Not that it was Phil Rosenthal's intent while filming season three of Somebody Feed Phil, which was completed prior to the coronavirus outbreak, but the host's natural warmth ignites an ache for life before quarantine, when dining out and seeing the world was still a shared, attainable experience. This longing is prevalent while watching the newest season of the Netflix food and travel show, which premiered on Friday. But Rosenthal doesn’t want anyone to feel sad about watching his show. In fact, he wants us to feel hopeful.
The last time I spoke with Rosenthal was in June 2018, when the world was a completely different place. I was living in London, traveling to different countries monthly, and the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond was promoting the second season of Somebody Feed Phil. Enjoying the first season’s wholesome nature, exotic locations, and mouth-watering dishes, I was relieved to discover that Rosenthal seamlessly matched his on-screen persona of the dorky dad who is willing to try anything, who is always one bite away from unearthing his favorite food, and who wants the world to have a taste.
Rosenthal spoke with gusto and such earnestness, it would have been easy to scoff at his efforts or at least put them on the back burner in favor of edgier programming. But at the time, Anthony Bourdain had died just weeks before, and there was a palpable loss in the genre and in the food world. Heartfelt silliness in the midst of Bourdain’s beloved unfamiliar landscapes was definitely on the menu, and Rosenthal was there to provide it.
“He is irreplaceable. I am nowhere near the journalist he was, the writer that he was, the adventurer that he was,” Rosenthal told me at the time. “I can only present a type of food and travel show from my point of view.”
Flash forward to May 2020, where some days it feels like the whole world is grieving the ability to go out and celebrate life the way Rosenthal does every episode. I’m now back stateside, quarantined in my home like so many around the country, which is why I actually let out an audible cheer when I saw that Somebody Feed Phil had already filmed and was returning for season 3. Despite my own confinement, I could escape to Rosenthal’s now-nostalgic world where hugs are mandatory, diving into new cultures is inevitable, and soaking up beauty is just a complimentary side dish.
What was normal mere months ago now reads like an anthropological study from a different era. Rosenthal travels around the globe to Marrakesh, Seoul, Montreal, Chicago, and even my beloved London. He breaks bread over aromatic dishes, in one scene eating off the same plate as an entire family. He charms a young girl in a cafe, striking up a conversation, proving no one is immune to his goofiness. And while these scenes feel like they were filmed a lifetime ago, Rosenthal wants viewers to feel hope rather than sadness when watching season three.
“I want to believe that people will enjoy seeing the world. And more than that, I’m hoping that when you watch the show, you won’t be sad or melancholy for how things used to be, but you’ll be happy to know that it’s all going to come back and that you can use this time that we have to plan,” Rosenthal tells me by phone.
That’s right, he’s still ravenous for travel and desperate to get people off of their couches, even from within the confines of quarantine. “Use the show to plan where you want to go next,” he urges. “You have time now to plan. One, you’ll have a trip when this is over, and, two, it’ll make this time better because we all know it’s great to have something to look forward to.”
Rosenthal has been the voice of reason and the poster boy for zeal at several pivotal moments in recent years. Somebody Feed Phil premiered in January 2018, almost exactly one year into a widely divisive presidency. But by taking us around the world, the TV producer showed that there was more good than bad out there, that there was more that unites us than divides us. Six months later, season two debuted just one month after Bourdain’s tragic death. Yet, Rosenthal was a source of comfort by guiding viewers on another worthy trip to distant locales.
Now, here we are at our lowest yet, and Rosenthal is ready to pick us back up. “I want you to watch, hopefully enjoy, laugh, get hungry, and get hungry to travel because that’s all going to come back,” he says, noting, “If you don’t plan for the future, you may not have one.”
With that said, how is the man brimming with wanderlust handling being quarantined with his family in Los Angeles? Not surprisingly, he’s found quite a bright spot and it revolves around the dinner table. “I’m really lucky because I’m trying, first of all, to support the restaurant industry. It’s been hit very hard, so I’m doing as much takeout as I can. But I have to admit, it’s not just because I want to support them,” he quips.
“Right now we are in the golden age of takeout,” he continues. “I have my wife and kids here and every night we get to travel by having takeout or delivery. We’ve had some of the best meals of our lives at the kitchen table!”
If his infectious passion and can-do attitude haven’t lifted you out of your isolation slump yet, there’s even more good news. Somebody Feed Phil has not only been renewed for season four, they’ve already finished filming it.
“Luckily, we got it in under the wire. We finished filming in January,” he reveals. “Those episodes will be out in either the fall or the winter. I can’t tell you if there’s any more beyond that, but I’m grateful for every single one that I’ve done.”
And gratitude is what I think we can all take away from Somebody Feed Phil. Gratitude that we can still see the world, even from within the confines of our own homes. Gratitude that there’s someone as gregarious and wacky as Rosenthal to take us on these journeys with him. And gratitude that while we wait to plan our own adventures again, there’s still a few more helpings of Phil Rosenthal to go around.
Somebody Feed Phil: Third Course is now streaming on Netflix.