What to say if you liked it
A fascinating documentary series following adults seeking to ‘find themselves’ through independent travel at an age where they might appreciate the privilege of it rather than just mooching around smoking dope while trying to shag Swedish god and goddesses in hostel dorms.
What to say if you didn’t like it
BBC2 slides precariously towards the shock-doc patented by Wife Swap et al, as it chooses to follow virtual caricatures around in search of scandal and cheap humour rather than making a programme that might actually have some intellectual value.
What was good about it?
• This week’s subject, Margot, a millionaire nightclub owner from Blackburn, made a few ill-thought out comments that made us laugh out loud: “Have you always been religious? When I say religious, I mean following your religion.” Later: “I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society. Multi-racial, maybe, but not multi-cultural.” Apparently, she’s petitioning the Mayor of Blackburn to bring in a byelaw to force all local Asians to eat Yorkshire Pudding every Sunday while watching the EastEnders omnibus.
• The (very) occasional realistic glimpse of the ups and downs of independent travel (not that Margot’s travel was particularly independent) such as when she became very depressed after just four days away.
• A great moment when a poor, hectored taxi driver was forced into phoning his wife to act as an interpreter so he could hold a conversation with Margot.
• By the end, despite her racist idiocy, it was possible to feel some sympathy for Margot, who’s world appears to be rather lonely despite her constant reminders to camera about all her friends in Blackburn.
What was bad about it?
• The idea is interesting enough without needing to add a bigot such as Margot (“You might call a negro a sambo… if you wanted to say something, you know, softer”) to the mix. Too often these days documentary makers seem obsessed with finding people viewers can sneer at rather than relate to or care about and once again we’re left with a horrible British racist stereotype to go along with the others brought to prominence by Holiday Showdown etc.
• An awful and completely needless voiceover that ran through the programme. Using an occasional graphic instead would have had the joint benefits of removing the sledgehammer and adding some subtlety while actually affording the viewer some semblance of intellect. For example, when Margot wept quite heavily at a story told to her by a monk the voiceover remarked: “It seems something has profoundly upset Margot.” Well, duh.
• The programme makers desperately tried to pack huge swathes of Asia (as well as frequent cuts back to Blackburn to talk to Margot’s best friend) into the running time of just 40 minutes, and therefore ended up giving the viewer plenty of opportunities to laugh at her by only really showing Margot’s most embarrassing or traumatic moments. There was no depth. By the end we knew little more about her than we did after the first five minutes.
• The original idea seemed to be to show someone over 35 backpacking for a year or so. Margot stayed in the best hotels thanks to her millions and was only away for four months, which she interrupted halfway through to go back to Blackburn. Not exactly a gap year, is it? More like two extended holidays.
• Margot’s racism was tiresome and frankly offensive. “I’ve had enough of flied lice,” she said, back in Blackburn, tucking into some kind of meat sandwich.
• Margot was given her own camera to record her thoughts, but this was rarely utilised – either because she never said anything interesting, didn’t use it very much or perhaps she just didn’t say anything scandalous enough for the makers to feel like it was worthwhile using.