Fraud, deceit in the world's honey trade on 'Rotten'

Posted 1/5/18

By Kevin McDonough

The rise of nonfiction documentary series has brought an abundance of shows about true crime and food. Netflix combines the two subjects with the new series "Rotten" (TV-MA), produced by the folks who brought you Anthony …

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Fraud, deceit in the world's honey trade on 'Rotten'

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

The rise of nonfiction documentary series has brought an abundance of shows about true crime and food. Netflix combines the two subjects with the new series "Rotten" (TV-MA), produced by the folks who brought you Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown" as well as the series "The Mind of a Chef."

"Rotten" explores fairly fishy doings buried deep within the food distribution chain. The series kicks off with "Lawyers, Guns and Honey," a look at fraud and deceit in the world's honey trade. It begins with the history of beekeeping and honey production, an enterprise as old as human civilization. It then discusses the recent bee colony collapse and the concurrent rise in demand for locally sourced honey. The problems affecting honey production and the increased demand for the golden stuff have inspired criminal enterprises, namely in China, where rice-based sweetener is passed off as the real thing and dumped on the world market.

After a broad-brush look at some honey funny-business, "Rotten" examines a specific crime and investigation, a globe-spanning conspiracy known as "Honeygate."

Clearly aimed at thoughtful viewers, "Rotten" makes the most of journalistic footage and provocative graphic elements to explain complex concepts. As such, it also raises some fundamental questions about documentary investigatory series that trade in ideas.

"Lawyers, Guns and Honey" runs about 50 minutes, about half the length of a movie drama. As good as it is, it substantially discusses ideas that might have been compressed into one decent magazine article. Does that take an hour? As a reader, that ratio seems excessive, and episodes of "Rotten" run about twice as long as they should.

Other episodes of "Rotten" cover the ubiquity of peanut allergies, a garlic "war" between the United States and China, the ballooning size of chickens, the disappearance of cod and the health risks associated with the recent popularity of "raw" milk products.

• The new contest "Child Support" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) has enough gimmicks and moving parts for three game shows. On one level, it's a reboot of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," hosted by Fred Savage.

Contestants have to answer a series of 10 increasingly challenging questions with ever larger dollar prizes. If they get an answer wrong, they are not immediately eliminated; instead, they turn to a panel, or "lifeline," of juvenile experts. Located in a separate room, these precocious grade-school kids are seated around a table with series creator Ricky Gervais ("The Office"). The caustic comic is about the least likely successor to Art Linklater around. And that seems to be the point. Basically, he tries to corral the kids to pay attention and answer the question. A correct answer is good for the contestant. A funny one is better for Gervais and the audience.

Despite the unlikely casting of the self-referential Gervais, "Child Support" is much like "Toy Box," ABC's juvenile jury take on "Shark Tank." Both series prove that precocious kids are best appreciated in short doses.

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Broadcast live, the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (8 p.m., NBC) showcases the Ladies' Free Skate.

• Daisy's fate remains uncertain on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

• Angela Bassett headlines the new nail-biter "9-1-1" (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).

• A reporter working on a cold case disappears on "Blue Bloods" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

A former Green Beret (Jim Brown) takes on mobsters in the 1973 thriller "Slaughter's Big Rip-Off" (8 p.m., This TV), co-starring Ed McMahon with a score by James Brown.

SERIES NOTES

Trapped by explosives, the gang reminisces on "MacGyver" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Familiar patterns emerge on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) * McGarrett declares war on gangs on "Hawaii Five-0" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Louie Anderson appears on "Penn & Teller: Fool Us" (9 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG).

LATE NIGHT

America Ferrera is booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Jerry Seinfeld and Robert Irwin on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC, r) * Ice-T, Michael Showalter and Midland visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r) * Gael Garcia Bernal, Jason Momoa and Sam Smith appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS, r).

© 2018, United Feature Syndicate