The Supersizers Go… and The Supersizers Eat… are BBC TV documentaries that focus on the food eaten in different periods of (usually British) history. Restaurant critic Giles Coren and comedian Sue Perkins spend one week living the life of a couple in different historical eras, primarily discussing and eating the menus and dishes of the day. Both have an incredibly dry sense of humor that, coupled with the fact that Sue is a sometime vegetarian, creates comedy gold.
The show started as a one-off episode as part of a series that the BBC produced on the Edwardian era in 2007 (Edwardian Supersize Me). It was so successful that it launched two seasons in 2008 (The Supersizers Go…) and 2009 (The Supersizers Eat…), with each episode focusing on a different era.
The “Supersizers” reference is to the documentary Supersize Me. Each show is book-ended by one or both of the hosts going to a doctor before and after a week of eating (and drinking) in various historical eras to see how the diet of the era affected their health. It’s actually quite surprising just how quickly things change in their bloodwork, etc., although I do question just how accurately they are eating and whether the fact that their diet changes so radically and so quickly affects anything.
The meals are prepared by chefs working from historical cookbooks and recipes, and there are various points at which food historians comment on (and sometimes eat) the food. Depending on the era, their diets tend to get really meat heavy, and not in a good way — we’re talking tongue or fish heads or coxcombs. They usually show you the food being cooked, although the emphasis is on the eating experience.
One thing I do wonder is whether they are actually being served accurate portions. For example, here’s one menu from the Elizabethan episode:
Dinner (taken between 11am and 2pm)
1st course: Pumpkin pie, meat pottage, stewed mutton steaks, manchet bread, small beer
2nd course: Capons with damsons, calf’s foot jelly, custard
I wonder whether any of these menus were intended to feed large families and/or dinner parties rather than a couple (sometimes Giles and Sue have guests join them, but they’ll be served a menu like that just for the two of them)?
I mentioned above that Sue is a sometime vegetarian, but she’s always game and willing to try all of the various foods. Both she and Giles give often hilarious commentary on what they’re eating (Sue, on sucking the eyeball out of a cooked fish head: “It was like an oily plug of snotty, tense material.”). You also get their thoughts on the experience, including how they’re feeling (often, not well). I think the most hilarious episode for me is the Restoration, in which they ONLY drink alcohol for a week. Let’s just say being drunk for a week is NOT as fun as it sounds.
To mix things up, both Giles and Sue will (separately or together) participate in various period-appropriate activities, like dance lessons or period games. Neither Giles nor Sue are historians, so both tend to approach these activities from a very modern viewpoint, and there’s a lot of “We’re so much more evolved now” and “Things were weird back then” that you have to put up with … but it’s usually entertaining, so I can let it slide. Sue has some choice commentary whenever she’s forced to sew or do embroidery (I like both activities, but I’m still amused by her modern feminist take on things).
And, of course, they wear historical costumes — which are (USUALLY) surprisingly decent! You have to accept that Sue is always going to wear her modern glasses (which I find funny) and sometimes her modern short hair, but if you can get past that, the clothes (while not the focus of things) are quite good. I’m sure they’re all rented from Cosprop or wherever (it’s probably much easier to get decently historically accurate costumes in the UK vs the US).