NEW YORK (AP) — Anthony Bourdain has traveled to all sorts of exotic places over the past couple of years, with none as important as where he's taken CNN itself.
Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" series, a culinary travelogue, swiftly became the network's top-rated series since debuting last April, a bright spot at a place that was in a severe dry spell before the missing Malaysian plane kicked up ratings. A new eight-episode season begins Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT.
Bourdain explains his team's strategy with typical coarseness: "We are constantly asking ourselves, first and foremost, what is the most (messed) up thing we can do next week?"
The season opener, from Punjab, India, illustrates what makes "Parts Unknown" unique. Bourdain tells stories about the tense border between India and Pakistan and a Sikh gathering place where a free meal is served to tens of thousands of people each day. He rides a rickety train to a Himalayan village that was a summer getaway for the ruling class, and visits a luxury home nearly frozen in time.
In between, he eats. At roadside stands or wealthy parlors. Bourdain normally sneers at vegetarian fare, but the spices and bread in Punjab enthrall him.
Car horns and street sounds are cleverly spliced into a musical soundtrack. Music is an integral part of the show, driving the story in subtle ways. Bourdain is a big music fan with some punk rock tastes.
His larger-than-life persona pulls each episode together. Bourdain takes viewers on an adventure instead of a trip.
"He brings you to places that CNN covers in the course of a day, but he takes you through a different doorway," said Amy Entelis, CNN senior vice president for talent and content development.
For the second "Parts Unknown" this season, Bourdain goes to Las Vegas, where he talks to casino workers, eats Japanese food with Penn Gillette and explains how electronic dance music is big business in the city the way Wayne Newton was generations ago. Mexico City, the Mississippi Delta, Thailand, Russia and Brazil are also on the itinerary the next two months.