Channel Hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

Anthony Bourdain is a chef and he's on TV, but it is here that his similarities with TV chefs end. The hard-living, tough-talking New Yorker has more in common with gonzo journalism pioneer Hunter S. Thompson than he ever will with the other culinary luminaries plying their trade in front of the camera. As such, to label Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (Discovery Travel & Living, Wednesdays at 11pm) a cookery show, would be a gross misclassification. The show, which returns for a second season this week, sees Bourdain travelling the world. Beginning in Sweden, he gets to grips with the people, food and culture of each country he visits.

Bourdain's initial assessment of Sweden is a tongue-in-cheek 'Blond chicks, smorgasbords and Abba ... that's it, right?', but he soon discovers there's far more to the Scandinavian nation. The chef hangs out with some extreme skiers, tries glass blowing alongside shapely Swedish MTV presenter Kicki and attempts to get over his fear and loathing of Abba - with a little help from some local Hell's Angels. Along the way he samples a wide selection of Swedish delicacies.

Blending cookery programme with travel show, No Reservations eclipses most of its peers in either genre without breaking sweat. The locations and food on show may be spectacular or unusual, but they always play second fiddle to Bourdain's own adventures, and his racy, comedic style make this essential viewing for anyone with an interest in food, travel or sardonic New Yorkers.

Over on Discovery Channel, one of history's most feared and influential men is put under the spotlight in Genghis Khan (Monday at 9pm). This lavish BBC documentary chronicles the life of the Mongol leader - whose real name was Temujin - revealing the events that shaped his life and how he in turn helped influence modern warfare and society.

Beginning with Temujin's auspicious birth (he was born clutching a blood clot, perceived by the Mongols as a sign of future greatness), this programme charts his brutal rise to power and how he established the biggest land empire the world has ever seen, one that covered more than 30 million square kilometres at its height. It also describes how he was responsible for the death of millions

of people, earned a reputation for ruthlessness that has seldom been matched and acquired the name Genghis Khan, or 'ruler of all men'.

Despite such a fearsome CV, Khan was as much a progressive thinker as he was a warrior. He organised his armies as meritocracies, formulated a legal system for his empire, established trade routes with the Middle East and Europe (admittedly, just before conquering them) and insisted his achievements be recorded for posterity.

The high-production values and graphic battle re-enactments (such as the one above) bring this biography vividly to life while the narration gives a fascinating insight into some of Khan's greatest victories, including the taking of Beijing. The only criticism is that it all ends abruptly, jumping to Khan's death and legacy when it seems there is much more of his story to tell.

Finally, take a step into the future in Robo-Humans (National Geographic, Monday at 7pm). This mind-boggling documentary looks at how robots and artificial intelligence have progressed in recent years and focuses on the ways in which we may soon be able to upgrade ourselves. The mechanical wonders in development include thought-controlled limbs, robots equipped with 'emotions' and powerful exoskeletons for soldiers. Even more incredible is the notion that, within a couple of generations, people might be able to download information straight into their brain, making learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument as easy as updating your iPod. Such advances may come at a price, however, and Robo-Humans also looks at the possibility of machines breaking free of human control, or the not-that-far-fetched idea that a new race of cyborgs - humans augmented with technology - could one day dominate the planet.

Before you start building your underground, computer-free bunker, it's worth noting that scientists agree even the most powerful computer can't match the intelligence of a cockroach. Then again, try getting a cockroach to do a spreadsheet.