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Why Anthony Bourdain's 'The Layover' Actually Works

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Nov 22, 2011 | 6:16am EST

Anthony Bourdain Singapore The layoverThe food industry's bad boy, Anthony Bourdain, is taking a break from his beloved series, No Reservations, and instead, he's taking a little bit of a shorter trip -- The Layover if you will. His new Travel Channel series takes his signature know-how and applies it to a trip that's just about 24 hours long, so instead of doing an absinthe drip, attending Uzbekistani weddings, dining with gypsies in the Pacific Northwest, or witnessing political unrest firsthand in Thailand, he's strolling city streets and sampling street food with his friends at his leisure. It's a calmer, kinder, gentler Bourdain and while it's odd at first, it still works.

But why? Don't we tune into an Anthony Bourdain show to see him doing things we wish we had the guts to do? Like venture outside of the big cities or outside the lines of the guide books? The Layover introduces us to a cantakerous, yet helpful guide who tells us about the various ways to get to and from the airport, how much those routes cost, how long they take and which hotels we should stay at based on our varying tastes once we get there. It's like 40 Dollars a Day With Rachel Ray, but without the annoying tone and unending obnoxious yummy sounds. Plus, I don't think Miss Ray would direct you to a flea market in search of bootleg copies of Roadhouse 2 (he hears it's better than Roadhouse 1) like Bourdain does in the pilot episode of his new series, in which he travels to Singapore for a mere 24 hours (a handful of which are reserved for a quick nap before departure).

While the series still maintains his affinity for eating the way the locals do, eschewing tourist traps for activities that shed light on daily life in this city at hand, using public transportation, and meeting up with his friends and aquaitances in their hometowns, Bourdain does add something I never thought I'd see: he delivers activity and dining options that he'd never even consider. He'll direct us to a traditional Singapore dish, like Chicken Rice, and couple it with a short piece about some trendy fusion restaurant in which he wouldn't be caught dead. He'll tell us that he'd never go there, but he still devotes airtime to telling us about it. These little asides are what I don't really get about this series, but maybe he has a buddy who has a stake in the place and it's only a fluke. Or maybe these are just the kinks in the pilot that need to work themselves out. Or maybe, we'll put up with it because the rest of the content is great.

But even with those weird moments, and the uncharacteristically helpful side of Bourdain, I actually really love this series. Why? Because it makes me feel like I can travel like he does. He delivers tips that most travel shows would skim over or ignore altogether. Rather than showing us some fabulous spa where we could waste half of our paychecks and half of our vacation time, he shows us how to get a real look at a big city in only a few hours. And he does it with the means of an average traveler. Sure, it's not as gripping as some episodes of No Reservations have been, but that was more of a docuseries with an undercurrent of food than a guide. The Layover is a travel how-to for the shrewd, cultured traveler who, at all costs, wants to avoid being a complete and total rube.

The Layover airs Monday nights on the Travel Channel.

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