COMMENT: It's Gordon Ramsay as you've never seen him before: wearing a fake moustache and sideburns, topped off with a flat cap and specs that make him look like a minor character on Only Fools and Horses.

This ridiculous disguise kind of sums up his latest restaurant rescue show, Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours To Hell And Back. A bit of a laugh, but … let's just say, had a shark appeared at any time during the episode, he would have had no qualms about jumping right over it.

He was deep undercover at Bella Gianna's, an Italian family restaurant in upstate New York where things had all gone a bit Fawlty Towers. The service was openly hostile, the food so bad it defied description. A dish of undercooked veal, Ramsay spluttered, reaching for something to compare it to, was "like the underside of my grandfather's underpants".

One of the actors playing a member of his pretend family actually started out-Ramsaying Ramsay. "That looks like a placenta," she scoffed. "I wouldn't feed it to my dog." Could the bad boy of reality cooking shows be losing his touch?


There was still the occasional glimpse of classic Ramsay. "I've just witnessed one of the most appalling lunches I've ever eaten," to the staff after he peeled off the fake sideburns and shut down the restaurant mid-service. "I'm surprised you can stand up straight with that chip on your shoulder," to the restaurant manager. That sort of thing.

The manager, Vinny, was the root of all Bella Gianna's problems. Hidden camera footage revealed a man falling apart at the seams: screaming abuse at his staff one minute, sobbing inconsolably the next.

What Vinny needed was hours and hours of therapy; what he got was a 24-hour restaurant makeover and a bollocking from a celebrity chef.

The 24 hours to hell and back started at 5pm that evening. "Hell", in the context of this show, is a massive truck that unfurled like the world's most disappointing Transformer to become a fully operational restaurant kitchen.

From it, a crew wearing "Team Ramsay" T-shirts emerged, and gave the kitchen staff an all-night crash course in how to cook veal properly.

Inside, a different set of teamsters rejuvenated the dining room, while Ramsay himself uncovered atrocities in the walk-in freezer, "the worst walk-in I have ever f***in' witnessed".

He also sat down with Vinny, and asked, as a qualified counsellor might, "what is wrong with you?"

"Resentment, anger, alienation — a lot of things," Vinny replied. Oh well. Nothing a new feature wall in the dining room and a kitchen full of Breville appliances shouldn't fix.

A scene from Gordon Ramsay's new show.
A scene from Gordon Ramsay's new show.

In theory, 24 Hours to Hell and Back should be brilliant — Ramsay as a kind of culinary Jack Bauer, a giant countdown clock, liberal use of split screen, a big truck.

In reality, though, the first episode just felt a bit like going through the motions. Bring back repeats of Kitchen Nightmares.

• Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours To Hell And Back, Mondays, 8.30pm, TVNZ 2