Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Stephen Fry in America

(UK, 2008)

I have often envied Michael Palin in his second career, after Monty Python. He has traveled the world, going around it, from pole to pole, and around the Pacific Rim. (I didn’t envy him his trip around the Sahara, that looked unpleasant, but I’m glad he did it so I don’t have to.) Now Stephen Fry has set himself the task of visiting all 50 of the United States, driving a London taxi. (And, of course, followed by a film crew, just a Palin did, but we never see them.) He divides his journey into six one-hour segments: New England and the East, Deep South, the Mississippi River, mountains and plains, what he calls the True West, and the Pacific. Do the math and you’ll see there is a bit of a problem. Six hours divided by 50 means he has an average of 7.2 minutes of air time to spend on each state. Naturally, some will get more and some less. Some get short shrift indeed, such as Ohio, where he basically drives through Kent State and tells the tale of the massacre. In Kentucky, on the other hand, he spends quite a bit of time in a distillery sampling a lot of bourbon, something he clearly loves. So some people will be disappointed that their home state was shorted, but what can you do? Just have fun with one of the wittiest and most likeable guys on the telly, that’s what. His choices of what to cover are sometimes very obvious (cheese in Wisconsin, bourbon in Kentucky, the blues at Morgan Freeman’s dingy little club in Mississippi), and sometimes quite quirky, such as a “body farm” in … I can’t recall which state, where researchers leave corpses out in the forest to study decomposition. Everywhere he goes he meets people and gets along famously with them. This is no snarky Brit over here across the pond to ridicule our excesses and quirks, though he loves observing them, such as the incredible spectacle of a football game between Alabama and Auburn. It is clear that he loves America, with all its warts, and Americans, though he is not shy about pointing out the things he doesn’t like, such as Atlantic City and Miami. Well, I certainly wouldn’t argue with him about that, though I do like Miami Beach. I recommend this series highly.