‘Bar Rescue’: The Buzz Wears Off Spike TV’s Hit in Unsettling Third Season Premiere

By  · Published on July 8th, 2013

While most people who consume trashy reality television get their episodic drug of choice thanks to the involvement of one or more Kardashians and whole packs of “real housewives,” my favorite reality television show only features only one big-haired, big-mouthed star, and he’s no lady. Spike TV’s Bar Rescue stars bar expert/total lunatic Jon Taffer, and centers on Taffer’s attempts to make over failing bars around the country. The quickest way to explain the premise of Bar Rescue is to invoke the name of another yelling-centric reality show about failing businesses that could easily kill their customers – it’s Kitchen Nightmares for bars. Much like Gordon Ramsay, Taffer has the credentials to back up his work (every episode starts off with a resume reel-off that talks about how the ‘Taff has saved over 800 bars) and the show’s entire concept rests on his ability to apply proven techniques to save busted bars. Unlike Ramsay, Taffer is an expert in the science of his craft (never heard the term “bar science” before? Watch just one episode of Bar Rescue, you’ll hear it enough to last a lifetime), a claim that sounds cracked out, but which Taffer is able to consistently back up with studies, numbers, and shiny graphics.

Taffer is a larger-than-life personality who is prone to screaming and flipping out with a regularity that almost, almost seems studied – but he’s also usually right on the money when it comes to his freakouts, and even when he’s screaming bloody murder, he never actually feels threatening. He’s also incredibly satisfying to watch. Basically, he’s perfect for reality television. Add in bar conditions that will alternately make the audience want to never leave their house again, much less go to a bar (the things Taffer routinely finds under glass drying mats are the stuff of nightmares) and a cast of colorful (and often idiotic) bar owners and workers, and Bar Rescue is about fifty times more addictive to watch than it should be.

So what the hell happened during the show’s second half of season three premiere?

Last night’s episode, “Don’t Mess With Taffer’s Wife,” focused on a failing off-Strip bar in Las Vegas called the Sand Dollar. A former blues joint, the place has all the hallmarks of a classic Bar Rescue operation: a bad concept, a filthy interior, untrained staff, no food, a complete lack of understanding on how to run things, and a sob story. Oh, and a total creep who the show (and Spike TV) allowed to spout off all manner of disgusting sexist comments (most of which were wholly unessential to the episode) without any kind of reproach. He even got a brand new bar out of it.

It’s indicative of the main problem with Bar Rescue as of late – as the series has wound on, it’s abandoned its interest in turning around deserving bars (and deserving owners), instead changing its emphasis to completely overhauling potentially deserving bars with totally deranged (and likely undeserving) owners. While ads for Bar Rescue love to pump up the drama and show Taffer screaming at bar owners he’s deemed unworthy of his work, there’s never been an episode of Bar Rescue that ended with Taffer walking out and never coming back (Ramsay pulls the same stuff on Kitchen Nightmares, and even he’s actually tossed a project before). We get it – drama sells, but Bar Rescue has readymade drama in its very concept, drama that has worked for them before, the show doesn’t need to keep finding horrible bars with equally horrible owners that continue the mind-boggling trend of acting like complete jackasses on nationally televised productions. (Seriously, what are these people thinking? They do realize this is TV, right? That people will see this?)

The Sand Dollar’s co-owner Paul (who is also apparently a doctor?) was the focal point of the commercials advertising the new episode, thanks to his completely revolting come-ons aimed at (oops!) Taffer’s wife, who he often sends in to do bar recon. Paul’s gross attempts at picking up Nicole Taffer and her pal were well-documented and indisputable, and Taffer’s inevitable blow-up led off the show, culminating with Taffer screaming that he might not return to do the rescue (he, of course, will). The next morning, Paul apologizes profusely (while still managing to come across as a creep), and Taffer gets to work. Of course he does.

Sure, that could be the end of the weirdly sex-fueled drama and we could stop talking about the repercussions of a little makeover show on a cable network, but then the episode continues on to include an entire sequence showing Paul leering at female customers, talking about how much he loves fake breasts, and even zooming in on the cosmetically enhanced upper regions of those same customers. Not only does Paul get to degrade his customers, on national television, the show participates in this degradation by not punishing Paul and by also showing his boob-oogling perspective. For a moment, it seems as if Taffer is on to Paul’s game and that he’s going to call him on his shit (like he did when Paul’s attentions were directed at Taffer’s own wife), but he doesn’t – he congratulates him on being an involved manager and owner, one who soon gets a shiny new bar for all his trouble. Unsettling? Totally. Messy? That, too. Not fit for reality television fun? Definitely.

Spike TV has other “rescue” shows – including Car Lot Rescue (is this really a huge problem?) and Tattoo Rescue (which sounds like a huge problem) – but Bar Rescue is still the superior franchise, unless they continue to pull stuff like this without addressing it in a respectful manner. Yes, reality television is aces at being fun and Bar Rescue is aces at being good reality television, but this new season has kicked off without fun or quality, and that’s not worth drinking to (or, quite frankly, worth watching).