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'Parts Unknown' review: Anthony Bourdain's final show is a joyous journey into his past

Anthony Bourdain at the corner of Fourth Street

Anthony Bourdain at the corner of Fourth Street and Avenue B on the Lower East Side on April 1.  Photo Credit: CNN/David Scott Holloway

SERIES FINALE "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on CNN

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In this final episode of "Parts Unknown," Anthony Bourdain takes what's billed as a "personal journey" through the Lower East Side, where he meets up with some of the local color, including hip-hop pioneer, Fab 5 Freddy, punk publicist Danny Fields, legendary director/filmmakers Amos Poe and Jim Jarmusch, "Cinema of Transgression" filmmaker Kembra Pfahler and photographer Clayton Patterson. The tour begins with Harley Flanagan, formerly of The Stimulators and Cro-Mags.

MY SAY This final "Parts Unknown" represents something of a return to the scene of the crime for Bourdain, who once wandered these streets looking for a quick fix. "Wow," he marvels, checking out a collection of old heroin bags, stamped with their own unique brand names, like "Poison," "Try Me" or "Post Mortem."    

"You know you're doing something bad," says the host, who took his life five months ago, "when you bought a product called Toilet and shot it in your arm. Oh man. Memories!"

Oh man, memories indeed. These are wistful, bleak and hilarious. Lots of those. For example, Bourdain does lunch with, umm, Lydia Lunch, the no  wave post-punk spoken-word artist and punk musician (come on, surely you remember Teenage Jesus and the Jerks or Big Sexy Noise). Over a plate of fancily dressed octopus that looked like it died for some very expensive appetite, Bourdain gets misty-eyed about the bad old days in the East Village and her influence over those.

Lydia quickly sets Tony straight: "I'm not a star, not an icon. That might be your midnight fantasy. I wasn't a catalyst, I was a cattle prod."

Then, there's John Lurie, once of The Lounge Lizards, ultimately a Jim Jarmusch star, also creator of the album, "The Legendary Marvin Pontiac." While in his apartment, Lurie slyly sizes up his famous guest, then pops a few eggs into a pot of boiling water. "I've seen your show," he deadpans. "You always say everything is 'delicious.' I'm just curious to see if when you eat the hard boiled egg, you say 'it's delicious.' "

The joy of these encounters — the joy of this whole, bloody final hour — may have been the perfect way to close out this remarkable career. This hour indeed closes with a screech, and fast-cut of a thousand images, to the accompaniment of a rousing cover of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory." That may be a closing thought for fans too — grieving ones who have tried to process Bourdain's death over these last few months and last few episodes. They are left with no answers, and this final episode offers none either.

What it does offer, absent narration (Bourdain died before he could write any), is a glimpse at a bygone world he clearly loved and people he esteemed. The marvel of this hour is that so many of them appear to be alive and (well) well. Punk pioneer Richard Hell looks professorial. Deborah Harry and Chris Stein look content, if not exactly gladsome.

Artist Joe Coleman is on his best behavior for Bourdain; as a reminder of the other Joe, the show occasionally cuts to grainy footage of  his notorious '70s performance as Professor Mombooze-o, who ate a pair of mice heads while cherry bombs explode on his chest.

Over this hour, Bourdain says almost nothing. But the smile never leaves his face. It's the best way to remember him.

BOTTOM LINE In one final whoosh, Bourdain is framed in an episode of pure, unadulterated post-punk joy.

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