Last Night's TV - Jamie's American Food Revolution, Channel 4; Horizon: The Death of the Oceans? BBC2; DCI Banks: Aftermath, ITV1
They're eating out of his hands
Tuesday 05 October 2010
Disliking Jamie Oliver is rather like running into a mighty headwind. It's not impossible, nor is it even unreasonable, but it takes energy and single-mindedness, and eventually it just seems easier to do a 180-degree about-turn and applaud the bloke. That's a conclusion the good if regrettably lardy folk of Huntington, West Virginia, seem to be edging towards in
Jamie's American Food Revolution, although in the latest instalment our hero took on the ultimate challenge – to win over his most vocal critic, a shifty-looking local radio DJ called Rod. "A lot of people in Huntington find me annoying," he said breezily, "but Rod... can't stand my guts."
It has been Rod's firm belief all along that his fellow citizens do not want to be lectured about their eating habits by a cocky Limey chef, so last night Jamie struck a bet with him, that he could teach 1,000 people to cook in five days. The stake was a beer, which seemed a little feeble; surely Rod could have offered to eat his calorie-friendly hat. Anyway, you won't be staggered to learn that Jamie won his bet in the nick of time, and moreover that his 1,000th pupil was Rod himself, thoroughly converted to the cause.
It was all absurdly contrived and at the same time surprisingly heartening. Jamie went to the local university campus to organise a flash mob, for which the Wikipedia definition is "a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then disperse". He might quibble with the word "pointless", but it was certainly unusual; dozens of people suddenly whipping out woks and performing a dancing stir-fry. "Kick-ass," Jamie called the exercise, which ordinarily would tempt me into throwing something at the telly. White English boys should never say "kick-ass", not unless they're being deliberately ironic. But somehow Jamie gets away with these things.
Meanwhile, to win over Rod the DJ, stronger measures were called for. Jamie took him to a funeral parlour, where the undertakers explained that there was a growing need in Huntington for "caskets" the size of family saloons, and also passed on some information about the difficulty of cremating an extremely obese dead person, which I won't share with you in case you're eating. Rod was suitably aghast, as he was again on being introduced to some of Jamie's fat friends, one of whom, Britney, described her new favourite Englishman as "a dream come true... an answered prayer". I have written before about Jamie's messiah complex, and it's certainly not suffering among these West Virginians, whose state governor called in on his mass cookery lesson, as did the Good Morning America cameras.
In terms of screen persona, the English TV chef most similar to Jamie Oliver is probably Ainsley Harriott, and interestingly enough he enjoyed 15 minutes of fame in America too. About 10 years ago, Harriott was whisked over to New York to make The Ainsley Harriott Show, a daytime cookery/chat show commissioned by NBC at the urging of the talk show host Merv Griffin, a fan of BBC1's Can't Cook, Won't Cook, who thought his compatriots would go crazy for Ainsley. For a short while, they did. But it turned out that Harriott was only flavour of the month for about a month, and maybe the same will be true of Jamie. Not many British television personalities succeed on American TV. Tracey Ullman, Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and the Teletubbies come to mind as exceptions, but then none of them, not even the Teletubbies, were on a mission to re-educate.
Re-education is much easier with a willing audience, which Jamie doesn't always have, but David Attenborough always does. In Horizon: The Death of the Oceans?, the great man lamented the irony that as we learn about the marine ecosystem that represents our planet's lungs, more of it is disappearing. A little lame these days, but as fit from the neck up as he has ever been, Attenborough stood under the white cliffs of Dover in an unfamiliar guise, not as a harbinger of doom exactly, but certainly of anxiety. "We risk losing species before we've even been introduced to them," he said, and we should feel just as distressed by that prospect as he does, because he's probably the one who would have effected the introduction.
There is, he pointed out, a glimmer of hope, not least in the Census of Marine Life to which more than 2,000 scientists have signed up, and which will determine whether we can still arrest some of the damage we are doing to the oceans. We are over-fishing and polluting them, and driving whales and dolphins to distraction with shipping noises, which means they can't communicate with each other, or at least that they find it terribly hard to hear what is going on, a little like the audiences of modern television drama, who have over-urgent, ever-intrusive background music to deal with.
There was a time when dialogue and acting were the main components in setting the mood of a drama. Now music seems to be deemed at least as important, to the detriment of those of us who prefer to judge for ourselves what is going on, without the help of a string quartet. All of which leaves scarcely any room to consider the denouement of DCI Banks: Aftermath, which is probably just as well. A psychological thriller about a modern Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, it ended up bogged down in psychology, and almost devoid of thrills.
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