'Eat,' Greenspan,' 'Chug' take small bites out of food genre

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
National Geographic Channel's 'Eat: The Story of Food' features an impressive list of experts

There is no getting around food, the fun necessity, the allowable indulgence, the forgivable sin, and more than ever a national pastime. What is travel but going really far out to eat?

Naturally, it is all over television, the programs, like the food, prepared in different ways, to different ends, and with different degrees of sophistication. Much of it is junk, to be sure — all fat and sugar and filler — but no less easy to consume for being so.

This week, National Geographic Channel, a reality TV emporium that has very little to do constitutionally or aesthetically with its printed namesake — significantly, it is a collaboration of the National Geographic Society and Fox Television — is getting into that action. Friday brings a six-part documentary, "Eat: The Story of Food," joined Monday by two new series, "Eric Greenspan Is Hungry," featuring the Los Angeles chef, and "Chug," a travelogue of drink.

The documentary series features an impressive array of cooks, writers and food celebrities, including Graham Elliot, José Andrés, Michael Pollan, Ruth Reichl, Padma Lakshmi and Rachael Ray; the two episodes offered for review, "Food Revolutionaries" (including Auguste Escoffier, Julia Child and Clarence Birdseye) and "Carnivores," hop around within their subjects with no particular direction, but lots of anecdote and opinion; the tone is hopelessly antic, marked with animations and sound effects and never landing on any image for longer than it takes to take it in.

The Greenspan series and "Chug," which is hosted by Zane Lamprey (of the AXS TV series "Drinking Made Easy") both seem to be angling for the bro demo; there is a lot of fist-bumping and back-slapping and some mild chest-puffing. The former, additionally, has a redneck-reality component: Greenspan travels into "the heartland" to see how wild animals become dinner and meet the men (so far, all men) who get it done. (The central 10 minutes of the two episodes I've seen involve going out and killing things.) The host has a lot of energy for a man of his outsized size, but it is hard not to worry about him a little.

In "Chug," Lamprey travels to exotic climes to sample local brews and cocktails and briefly seem to take in the sights. Again, the pace is hectic, the style cartoony. He's active and engaged, but it's hard not to feel that he's trapped within a format, and that a better show may be Travel Channel's unfortunately named "Booze Traveler," which also premieres Monday and finds host Jack Maxwell on a similar path to Lamprey's.

But Maxwell and the cameras that follow him take a little time to settle in, hang out and despite an excess of "South Boston, represent" on the host's part, to blend in. You leave feeling you've been somewhere, met some people, had a time.

Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd

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