The universal lesson of Restaurant Impossible

Human beings are prone to mistakes and self-delusion. But sometimes all we need is another chance.

I'm a sucker for fresh starts. This must explain my peculiar fondness for a Food Network show called Restaurant Impossible. Every episode of RI is essentially the same: Chef and restaurateur Robert Irvine accepts an invitation to revive a dying family restaurant somewhere in Smalltown, America. A brawny alpha male, Irvine critiques the food and the business, and prods the reluctant proprietor into making dramatic changes in the kitchen and repairing his or her relationships with family and staff. Meanwhile, Irvine's designer and builder gut the restaurant and in 48 hours, transform a dingy, dated dive into a cool new hot spot. At the show's end, the proprietor and the family gasp with astonished gratitude when they see their reborn restaurant, which fills with happy customers. It's corny and formulaic, yet I find it moving every time. Resurrection, reconnection, a chance to undo your mistakes and start anew — these are longings embedded deep in the human psyche.

With the arrival of a new year, we all have a clean slate, or at least the illusion of one. It's in January that people make resolutions, launch diets and exercise programs, start job searches, seek and pursue change and self-improvement. About 90 percent of resolutions fail, the experts tell us; human beings are, after all, a comically flawed species, prone to self-delusion and foolishness on a grand scale. But people sometimes do change and evolve. Our species has a magnificent capacity to find hope in the bleakest of circumstances, to persist and press on. Unfortunately, no team of miracle workers will rush in this year to fix what's wrong with our lives. Transformation, nevertheless, is always possible.

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