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Archive for Friday, March 26, 2010

Condescension with a side of pity

March 26, 2010

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Blending cable celebrity with good intentions, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (7 p.m. and 8 p.m., ABC) throws common programming sense out the window. I’m not in the prediction racket, but “Revolution” will be as ignored by viewers as Oliver was resented by the subjects of his charitable enterprise.

As last Sunday’s preview episode (repeated tonight) makes clear, London chef Jamie Oliver arrives in Huntington, W. Va., a city with fairly scary rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Oliver wants to begin a change in consciousness in Huntington’s citizens (and presumably among TV viewers) and offer them healthy, home-cooked alternatives to prepared foods, frozen entrees and takeout junk food.

While Oliver’s intentions seem sound, the psychology of this series seems out of sync with both human nature and prevailing reality fare. Last Sunday’s “Revolution” preview was trounced in the ratings by the new CBS hit “Undercover Boss.” It’s easy to see why.

On “Boss,” it’s the hourly wage earner and average Joes and Janes who tell the big boss and rich managers what’s wrong with the company. “Boss” may present a contrived and selective form of populist fantasy, but it is populism all the same. People tend to prefer revolution from the bottom up, not from the experts down. Not to go all Yankee Doodle here, but the notion of a British chef leading the revolution also cuts against the American grain — 1776 and all that.

Oliver doesn’t help matters by greeting people with a combination of revulsion and pity. And while they call it “morbid” obesity for a reason, nobody wants to hear the words “death,” “dying” and “killing you” with such brutal frequency. What was Oliver (and ABC) thinking?

It’s no surprise that in the early going, Oliver is not exactly met with open arms. A local morning show expresses his local pride quite forcefully.

Oliver’s mission may pick up speed as he gains more local allies. But can he do that before he runs out of viewers?

• The documentary form of sitcom (”The Office,” “Modern Family,” etc.) works best when characters have outsized views of their meager abilities. In the imported Australian comedy “Chandon Pictures” (8 p.m., Sundance), Tom Chandon (Rob Carlton), a wedding photographer/videographer, fancies himself a serious documentary filmmaker and brings a pompous self-importance to everything he shoots.

First up, a problematic wedding between first cousins makes for an uncomfortable ceremony. “Chandon” offers a nice balance between the understated absurdity of “Office”-style comedies and the outsized raunch of Australian humor.

• Daniel’s efforts to reboot the Cylon may end his daughter’s virtual existence in the mid-season finale of “Caprica” (8 p.m., Syfy).

• “Dr G: America’s Most Shocking Cases” (8 p.m., Discovery Health) follows medical pathologist Dr. Jan Garavaglia as she travels from state to state to solve crimes that have stumped other forensics experts.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Matthew Broderick appears on “Who Do You Think You Are?” (7 p.m., NBC).

• An old favorite gets an update in “Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars” (7 p.m., Disney), starring Jennifer Stone.

• The 1963 fantasy “Jason and the Argonauts” (7 p.m., TCM) kicks off a night of films featuring the special effects of Ray Harryhausen, including “Clash of the Titans” (9 p.m.) and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (11:15 p.m.).

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