Skift Take

The cinematographers are revealing themselves to be the real secret sauce that makes 'Parts Unknown' so unique and enchanting on TV today.

Anthony Bourdain’s Emmy-winning CNN show Parts Unknown returned for its third season last night, one year after its original debut.

Skift has followed the show since the start, excited to see a series that not only inspires travel to non-traditional travel destinations, but also draws clear connections between the culture, politics, and history of each place.

Parts Unknown continued to deliver the mix last night, but it appears, at least in this first episode, that cinematographers are overtaking Bourdain as the real stars of the series.

And it’s something that Bourdain seems okay with, writing on the show’s blog, “It’s nice — very nice — when people notice the good technical work of the directors of photography and the editors and producers.”

The episode featured Punjab, a northwest state of India that borders Pakistan, with a heavy focus on its vegetarian cuisine, Sikh population, and complicated history.

The episode begins in Amritsar with a series of street scenes bursting with color, movement, faces, and music.

“The best food isn’t cooked in people’s homes. You can find it in the streets,” says Bourdain sharing a common saying from the city where he forgets his usual disdain for vegetarian food and dives deep into a dish at a street side eatery.

He also visits the popular tourist spot and religious structure, the Golden Temple, where he shares a free meal with hundreds of other locals. The meal has been served 16 hours a day, every day, for 300 years!

Like much of this episode, the engrossing shots of giant pots, thousands of metal plates, and young children staring up at fireworks provide better insights into the destination than the brief conversations had with selected locals.

Imagery again overtakes the story line when Bourdain compares the pehlwani form of wrestling to the Pakistani-Indian border face-off.


Perhaps the one segment in which conversation plays a more important part than the series’ always improving and enticing videography is at Chapslee, an estate that remains strikingly similar to when the British still occupied this part of India.

Stories of an enchanted childhood highlight the changes that have and have not taken place in the decades since.

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Tags: anthony bourdain, india, parts unknown, tv

Photo credit: Anthony Bourdain CNN

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