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Stephen Fry in America
November 2, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Stephen Fry in America is a six part BBC television series of one hour shows in which Stephen Fry travels across the United States of America. He travels, mostly in a London cab, through all 50 U.S. states and offers his unique variety of insight as well as his infectious optimism and genuine love for many things American. New World, Deep South, Mississippi [US Edit], Mountains and Plains, True West, and Pacific.

1| New World Stephen's journey begins in New England, with lobster fishermen in Downeast Maine. In New Hampshire he goes to the top of Mount Washington and attends a primary meeting hosted by Mitt Romney, and in Vermont he is invited to create his own Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavour. He visits deer hunters in the Adirondacks, Wiccans in Salem, and attends a tea party with Harvard professor Peter Gomes. Fry visits stately homes in Rhode Island and moves on to New York City, meeting cabbies, goodfellas, and Sting; before moving on to the nation's capital where he interviews Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and a member of the Capitol Steps.
He visits Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C..
(12 October 2008) Bonus article in the Telegraph by Fry


2| Deep South Stephen Fry tries to find out what makes the South so distinctive. He begins by crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, and tours a coal mine in West Virginia, watches horse trading and bourbon brewing in Kentucky, visits a body farm in Tennessee, rides in a hot-air balloon in the Great Smoky Mountains, attends a Southern-style Thanksgiving Dinner, tolerates Miami, and attends a massive college football game in Alabama.
He visits Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
(19 October 2008)


3| Mississippi [US Edit] A 2000 mile journey up the Mississippi River begins in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, followed by a visit to Morgan Freeman's blues club in Mississippi. He hitches a canoe up the river to Arkansas, visits hoboes in St. Louis, and after a detour to Detroit, explores Chicago and its place as a center for blues and comedy. He finishes the journey with a goat cheese farm in Wisconsin and Hmong immigrants and ice fishing in Minnesota.
He visits Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
(26 October 2008)


4| Mountains and Plains National security becomes a recurring theme as Stephen visits Border patrol agents in Montana, a former missile silo in Kansas, and an INS patrol in El Paso. He also sees the Continental Divide, the German American community in North Dakota, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, the Lakota people, a major truck stop on Interstate 80, Aspen and Salvation Army work in Oklahoma.
He visits Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas.
(2 November 2008)


5| True West Stephen explores the ancient city of Santa Fe, sees the cutting edge of scientific research in Los Alamos, eats frybread with Navajos in Monument Valley, and hitches a ride with a B-17 Flying Fortress to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. He sees a wild west show in Tucson, takes a houseboat around Lake Powell, takes part in a team-building exercise in Las Vegas, and sees another legacy of the wild west at the Mustang Ranch before arriving at the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
He visits New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Nevada.
(9 November 2008)


6| Pacific Stephen begins in San Francisco, exploring its Chinatown and meeting Apple executive Jonathan Ive. He takes a ride with the Mendocino County sheriff, meets students at Humboldt State University, explores the forests of Oregon with activists and Bigfoot believers, and reaches the end of the Contiguous United States at a cabaret in Seattle. In Alaska, Stephen encounters fishermen and Inupiat whalers. Finally he goes to Hawaii, where he swims with sharks, meets a real-life Magnum, P.I., attends an authentic luau and finishes his journey at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
He visits California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.
(16 November 2008)
posted by Blasdelb (95 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite

 
There goes the weekend! Thanks for posting!
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:54 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's also on Netflix if you're so inclined.

Having seen it, it's such an interesting doc, and kind of weird to see your own country from the outside like that.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I watched part 1 a couple of months ago, and was completely underwhelmed. Seemed like the run-of-the-mill tourist crap. Not much on insight.
I'm not sure I like Stephen as a grown-up.
posted by MtDewd at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


This ran on PBS last year, or, at least, on Channel 9 here, as I recall,. Fry was great and it had its moments, but the Seattle coverage was pretty sucky as it rang the usual Starbucks - Microsoft - flannel jacket bells. That part was pretty disappointing.
posted by y2karl at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2012


Yeah, this was the show that caused me to fall out of love with Stephen Fry. It's just so full of fatuous cliché presented as if it were deep insight, poverty and race tourism, and little potted lectures about history and culture and politics, getting so much wrong while seeming so self-satisfied about it. Somewhere around when he cheerily breezed through Angola Prison I just couldn't take any more (though I think I watched them out of order).
posted by RogerB at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


As a native Virginian, was completely disappointed that "Virginia" actually means Arlington Cemetery.

