• Jacky (Gilbert Melki) in Kabul Kitchen (SBS)Source: SBS
The French-language “sitcom” Kabul Kitchen is dangerously funny - and it's on SBS On Demand.
By
Jeremy Cassar

17 Jun 2016 - 12:59 PM  UPDATED 23 Jun 2016 - 10:06 AM

It’s 2012 and a French writer has a revelation: why not set a sitcom in an Afghani expat bar at the height of the US intervention! Five years later and not long into the Kabul Kitchen pilot the outcome of that idea was plain. The slew of awards won confirmed there was reward to this risky undertaking.  

Kabul Kitchen, now available on SBS On Demand, will infect you with the binge-watching bug, until suddenly it’s a week later and you completely neglected your mother’s birthday.

Let's get to know the show better...

 

It’s not merely based on a true story 

Kabul Kitchen draws from the real-life tale of Radio France Internationale journalist Marc Victor, who ran a restaurant/bar in Kabul until 2008. He was dubbed ‘the king of the nightlife’ thanks to his servings of illegal booze and lax dress code. Victor is one of the three co-creators, alongside Allan Mauduit and Jean-Patrick Benes.

 

The gist

Frenchman Jacky is the smooth, popular, and cash-obsessed owner of a popular expat bar - Kabul Kitchen – an establishment designed to house and entertain expats. Here, you can sip booze (which is also a part of the owner’s diet), eat and dance to the devil’s music around the pool in skimpy swimmers – a business model that doesn’t exactly align with traditional Muslim - or Taliban – beliefs. 

 

Yes, it’s a sitcom, but Jacky’s world is threatened by real dangers 

Partypoopers, if you went and read spoilers for all twenty episodes, you’d know that the episode conflicts aren’t typical to a sitcom. This isn’t George Constanza realising he should be a hand model, or Liz Lemon negotiating her maternal instincts after falling for a dwarf. The first season of Kabul touches on corruption, taxes, bootlegging, missile strikes, worker's strikes, and the Taliban, yet somehow retains its sense of humour.

 

In fact, don’t let the ‘sitcom’ label turn you off

 

Situational comedy is far broader than it’s abbreviation has come to mean. Sure, the definition has expanded from laugh-track studio sitcoms to single-camera hits like 30 Rock, but even those in the latter’s camp are kooky, and made even funnier by a complimentary musical score. 

The jokes of Kabul Kitchen don’t come with a wink. Every actor is entirely believable. Nobody has a catch phrase. Nobody is overplaying their part for comedic effect. This is a show where the insanity of the set-up and situational conflicts are funny in themselves. 

 

There's plenty of drama

Thanks to the dark comedy boom ushered in by the Orange is the New Black creator’s first baby - Weeds (and probably thanks to a few Ancient Greeks and that dude who wrote Othello) drama and comedy have bled together and are now at best indiscernible from each other. 

M*A*S*H managed to walk this tightrope well, but it’s difficult to compare it to Kabul Kitchen, as the 70-80’s Korean War-set sitcom was created with complete hindsight. While it’s been eight years since Victor’s Kabul restaurant closed, Afghanistan is still plagued by many of the problems that existed during the worst of it, which is why the emotional aspects of Kabul Kitchen are that much more effective. 

 

Jacky is the John Travolta of this club

 

He sees himself as a contemporary version of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick from Casablanca, coping with the Taliban, rather than Nazis.” - Mark Glass from Patch.

Jacky struts around the place, wanting nothing more than money and fun. Obviously, running a bar that breaks several cultural/religious laws (both traditional and fundamentalist) comes with its own set of issues, and Jacky has to keep his wits about him. 

 

Jacky’s circle

 

Sophie: Jacky’s estranged daughter who arrives in the first episode to join an NGO and “fight for the Afghan Dignity”, despite her long-lost father’s cynicism.

Colonel Amanullah: a war criminal and booze-dealing official that comes into Jacky’s life just as his alcohol supplier grows unreliable. But of course, this offer of help isn’t out of pure altruism.  

Axel: Jacky’s brother who works at a communications company, and is being courted by Colonel Amanullah’s underling – a man who carries a semi-automatic instead of a briefcase. 

 

It doesn’t matter if you know nothing of the war in Afghanistan

Sure, if you want it, Kabul Kitchen offers a glimpse into Afghani politics and customs (as well as French involvement) during the war (which might get you down, as it seems things aren’t a hell of a lot better four years later). However if that’s not your thing – it’s almost too easy to switch off the analytical brain and enjoy the standalone stories over the course of an episode, and the ongoing arc of the season.  

 

Series 1 of Kabul Kitchen is available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here: