American television regards Christmas as a throwaway day. Aside from sports, there’s typically nothing new to watch on that day. For instance, ABC would be loath to air a new “Modern Family” episode.
Give thanks to PBS for the gift of something new to watch on Christmas week: Producer Rick Sebak’s latest national special, “Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets” (2 a.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Dec. 30, KUED Channel 7). It’s a sequel to his first “Breakfast Special” program, which made its national debut in July 2010. At that time, he said he hoped to do a sequel because he had visited more restaurants than he was able to fit into the first program.
There is some downside to the two-year delay between the taping of the two “Breakfast Special” programs. The follow-up includes a segment on Carman’s Country Kitchen in South Philadelphia, which Sebak acknowledges recently closed.
Whether or not breakfast places really need a second hour of Sebak-style treatment is debatable, but the program does offer Sebak a chance to shine a light on additional favorites in the breakfast genre, something he hasn’t been able to do before and for which he sometimes catches grief.
Even with the addition of a second “Breakfast Special,” Sebak is wise to include the caveat, “We’re not claiming to have found the best, just some really good places hoping to convince you to go out for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
He’s also quick to assure those who don’t like eggs that this program has no particular emphasis on egg dishes.
“It’s a gimmick,” he says of the title. “We don’t concentrate on omelets, although they get mentioned a lot. We just wanted a goofy title.”
What struck me about “Breakfast Special 2” is how well this program functions as a video guide for travelers. That’s particularly true when Sebak and his crew visit several breakfast places in Hawaii, a frequent tourist destination.
Even if you don’t remember the name of a restaurant when you embark on a trip but you remember Sebak visited the place for one of his food programs, it’s easy to look up restaurant names on the show’s website (http://www.wqed.org/tv/sebak/index.php) or to follow along on the show’s Facebook page. (I could only get to it by doing a search within Facebook for “Breakfast Special.”)
It’s long been clear that these programs begin with a love of quirky characters and that’s on display in a visit to Hot Metal Diner in Pittsburgh, where viewers meet a 7-year-old bus boy and some outspoken waitresses.
It’s said of one of them, “She’s never been nice. She can be abusive sometimes.” Another waitress says, “I’m known as the nice one. I’m not as outspoken as the others.”
It’s these characters that Sebak clearly loves and fans of his work, no doubt, look forward to meeting, too.
In “Breakfast Special 2,” Sebak lets viewers in on his process more than usual, mentioning proprietors from past food programs who made suggestions for this show and traveling to restaurants with local food bloggers.
While Sebak’s programs are always imbued with his cheerful, inquisitive personality, they’re usually not overly personal in nature. He allows himself a brief moment of personal remembrance by including a photo of his mother, Peggy Kent Sebak, who passed away in April 2011, for a segment on Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa on the coast of New Hampshire.
Mother and son once visited the Wentworth together and “Breakfast Special 2” is all the better for including that small detail. It invites the audience into Sebak’s world and reminds viewers of their own connections that bring food and family together around a restaurant table.