The problem with weight loss: It’s too easy. At least on TV. In shows like The Biggest Loser, for all the hyper-intense workouts and diet plans and tears and inspirational music, the pounds drop so quickly and so smoothly.
Dropping 30 pounds in a month is not something that really happens in the real world — that is, the world of Buffalo wings and pork rinds and honey-mustard dressing.
In the real world, idealism stubs its toe against drab cynicism; personal victories atrophy away into flab and failure.
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, therefore, is a different kind of getting-into-shape show. Jamie Oliver, the British chef who catalyzed a massive overhaul of England’s school cafeteria menu, rolls into Huntington, West Virginia — the most “unhealthy town in America” — promising he can, literally, save their lives.
But Huntington isn’t ready to start eating out of the palm of Oliver’s hand. Oliver has to woo the hard hearts of Alice, the grumpy cook with the heart of cynicism, and DJ Rod, a popular local talk-show host who blasts him for insulting Huntington.
The first episode ends with Oliver crying. Oliver, unlike so many documentary subjects, seems very human.
While Food Revolution ignores controversy about Oliver’s food program in Britain (where a student was suspended for selling black-market potato chips), it’s not afraid to show Oliver’s occasional idiocy.
He’s can a bit obnoxious, a bit self-righteous, a bit naïve. Oliver dresses up in a giant plush pea costume to somehow make children feel more comfortable around vegetables. Instead of explaining to Huntington why processed food is bad, he pours tons of cafeteria food on a tarp, and mixes it with chocolate milk. Not exactly persuasive.
Neither are there typical reality-show villains. You understand why the old cafeteria lady, who’s seen fads come and fads go, might be a bit exasperated by some British bloke rolling in and bossing her around. She’s an antagonist, yes, but not a villain. Revolution treats the people of Huntington sympathetically — not merely as redneck cautionary tales.
And you also get the sense that, for all of Oliver’s passion and tenacity, his mission, like those of so many activists, may end in a hiss of disillusionment. That’s real life. And that’s drama.
An HBO series about struggling jazz musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans? Run by the guy who wrote The Wire, possibly most critically acclaimed drama of all time? How could this not win a wheelbarrow-full of Emmys? (Answer: The Emmy voters, who never gave an Emmy to The Wire, are damn fools.) (Sundays, 10 pm, on HBO)
Top Chef Masters
There are Top Chefs, and then there are the Top Chefs who top those Top Chefs. Top Chef Masters pits some of the greatest culinary talents, the ones who normally judge Top Chef, against each other. The one sad thing? Less chance of hilarious cooking disasters. (Wednesdays, 11 pm, Bravo)
On April 14, South Park ran its 200th episode. Since its beginning, the show has morphed from profanity to profundity to mediocrity. To be fair, when it comes to the tragic decline of once-great genius animated television shows, The Simpsons did it first. (Wednesdays, 10 pm, Comedy Central)