Everyone must eat and sleep, which invests National Geographic Channel’s latest flurry of offerings with a clear commercial logic. Granted, at six hours over three successive nights, “Eat: The Story of Food” feels like a considerable overindulgence, but the network compensates for that a week later with the informative “Sleepless in America,” detailing the dangers of our increasingly sleep-deprived society. In between, the channel will introduce two food-based series, “Eric Greenspan Is Hungry” and “Chug,” reflecting an attempt to spice up its lineup, hopefully without injecting too many of the artificial flavors that can easily muck up a storied brand.
Admittedly, “Eat” faces a rather formidable task, trying to be relevant and fun without playing like a stodgy historical treatise. But the many interesting crumbs about food history — such as how World War II hastened the development of processed foods, or Swanson championed frozen food under the name “TV dinner,” cleverly wedding the new medium to families chowing down — are somewhat obscured by the reliance on celebrity chefs discussing their own gastronomical preferences.
National Geographic probably would have done the project a considerable favor by either crunching the allotted time or extending its scheduling of the six hourlong chapters over a longer timeframe. As is, a preview of the first two parts of what the channel is billing as a “miniseries event” yields some insight regarding the historical and cultural relationships between man and food without doing enough to whet the appetite for additional courses.
By contrast, “Sleepless in America” — from the Public Good Projects, previously responsible for “Weight of the Nation” — is clearly germane to viewers’ lives, rattling off a laundry list of ailments and conditions either brought about or exacerbated by a lack of sleep.
Despite beginning on a manipulative note — a family devastated by a collision with a driver who nodded off at the wheel — the two-hour special dispenses lots of useful information in a sober but enlightening fashion.
Mixing experts with ordinary people interviewed against a spare blue backdrop, it’s noted that Americans sleep two hours less than they did 50 years ago, with the already-sleep-limiting advent of artificial light having been fueled further by an overworked society and the assortment of gadgets biting into free time.
Nor is it a customary scare tactic to see such a panoply of perils — obesity, diabetes, cancer, depression — connected to the body’s failure to properly recharge itself.
As one of the talking heads puts it, “Sleep is not an elective.” True, but watching TV on what amounts to a second-tier cable channel is. By that measure, “Sleepless in America,” more than most National Geographic fare, makes a pretty solid case for finding the time to watch, even if that requires staying up past one’s bedtime.