This article was published in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine
Whenever I have had occasion to meet elected politicians, I’ve found them to be, in the main, good, well-meaning sorts; decent, principled, hard-working, etc. The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is also possessed of these qualities; and in the second series of Jamie Oliver’s American Food Revolution (TLC, Thursday, 7pm), he is a man on a mission – to change the system, minds, the world, the menu. Where he differs from politicians is that they do not, as a rule, get given six-part prime-time platforms via which to go on spittle-flecked tirades; no, they have to grovel and scrape, and kiss babies, and get voted out, and put up with being called rude names on the Twitter accounts their special advisers maintain for them. They don’t win Emmy awards – which is what Oliver blagged for himself with his first American Food Revolution, in which he failed to persuade grotesquely obese schoolchildren in Hungtinton, West Virginia to choose his food over the crap served in their schools.
So, anyway, he’s back, and he’s on the warpath again, this time in Los Angeles, which he probably surmised might prove more receptive to his proselystising, being, after all, celebrity chef terra firma. But no, it turns out people there are just as happy to kill their children slowly with fat, slime and sugar as they are elsewhere in the country (or in all those forlorn parts of Britain visited by Oliver in other shows where most people are nowadays between 90 and 95 per cent tattooed lard and pie crust). He’s on the side of the angels, of course, and his palpable anger is righteous and this stuff matters. But as he goes about telling small-time fast food business to put fruit in their milkshakes, hinting at conspiracies and cover-ups on the part of LA’s education authorities and generally being all martyr-like, the thought that comes to mind is that celebrity and riches have come at a cost to Oliver’s mental health. Jamie, mate, Americans don’t respond well to being lectured by anyone, even Brits; and besides, they’re really not all that into revolutions, except maybe that one where they put your forefathers back in their boats.
TV shows tend to air in Hong Kong way after they’ve impacted on general consciousness and been illegally torrented by half the world, which often defeats the purpose of “previewing” them. Ray Donovan debuts tonight (Fox Movies Premium, 10.45pm), but though much-hyped in the US it’s probably one of those ones that will grow cultish appeal and you’ll finally get round to watching it all in one sitting because you’re fed up feeling left out in conversations. A lot happens in the first episode and at a ferocious clip, but it’s all show and not very much tell, so you’re reeled in good and slow. Complexity being king these days, there are masses of characters and fugues of “what just happened?” moments as we’re dropped into a Los Angeles that is rotten to the core.
Ray, played by Liev Schreiber, is a PR “fixer” for a law firm that makes everything OK for rich and famous people to be as venal as they like. He’s part private eye, part-gunslinger, but there’s no moral dimension to his aptitude for violence – he’s no Clint Eastwood. Maybe he’ll turn out to have endearing qualities but for now it looks as though Ray Donovan’s creators want viewers to accept that bad guys being good at being bad is as good as it gets in Hollywood. Stylistically there are elements of Raymond Chandler, the cast (Jon Voight as Ray’s bad old dad just freed from prison; the excellent Eddie Marsan as his brother; Elliot Gould as a lunatic) is formidable and it’s very filmic, but all the swinishness and neurosis and psychosis might be a little exhausting for some.