It's an enjoyable series, none the less, as it is anytime someone offers that outsider's perspective. Don't look for too much insight and examination.
posted by Atreides at 2:00 PM on November 2, 2012


I think this show is important to watch if only to get a sense of how the rest of the world feels when Anthony Bourdain visits it.
posted by theodolite at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2012 [36 favorites]


Anyone know what the difference is between the British and US versions of the Mississippi episode? I'm guessing (cynically) that that the US version cuts out the visits to Angola and the parole board hearing?
posted by theodolite at 2:05 PM on November 2, 2012


As an American living in London, and loving Stephen Fry, I was very excited when I heard this was commissioned, and thinking here is someone who can do justice to the vast unknown world of regional identity, origins, quirks, and culture of non-cliche, non LA/NY, America to the British public.

I was vastly disappointed in this. I don't think its Fry's fault, just that it was a BBC1 commission trying to do it all in a 6x30m series. All seemingly researched and produced on a much faster turnaround without much insightful story selection and too much emphasis on quick quirk. Set up to fail.

This should have been a BBC4 series with a much longer run in order to do it justice.

Oddly, Jamie Oliver's USA cooking series was everything this one should have been. That was a very smartly researched and produced series that gave some real insider views of America that Britain doesn't usually get.
posted by C.A.S. at 2:07 PM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is very, very awesome. We've watched it a few times. Do waste your weekend on it.
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2012


As a native Virginian, was completely disappointed that "Virginia" actually means Arlington Cemetery.

Me, too. You'd think that Colonial Virginia at least would hold some extended interest for an Englishman
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2012


The best part of the whole series is when Stephen Fry's at the Bama game and marveling at the thousands of people and cheerleaders and pageantry, all for a non-professional sporting event! And then suddenly a squadron of F-18s blasts over the arena and he gapes into the camera with a combination of utter delight and disbelief, like he just watched Abraham Lincoln ride a bald eagle into a tornado
posted by theodolite at 2:11 PM on November 2, 2012 [40 favorites]


I loved this series. I felt especially vindicated when he described South Florida as a horrible, artificial and garish place.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Anyone know what the difference is between the British and US versions of the Mississippi episode? I'm guessing (cynically) that that the US version cuts out the visits to Angola and the parole board hearing?"

Its nothing so exciting, excerpts of Neil Young's song "Ohio" are featured, but not available in the U.S.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2012


As a Mainer I watched the first episode (the one in Maine) and just thought so little of it that I stopped. Does it get any better?
posted by selfnoise at 2:14 PM on November 2, 2012


The best part of the whole series is when Stephen Fry's at the Bama game and marveling at the thousands of people and cheerleaders and pageantry, all for a non-professional sporting event! And then suddenly a squadron of F-18s blasts over the arena and he gapes into the camera with a combination of utter delight and disbelief, like he just watched Abraham Lincoln ride a bald eagle into a tornado

This is also my favorite part and can be found at the end of Deep South
posted by Blasdelb at 2:14 PM on November 2, 2012


I found it a little boring, personally. But I'm also aware that documentaries are not actually made by their presenters, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. So it didn't really affect my opinion of Stephen Fry much either way.
posted by howfar at 2:15 PM on November 2, 2012


Hunh. I really should watch sections that are unrelated to states I know intimately, because the part about Hawaii suggested he just talks to some blokes and leaves with no insights. Stephen Fry is smarter than that, so I'm a little baffled.

