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America resists Jamie's revolution

Here's Jamie Oliver like we've never seen him before: sitting on a bench in a school playground, crying. Real tears, not the crocodile kind, drizzling down his shiny cheeks like olive oil. "The tough thing for me is they don't understand me," he sobs. "They don't know why I'm here."

The "here" is, of course, America and Jamie suddenly feels very lonely, unloved and unwanted. Though they know him in America, have seen him on television and seem to love his programmes, this is different.

This time Jamie is not on their TV screens, telling obese British people how to eat better, healthier food. He's on their home turf, telling obese Americans how to eat better, healthier food. The trouble is, as Jamie discovered -- brutally -- during the hour preceding the playground breakdown, Americans never like being told what to do, especially in their own backyard.

Jamie's American Food Revolution takes two old recipes (Jamie's Ministry of Food and Jamie's School Dinners) and mixes them together. But the result is fresh, because the setting -- Huntingdon, West Virginia, officially the unhealthiest town in America -- is fresh. Unfortunately for Jamie, it also proves to be hostile territory.

A spot on the local radio station goes badly. "I'm here to start a food revolution," Jamie tells the host, a bull-necked loudmouth jock called Rod Willis. But Willis isn't swallowing any of this Limey bullsh*t and questions where Jamie's statistics on Huntingdon come from.

"They're government statistics, based on death and disease," he says, bluntly. Things are getting stroppy now. "Who made you the king?" sneers Willis.

"If everyone in America was like you, you'd get nothing done," snaps Jamie. Outside afterwards, he's p****d off: "I thought there were only miserable b******s like that in England."

Er, no. There are more of them at the local elementary school, where Jamie is going to try to overhaul the menu, which includes pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets and fries for lunch.

The kids get milk with their "meal", but it's strawberry or chocolate flavoured, and the mashed "potato" is dried, starchy pellets that the cooks mix with boiling water.

The five cooks, all women, are even more unpalatable than the food and don't try to hide their resentment of Jamie being there. He gets off to a bad start with their leader, a terrifying barrel of a woman called Ronda, when he asks her how long she's been "a lunch lady".

The next day, the kids are given a choice between Jamie's freshly-cooked chicken, rice and salad, and Ronda's chicken nuggets. Guess who wins? Hilariously, the school principal berates Jamie for breaking the school rules by not having bread on his menu -- even though the bread is the first thing the kids toss in the bin.

Jamie finds a few friends in the shape of the local pastor, who's just as concerned as he is about Huntingdon's health, and the Edwards family, all obese, but nice people and willing to give Jamie's way a try. They help him symbolically bury their deep-fat frying pan in the garden.

The following day, however, disaster strikes. The local newspaper gets hold of some remarks about American eating habits Jamie made to a British paper, cobbles them together out of context and runs a negative front-page story.

Suddenly, Jamie is surrounded in the kitchen by the cooks, who think he's trying to portray the townspeople as fat, ignorant and stupid. The principal is there, too, feeling angry and betrayed. Which brings us back to Jamie sobbing in the playground. He has his work cut out, but that's what makes the series brilliant, riveting television.

STACEY'S STARS

Jamie's American Food Revolution *****


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