too mild-mannered and well-made to live on American TV). It’s reality television built around the concept that its host is so smart, so successful, and so talented that he can march into a room, smell all of the bullshit and fix everything in a few days because he’s Alpha Male Number One. It’s hilariously reductive but undeniably entertaining. And since Bar Rescue has approximately 742 seasons and 18,491 episodes now, it seems like I’m not the only personal hopelessly addicted to this junk.

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