TV blog: The Junk Food Experiment

Benjie Goodhart / 22 February 2019

Dr Michael Mosely and a team of six celebrities examine the effects of a junk food diet, plus the best of the rest of this week's TV.

The Junk Food Experiment, Wednesday 27th February, 9pm, ITV

On an average week, we get through around 100 million takeaway meals. That’s this country I’m talking about, not my family (we’re not even responsible for half of that). Many people have junk food twice a day. To illustrate the scale of our national addiction to fast food six celebrities have decided to take part in this feature length film for ITV, detailing the effects of junk food on the human body. In an echo of the famous Morgan Spurlock documentary Supersize Me, the slebs are going to spend 21 days eating nothing but pizza, burgers and fried chicken. We’re basically just a bad haircut away from my university existence.

Anyway, to brass tacks. The famous faces in question are reality TV star and occasional MP Nadine Dorries, Corrie’s Hayley Tamaddon, Hugo Taylor from a TV show called Made in Chelsea, javelin’s Tessa Sanderson, Shaun Wallace from The Chase, and human six-pack Peter Andre. Under the auspices of Dr Michael Mosley, the six will live on a diet of burgers, fried chicken and pizza, having each one for a week at a time. They’ll be consuming 50 per cent more calories than they need.

Pretty quickly, the surprises hit. Nadine finds that her cognitive impairment is affected by eating burgers morning, noon and night. Hayley’s irritable bowel syndrome is adversely affected. And 62-year-old Tessa has six-year-old twins! That’s not strictly relevant, but it’s too interesting a snippet not to include. On the other hand, I would have been quite happy not knowing that Nadine Dorries was “passing rabbit pellets” on her diet. I know our MPs are meant to be open and honest about every aspect of their lives, but this is one free movement I’d be quite happy not to hear her discuss.

Meanwhile Hugo, who looks like he takes (a) extremely good care of himself and (b) himself extremely seriously, is really struggling. Turns out even the idea of eating pizza induces panic attacks. For heaven’s sakes, live a little, fella. That said, Dr Mosley’s investigations do point to pizza being the worst of the three foodstuffs on offer. Some pizzas contain as much as three-quarters of a pack of butter. You can basically look at one of these pizzas and you’re likely to have a stroke.

While the celebs are investigating the effects of a month-long junk food diet, Dr Mosley looks into how much damage just one junk food meal can cause. Although the meal in question is something called “The Beast”, a 6,000 calorie mega-burger the height of a medium-sized apartment block. So it’s not exactly a surprise when the experiment reveals that eating that amount of hamburger is bad for you. You could eat that amount of quinoa and it would probably kill you.

As time goes on, though, the rigours of the diets to seem to be having a seriously deleterious effect on the bodies of those involved. Some are getting terrible stomach pains, others severe headaches, while others still find their sleep is interrupted. “I had bad dreams in the first week,” exclaims Nadine, “and I’m having them this week.” She blames the cheese. I’m more inclined to think it might be Brexit-related.

As time goes on, the celebs start to drop out of the experiment. It’s not exactly the retreat from Moscow, but clearly existing on a diet of pure junk is no cakewalk. It’s more of a transfat-and-lard-with-extra-chips-walk. You don’t need to have a PhD in nutrition to work out that the results of the experiment are not going to be along the lines of “What on earth were we worrying about all this time? Fried chicken is the new beetroot!” But this is still a valuable programme – important and potentially life-changing information, delivered in an entertaining way. In other words, the cold hard facts, ironically enough, are delivered in a way that is easily digestible. And facts, it turns out, are calorie-free!

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In the Line of Fire with Ross Kemp, Thursday 28th February, 9pm, ITV

I must admit, I’ve never watched a Ross Kemp documentary. I’ve always assumed them to be a bit like a slightly more middle class version of those Danny Dyer documentaries where he goes and meets packs of semi-feral males who glorify in random acts of violence. Kemp’s back catalogue includes such titles as Lethal Attraction, Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, Ross Kemp on Gangs, Ross Kemp in Search of Pirates, and perhaps the one with the most conflict of all, EastEnders. In fact, the only time I’ve seen Ross Kemp on screen in recent years was his slightly over-emotional thank you to the England football team during the World Cup, when a topless and clearly refreshed Kemp explained just how much a narrow win over Colombia meant to him.

