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ABC serves Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (but will Americans eat it up?)

Jamie Oliver introduces Huntington, W. VA to pasta. ABC photo

Premiering: Friday, March 26th at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC. Another episode follows at 8 p.m.
Starring: Jamie Oliver and residents of Huntington, W. VA
Produced by: Jamie Oliver, Ryan Seacrest, Craig Armstrong

Eating wrong is everyone's basic inalienable right. That doesn't make it right.

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution infiltrates the "unhealthiest city in America" in a six-episode effort to wean its denizens -- particularly school children -- off steady diets of breakfast pizzas, chicken nuggets and an overall "Aladdin's cave of processed crap," as he puts it. Make a healthy choice and watch this. It's reality television with a genuinely worthy objective.

Food Revolution got a Sunday night "sneak preview" on ABC, but ran into the teeth of a basketball-delayed episode of CBS' hit Undercover Boss. Friday's two hours include a repeat of that first hour plus a new one at 8 p.m. Oliver will spend all six hours of the series in Huntington, W. VA, where nearly half of the adults in its 50,000 population are considered obese, according to data from a 2006 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In reality, Huntington probably isn't any worse than any number of locales. But it's a good starting point, with Oliver suitably gagged at first and then motivated to fight his way through resistance from a number of quarters.

Early in Friday's first episode, he journeys to "The Dawg," an FM radio station whose recalcitrant morning deejay, Rod Willis, tells him, "We don't wanna sit around and eat lettuce all day."

Willis also ask rhetorically, "Who made you the king?"

"If everyone in America was like you, you would get nothing done," Oliver retorts. He later tells the camera, "I thought there was only miserable bastards like that in (his native) England."

However nobly intended, any reality series worth its salt and pepper needs an antagonist or two. Oliver also encounters one in Alice Gue, the crusty, leather-skinned head "lunch lady" at Central City Elementary School.

"Absolutely disgusting," he says of the processed "potato pearls" she proudly serves. Gue in turns sees Oliver as an unwelcome intruder whose visions of healthy, nutritious meals are both unrealistic and impossible to meet under the school's budget constraints.

Oliver, just a bit doughy himself at age 34, is a showman at heart who will dress like a pea pod if he has to while also hoping to gag resistors with sight gags.

In Friday's second hour, he welcomes a batch of first-graders to his Jamie's Kitchen, which has opened downtown for the duration of his visit. The kids see him dismantle a raw chicken while singling out the good parts. He then cuts up the remaining raw carcass and mixes it into an unsightly paste.

Initially grossed out, the kids eventually warm to the sight of the chicken glop being coated with bread crumbs and fried to a golden brown.

"Now who would still eat this?" he asks.

They all raise their hands. "That was literally the opposite response I had back home," Oliver laments.

He also pays a visit to the uniformly obese Edwards family, which mainly subsists on frozen pizzas, fries and other junk food. Mama Stacie gets teary-eyed after Oliver tries to set her straight.

"I'm just feelin' really sad and depressed right now," she says before Oliver digs a backyard grave for the kitchen fryer and pronounces, "We're gonna bury this old grease ball thing, and we're not going to have it anymore."

To its credit, Food Revolution will spend its entire inaugural mini-season in Huntington rather than dispense a few sermons and healthy recipes before moving on.

"I am a professional (bleep) stirrer, and I'm proud to say it," says Oliver, who already has nine cook books and a bushel of British TV series under his belt.

Entertaining, educational, emotional and also amusing at times, Food Revolution is both filling and fulfilling. Oliver's crusade endures many bumps and bruises in these first two hours. But of course there are small victories, too, with things starting to look up when the school kids and their cooks don "I've Tried Something New" stickers while Oliver beams.

America's obesity problem can't continue to run unchecked. That much is certain. Food Revolution dramatizes and humanizes the task at hand, with Oliver amiably, angrily and sometimes sobbingly stirring the pot. It all makes for a show that has the right ingredients. Our overall compliments to the chef.