Really? Talking to a PI on Oahu? What the heck, Stephen?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:16 PM on November 2, 2012


Ahaha it's at 58:12 of the Deep South episode and it's even better than I remembered
posted by theodolite at 2:17 PM on November 2, 2012


As much as I enjoy Mr.Fry in all things the series did feel like I was sitting through some holiday slide show.

Granteded there are worse ways to spend one's time.
posted by The Whelk at 2:24 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It had a few bright spots but overall I didn't care for it. The shoes he had to fill didn't help much. At the end of every episode I sighed and said "He is *not* Michael Palin".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The body farm is my favorite part so far.

I can't believe this wasn't on MeFi before!
posted by Mooseli at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...It's just so full of fatuous cliché presented as if it were deep insight, poverty and race tourism, and little potted lectures about history and culture and politics, getting so much wrong while seeming so self-satisfied about it. Somewhere around when he cheerily breezed through Angola Prison I just couldn't take any more (though I think I watched them out of order)."

The bit on Angola is bizarrely upbeat for the continuingly horrific nature of the place, and it really doesn't have anything more than a very shallow surface view of the deep injustice of the reality. However, there was something really affecting for me about his incredulity at what very little he did see, like his reaction to Warden Burl describing how many inmates he has on death row why he doesn't let them onto chain gangs.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:29 PM on November 2, 2012


The Salem bit is pretty spot on. You can't walk down the street here without getting invited to a Quickening or something.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was vastly disappointed in this. I don't think its Fry's fault, just that it was a BBC1 commission trying to do it all in a 6x30m series

This exactly. It could've been a good series, but not if you think you can squeeze off fifteen states per episodes, not even if they're the boring flat states in the middle. America is such a beautiful, strange, weird, great, bizarre, outrageous country but you wouldn't know it from Stephen toodling along in that stupid black cab of his.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:39 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I watched episode #3 and was disappointed. I remember thinking that the factual stuff was sometimes inaccurate and the commentary shallow.
posted by Area Man at 2:43 PM on November 2, 2012


i really liked it in parts and was confounded in other parts. like a lot of people, the part of the US i know the best (ozarks) seemed badly done. i think it's interesting to watch in conjunction with the US special that top gear did, just to see how we're viewed as a country - or how we're presented.

i'd be interested to see craig ferguson do this. is he popular at all in the UK? i keep hoping on his time off he'll show up on nevermind the buzzcocks or 8 out of 10 cats or Qi.
posted by nadawi at 2:48 PM on November 2, 2012


I don't think its Fry's fault, just that it was a BBC1 commission trying to do it all in a 6x30m series.

Agreed. There is too much weirdness in this country for Stephen Fry to do justice to in six episodes.
posted by ambrosia at 2:54 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm another who thought this would be awesome when I spied it on Netflix, but then was disappointed in the execution.

But that clip of the Auburn game should be required watching in classes on international relations. When I was ten, my family lived in England, and we were fascinated by the fact that the English soccer teams would each record a music video of their team song. I remember thinking, "Oh man, that is so crazy! Why don't we do anything cool like that in America?"

That look on Fry's face when the jets fly over says it better than any words could, but it is the same general idea conveyed by the phrase: "Fish don't have a word for water."
posted by BeeDo at 2:55 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


when Stephen Fry's at the Bama game

Puhleeze. He's at the Auburn game.

But yeah, that was awesome. Think I would've flipped a shit if I had seen him in my hometown.

I liked the (perhaps artificial) premise-- he wanted to explore America to see what his homeland would have been, had his father taken the job at Princeton.
posted by supercres at 2:55 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best part of the whole series is when Stephen Fry's at the Bama game and marveling at the thousands of people and cheerleaders and pageantry, all for a non-professional sporting event!

Except he's at an Auburn game, not a Bama game. That's not even the biggest college football stadium in the state. That would be 160 miles away, in Tuscaloosa.

HAIL SABAN
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Puhleeze. He's at the Auburn game.

Yes, the best part is Fry at the Iron Bowl (the most PC way to describe it).

