Archive for Monday, January 23, 2012

Gross-out factor diminishes host

January 23, 2012


“Bizarre Foods America” (9 p.m., Travel) returns for a season of domestic consumption. Culinary adventurer Andrew Zimmern explores the 50 states to sample unusual entrees like smoked raccoon and guinea pig.

Describing food or, more to the point, putting the eating experience into words, is a difficult task requiring real talent. And few do it as well as Andrew Zimmern. Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” and “No Reservations” are long on post-punk attitude and cultural observation. Far too often Tony can be at a loss for words while tucking into a meal. He resorts to such phrases as “that’s incredible” when far more nuanced evocations are required. In contrast, Zimmern has a refined palate, a quick tongue and a mad scientist’s ability to break a meal down to its chemical components as he’s tasting, swallowing and describing it. He’s often a wonder to behold.

That’s why I find his devotion to the back alleys of extreme eating so frequently disappointing. It’s one thing to occasionally push viewers past their comfort zone; it’s quite another to forever dwell on revolting, shock-value cuisine. Call me a snob, but the continual focus on gross-out gourmet is trite and adolescent. Zimmern is far smarter and more interesting than “Bizarre.” It’s like watching a trained ballet dancer reduced to “Jackass” stunts.

• “American Masters” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presents “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune,” a profile of the prolific folk singer whose commitment to political activism and social change gave way to alcoholism and mental illness as the contentious 1960s ended and the more “mellow” 1970s unfolded. Ochs took his own life in 1976. “Fortune” was released theatrically last winter.

Like far too many documentaries about the 1960s, the tone here ranges from somber to reverent. We’re frequently told that Ochs had a sense of whimsy and the absurd, but there’s little humor on display here. Too little effort is made to discuss Ochs’ influences on contemporary music. The band They Might Be Giants has covered Ochs’ material and occasionally sounds like him. Is the band interviewed here? No. That might be too entertaining and run against the grain of this earnest profile.

This PBS program does not enjoy universal carriage, so if it doesn’t air tonight, it may appear later this week.

Tonight’s other highlights

• A medical test goes horribly wrong on “House” (7 p.m., Fox).

• A child killer returns five decades later on “Alcatraz” (8 p.m., Fox). This drama’s premiere last Monday attracted more initial viewers than the premiere episode of the more heavily hyped “Terra Nova.”

• An ex-Marine gets a note from the city on “Hoarders” (8 p.m., A&E;).

• A contempt-of-court citation puts an attorney behind bars on “First Week In” (8 p.m., Discovery).

• A woodland fae says “boo” to Bo on “Lost Girl” (9 p.m., Syfy).

• Anthony Bourdain crams in some quality time eating his way through Los Angeles on “The Layover” (8 p.m., Travel).

• The governor makes a new appointment on “Hawaii Five-O” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A reality television star falls under suspicion after the death of a dog trainer on “Castle” (9 p.m., ABC).


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