Critic’s Notebook: Action Bronson, the Leader of the Most Joyously Disorienting Show on Late Night


The corner table rotates between groups of crafters — candle makers, butter churners, origami specialists, and so on. There are musical guests (an Albanian orchestra, a theremin player, a SoundCloud rapper) and dancers (Japanese folk, hula, tap) and curios (a knife thrower, an ice sculptor).

If this sounds like a lot, it is. As television, it is vexing and entrancing, soothingly unstable.

In the middle of all this, Bronson — a cook turned rapper turned food celebrity — is charming and sturdy, immune to the winds. That is, when he is in the middle; sometimes he opts out, taking long breaks outside, or in the bathroom. Everyone — guests, camera operators, producers — seems to be in a perpetual quest to capture his attention. The only moments he displays frustration are when a staffer tries to impose the faintest amount of structure on him.

His resistance places him on a short list of lovably difficult hosts. He has already been an anchor on “____, That’s Delicious,” which trailed him on gastronomic adventures around the globe. (He’s also been the perpetually-stoned host of “Traveling the Stars: Ancient Aliens with Action Bronson and Friends,” a study in meta- and anti-television.)

If “____, That’s Delicious” was Bronson’s travel show, “Untitled” is a reverse travel show — everything comes to him. The show is filmed in and around the Munchies kitchen at Vice’s Williamsburg office. (Vice Media, which owns Viceland, was recently the subject of a New York Times investigation that detailed numerous examples of sexual harassment and misconduct at the freewheeling company.)

Bronson putters around while his guests find themselves doing unexpected things. In the October premiere, Wyclef Jean stripped off his shoes and socks and breakdanced, then played drums, then drank wine until he was tipsy. Marc Ecko did graffiti on a cake, which Bronson then fed to women who were there to make dumplings. Michael Imperioli sneaked a look at his phone while Daniel Boulud ate vegan ramen.


Every episode of “The Untitled Action Bronson Show” features one or more culinary guests (like Daniel Boulud, left) and an eclectic mix of folks from other fields (like the actor Michael Imperioli, center). Credit Jesse Vega/Viceland

Bronson’s square-off with the onetime daytime talk stalwart Sally Jesse Raphael, on the show’s second episode, was breathtaking. She was brusque and awkward, refusing the food and wine offered to her and relentlessly prodding her host, “How the heck do you have sex with this beard?” Bronson treated her like a difficult family member, gamely smothering her with love until she relented, somewhat. Before she left, she stole a white truffle and shoved it in her bra.

The show hasn’t quite matched the weirdness of its first week, when guests had no idea what was happening or how to adjust on the fly. That’s meant that on some recent episodes, the responsibility for eccentricity falls primarily on Bronson, who rises to the occasion with a cascade of non sequiturs: “That vegetable is a fractal vegetable. I’ve seen that vegetable on a DMT trip”; “I was literally thinking about the Care Bears”; “You ever drink Paul Masson? It’ll make you spit in your best friend’s face.”

In so much as this is a food show, you don’t really learn how to cook. Mostly you learn how to eat. And how to view the world through a wider, more generous lens. Bronson gives as much airtime and affection to blue-collar chefs and restaurant owners from the boroughs outside Manhattan as he does to the Michelin-starred.

In part, this is likely attributable to Bronson’s upbringing in Queens, the most richly layered and diverse borough. (He was born to an American Jewish mother and an Albanian Muslim father.) This openness was best embodied on the show’s Thanksgiving episode, which featured Moroccan musicians, chefs from Colombia, Puerto Rico and Albania, a snake charmer and a cabdriver from Queens, all feasting together.

Food can do that — it is a unifying force. Often on this show, after a well-regarded chef prepares a refined dish, Bronson will take it over to his band, the Special Victims Unit, or to the guest crafters, and feed them.

Just as everyone is welcome at the table, this show makes room for everyone in the room to experience whatever else is on offer. Debi Mazar took a hit from Bronson’s blunt, as did her husband, who then sat and played drums with his hands while his wife danced. On other episodes, chefs jumped in the double Dutch line, a wine expert broke a slab of wood with her hand, a guy there to show off his bidet shoved his mouth full of crab. Here, everyone is welcome, and no one is in charge.

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