I’ve never been much of a fan of reality TV, with one exception–I try to watch at least one episode of any historical reenactment series I come across. (Some turn out to be dreadful, and I abandon them.) I haven’t seen them all, but I’ve found several over the years. I’ve been interested in history all my life, particularly in how people lived with different social mores and without the medical and technological advances that we enjoy. (I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of costume dramas?)
This is by far the best of the lot, as far as I’m concerned, although I don’t think the term “documentary” really applies, and “The Supersizers Go…”, a reference to Morgan Spurlock’s torturing himself by (allegedly) eating only McDonald’s food for a month, isn’t the best of titles. That said, I really really wish I’d found it sooner.
The show follows Giles Coren, a food critic, and Sue Perkins, a comedian and now co-host of the Great British Baking Show, while they spend a week at a time eating, dressing, and investigating the hobbies, fads, and social constraints of specific time periods. The first series is devoted to different eras in British history; the second includes a few other places in Europe.
I suppose it’s ostensibly a cooking show as much as anything–it goes into cooking methods, serving styles, and eating habits in considerable detail, and employs professional chefs to recreate dishes from each period. Each episode starts and ends with a doctor assessing how the week’s diet has impacted the participants (this is the only similarity to Spurlock’s documentary). In the interim, there is some eating, some dressing up, and Coren and Perkins try out unusual activities such as trying to seduce a (very patient) volunteer with foods thought to be aphrodisiacs in the eighteenth century and applying cosmetics from eras past. There is also a lot of drinking. A lot of drinking. Sometimes at every meal. Because Britain’s reputation as a nation of heavy drinkers is not a new thing–even during the centuries when most of Europe drank beer at every meal because water and milk were unsafe unless boiled, the British were accused of drinking too much.
It is hilariously funny.