Comedy icon’s globetrotting works best when he drops schtick
The Reluctant Traveller
Where: Apple TV+
What: Series, 8 episodes, 38 mins.
Rating: NN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: If you really, really love Eugene Levy, you might get past overdone, travelling-schmuck schtick.
WHO DOESN’T LOVE Canadian comedy icon Eugene Levy? His stellar, over-50-year career keeps powering along and his stunning contributions to international mega-hit Schitt’s Creek is just the latest in a glittering body of work that also drips in decency.
So, we were delighted to hear of his latest project, AppleTV’s eight-episode series, The Reluctant Traveller, which begins streaming this week. Unfortunately, the show is so buried in schtick that it takes a lot of viewer patience to get to the good stuff.
Part of why we watch travel shows is to learn something. Often, we get knowledgeable hosts who are also keenly interested in learning even more, with Anthony Bourdain being the gold standard.
Levy? Not so much. He spends a painful, sometimes excruciating, amount of time telling us he knows nothing about travel or the places he is visiting, doesn’t even like travel and, if given his choice, he’d rather just stay in the posh, five-star hotels he gets to visit on this show and never explore the surroundings.
The Reluctant Traveller is at its worst when it basically defaults to being Jackass For Seniors, when Levy is “coerced” into doing, for him, weird or disturbing stuff. Over and over again. He’s like one of those “lifestyle” reporters on local TV news who get dropped in dunking booths or eat weird shit at the CNE all, allegedly, for light-hearted laughs.
The series is annoyingly light on detail and we see Levy consume luxurious meals, presumably exotic ingredients and other intriguing delights without even the most basic info as to what he has reluctantly stuffed into his face.
The show drips in naivety as Levy takes whatever is said to him as gospel. With words that could have skipped lightly out of a brochure, he marvels at sites like a colonial marketplace in Lisbon where enslaved people were traded — which isn’t mentioned — but he simply gushes about spices and other similar exotica once traded there.
Levy as our tour guide feels more like the gullible mark waiting to be taken by locals. He seems to revel in the doddering grandpa persona, and it’s hard not to think he’s missing “the good stuff” at any locale he visits.
It works best when he drops the gimmick and allows himself to be real and unrehearsed, like when he muses with a gondolier father whose son is going into the trade like his father and grandfather, and Levy and the boatman compare notes about working with their children.
And his moments of sincere wonderment, like a revelatory visit to an undersea spa in the Maldives, are indeed delightful, like when a grandparent finally figures out how to work an app on their iPad.
In fact, the show kind of feels like Levy is giving us breathless commentary while he shows us pics and videos on his phone.
Finding fault with someone as beloved as Levy feels like snickering at an older relative with food hanging off their face at the holiday dinner. But with so many excellent, character-driven travel shows, Levy’s offering ends up being inconsequential in comparison.