For this documentary, Kemp is donning his hard hat and flak jacket and hitting the mean streets of… well… various regional hubs in Britain. He’s going out on patrol with the armed police. The premise of the documentary is an intriguing one: Should we routinely arm our police force? My guess is that most people in this country would instinctively answer ‘no’, on the not unreasonable grounds that this would inevitably lead to more gun deaths in the UK. But assaults of police have gone up by 30 per cent in the past five years. Today, an officer is attacked every 20 minutes in this country. Is it fair, asks Kemp, to expect our police to protect us, without giving them the means to protect themselves?

As well as going out on patrol with the armed forces, Kemp meets a number of officers who have had their lives endangered by assaults from members of the public. In each instance, the incident itself has also been caught on the bodycams of the officers involved, and the violence inflicted on the police is shocking and terrifying in its randomness and casual brutality.

The visceral fear of these moments is offset by the sequences where Kemp is out on patrol with the armed police themselves. It turns out being an armed police officer is less like a video game shoot-em-up and more like a day-long traffic jam. You spend hours on end waiting in your car for suspects to emerge. Fighting in a war is often compared to hours upon hours of drudgery and boredom, followed by brief moments of terrifying action. So it is with being in the armed police.

The result is a slightly disjointed documentary, where the most involving bits happen when Kemp isn’t there. The bodycam footage of the assaults is remarkable, from the officer being attacked by a drug-crazed maniac wielding a carving knife to an officer on a routine house inspection almost literally walking into a man waving a gun around. Most chilling of all is an incident recorded in Northamptonshire where an officer is stabbed in the leg with a samurai sword. His femoral artery is severed, and he and his fellow officers fight to save his life.

Meanwhile, the scenes with the armed police really do involve very little. It seems to mainly involve sitting in dimly-lit side streets listening to the crackle of the radio, and occasionally driving at high speed to an incident where unarmed suspects have already been arrested by 12 other armed police. It’s not exactly high on drama.

Ultimately, the question of whether we should arm our police remains unanswered, but it is interesting to note that most of the police who appear in this film draw the same conclusion, and it might not be the one you would assume.

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The best… and the rest

Saturday 23rd February

Edwardian Britain in Colour 1/2, 8pm, Channel 5: The start of the 20th Century is brought to life in glorious technicolour, starting with the funeral of Queen Victoria – ironically an occasion almost entirely in rather sombre black…

Monday 25th February

Warren 1/4, 9pm, BBC One: Martin Clunes has made a career out pf playing curmudgeonly but ultimately lovable comedy characters, and he’s at it here again in this new sitcom, playing a driving instructor reluctantly forced to relocate to Preston.

This Time with Alan Partridge 1/6, 9:30pm, BBC One: The glorious walking disaster zone that is Alan Partridge returns with a new series that sees him filling in as a guest presenter on a BBC One magazine programme (no prizes for guessing the inspiration). Marvellous stuff.

Long Lost Family Special: Born Without a Trace, 9pm, ITV: Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell present a feature-length special of the hankie-fest, as people who were abandoned as babies seek to track down relatives they have never met.

Around the World By Train with Tony Robinson, 9pm, Channel 5: What is it with middle aged men and trains? Portillo, Tarrant and now Robinson. Episode one features his journey from Paris to Istanbul.

Tuesday 26th February

Safe at Last: Inside a Women’s Refuge, 10pm, Channel 4: This powerful and sober documentary was filmed in a refuge over a year, and follows three women and their families as they flee from abusive partners. It’s a troubling subject, but the professionalism, diligence and care f the staff at the refuge is humbling.

Wednesday 27th February

The Real Marigold on Tour 3/4, 9:00, BBC One: Wayne Sleep, Rosemary Shrager, Syd Little and Stephanie Beecham hot foot it to Vietnam to see how they do retirement southeast Asian-style. Even without the force of nature that is Ms Margolyes, this is heavenly stuff.

The Satanic Verses: 30 Years On, 9pm, BBC Two: Broadcaster Mobeen Azhar looks back at the fallout from Salman Rushdie’s controversial book and resulting fatwa, and meets some of those affected, including some who protested against the book, and a former National Front member who recalls the furore acting as a recruitment drive for the far right.

Thursday 28th February

The Parkinson’s Drug Trail: A Miracle Cure? 9pm, BBC Two: First of a two-part documentary filmed over six years, following a group of volunteers with Parkinson’s as they take part in a ground-breaking medical trial.

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