kenny hodgart

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Channel hop, 9/12

This column appeared in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine

Oh yes: a big old racism row. US sitcom 2 Broke Girls (TVB Pearl, 11.45pm, Saturday) arrives on Hong Kong screens berated by critics in the western media but already part-way through its second series at home, where it has been an emphatic ratings success.

Among other things, the show has been deemed by arbiters of comedic propriety to be anti-Semitic. That must come in a future episode (there’s no Semitism, anti- or otherwise, in the opener) but the main charge – of Asian stereotyping – does stick, like tofu to an unattended wok.

Max (Kat Dennings; she was in Sex and the City once) is rough around the edges but soft at heart; born sucking on a plastic spoon, she’s a waitress. Caroline is a rich bitch who has to slum it and become a waitress, too, when her dad’s Ponzi empire goes down. Their boss is Han Lee (Matthew Moy), an Asian-American who looks about 14 going on 40 and speaks English like Charlie Chan (the Hollywood Chinaman of the 1920s and 30s who was, if you recall, played by a Swede).

You’d have to be pushing it to isolate the character as being offensive, though. Firstly because the comedy is so cuddly; secondly because everyone and everything else in 2 Broke Girls is a social stereotype, too. Of course, social stereotypes can be fun, and funny; but here the jokes just aren’t good enough. For proof that “working class” American sitcoms don’t have to be this lame, watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia instead.

A more entertaining glimpse of the undercarriage of modern America is to be had in Omens in the Sky (TVB Pearl, Monday, 9.30pm), which takes us to Beebe, a Bible belt town in Arkansas where a host of extremely fat people are in a flap about hundreds of red-winged blackbirds falling out of the sky dead. It’s like the X-Files, or South Park; either way, it has the free-wheeling feel of fiction.

According to some Beebians the birds deserved it, with their diseases and their chirping. Others blame the government. And the Bible-thumpers say it’s God’s judgment on us all for tolerating promiscuity and gays. Turns out mass bird, fish and animal deaths happen around the world all the time, usually as a result of plain old meteorological or biological factors.

It used to be just the Americans who bred insanely enthusiastic presenters, but the Brits have been at it for years, too. The ones on Bang Goes the Theory, the new season of which starts tonight (BBC Knowledge, 8pm), go in for the whole bantering, matey approach (most things are “absolutely amazing”) that’s nowadays deemed necessary to persuade young people to pay attention. No doubt there’s something in the theory; but anyway, in its favour the show does have some actual real science in it. In tonight’s instalment one chap explains how tumours develop and another presenter tries to make diamonds from charcoal using some kind of special Bunsen burner. It’s hardly Joseph Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, then, but it does offers the young a more profitable alternative to setting off fireworks, if only they would seize it.


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Channel hop, 2/12

This column appeared in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine

If there is a subtext to Rick Stein’s Spanish Xmas (Saturday, 7.50pm, BBC Lifestyle) it would go something like this: nothing you’re going to eat this Christmas will be anywhere near as good as what Rick’s been cooking up with intimate friends of his in Spain, where everything is much, much better. More than likely, though, this is just accidental, Rick’s enthusiasm for anything in front of him (in this instance, Spain) fetching up the default TV foodie prejudice: against you – philistine brute! – with your supermarket turkey.

TV chefs’ Christmas specials are now part of the whole pre-Christmas Christmas saturation deal. By December 25, you just want it to be January 1, or February, or Easter. Stein’s had a go at doing the whole thing differently, though, out there in Spain, with his lovely Spanish friends; dozens of them. “It’s just so blinking good”, he purrs, tasting one of the dishes he intends to make for 200 of his closest ones, in London. And he cooks a lot of food that does at least look very nice and good (you can’t taste it, see – it’s just on television): clams with serrano ham and oloroso sherry, lamb stuffed aubergines with moorish spices. But there doesn’t seem to be much exclusively festive about any of it.

I once sat down to watch a Rick Stein programme about the poet John Betjeman that turned out to be about Rick Stein and his love of fish pie, so let’s not dwell on the fact this one isn’t all that Christmassy, because at least the Flamenco music will remind you he’s in Spain; albeit “the Spain untouched by the hand of progress” and not the one with all the defaulting banks and riots and food shortages going on.

All of which privation would likely be more bearable than spending time in the company of either the contestants or the judges on TLC’s Ultimate Shopper (Tuesday, 10pm), in which four women are let loose in a department store at various intervals then come back and are told how ridiculous they look by a sassy Aussie (Holly Valance) who sounds like she’s just smoked 40 fags, an old plastic-looking American woman, a deranged Italian person and a male fashion journalist whose job it is to be even more horrible than the others. It’s the British version of a prime-time Italian show, which you can be sure is simultaneously classier and more vulgar.