And if you want to know why that is such a big deal, I would suggest Roll Tide/War Eagle, part of ESPN's very well done 30 for 30 series.

How fitting that it sums up his trip to the USA and they even have the flags of all 50 states surrounding the field.
posted by roquetuen at 3:08 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stephen Fry is smarter than that ...

He really just isn't.
posted by fleacircus at 3:19 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I watched part 1 a couple of months ago, and was completely underwhelmed. Seemed like the run-of-the-mill tourist crap. Not much on insight.
I'm not sure I like Stephen as a grown-up.


I saw it when it aired a few years ago and had the exact same reaction. I have since become unable to muster any of the fervent enthusiasm I once had for Stephen Fry.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:26 PM on November 2, 2012


i'd be interested to see craig ferguson do this. is he popular at all in the UK? i keep hoping on his time off he'll show up on nevermind the buzzcocks or 8 out of 10 cats or Qi.
He's mostly unknown. I doubt even David Letterman is well known over here.
posted by Jehan at 3:31 PM on November 2, 2012


His Greatest Gadgets is now on Netflix as well, really same sort of amazing mixed with droll, but really neat for U.S. people get an insight into U.K. people's views on gadgets. And it kept seeming that they got some of the good ones way before we did (or we never got them at all), and all the good gadgets that I knew of as a kid in the 80s that he places in the U.K. in the 90s.

But to appreciate geekness he did an interview for OggCamp. You can't get much geekier than love for an audio/video codec. And while he gets a big minus for being an Apple fanboy, he gets cred for only tolerating his iPhone when it's jailbroken.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:34 PM on November 2, 2012


Piling on here.

Up to now I would have thought Stephen could make even 6 hours of his own sleepwalking interesting, turns out he can't.
posted by Cosine at 3:36 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't help but compare In America to Michael Palin's travelogues and Fry just doesn't measure up. You know who I think could? Martin Freeman.

I would also accept: Gary Oldman, Catherine Tate.
posted by troika at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2012


I'm glad I'm not alone. I was pretty "meh" throughout the whole show. I watched one and it just never pulled me in.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 4:05 PM on November 2, 2012


Martin Freeman turned out to be a bit racist the other day (and worse, dumb enough to admit it publically), so no.

Stephen Fry really hasn't had to challenge himself for years if not decades now, playing the UK's favourite gay but without all that icky sex stuff erudite uncle, doing Q.I. and lite documentaries like this.

Hugh Laurie on the other hand completely reinvented himself as a serious television actor on House which has worn out its welcome, true, but is still much more risky than anything Fry has been doing the past decade or so.

(With the possible exception of the programme he did about his manic depression, which must've been scary.)
posted by MartinWisse at 4:24 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I watched this the last part wasn't on netflix due to some oversight. I was actually relieved I didn't have to watch any more.

I keep seeing his Greatest Gadgets thing listed on instantwatcher.com, I know the guy knows something about technology, he was after all the first person (maybe second if you believe Douglas Adams) in Europe to own a mac but I am still a little gunshy.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:25 PM on November 2, 2012


I prefer the US version where Oprah narrates.
posted by panaceanot at 4:43 PM on November 2, 2012


Oh, yikes, I had no idea about Freeman. Disappointing.
posted by troika at 4:45 PM on November 2, 2012


One of Fry's problems, much though I love him, has always been a tendency toward the superficial. I don't think that's due laziness or lack of brains, but rather whatever it is that leads him to say "yes" to pretty much anything that comes along. I think it's probably just the desire to be liked and applauded, and there are far worse motivations than that. But he's produced some truly excellent work along the way (Trefusis, Melchett, Jeeves, Moab Is My Washpot, manic depression documentary), and a huge body of good, solid entertainment.

Perhaps the real problem is that, in being so eager to impress us and make us like him, Fry invites an unusual degree of contempt when he fails in this even marginally. He seems too eager to please and it's all too easy to share his own assessment of his failure when he doesn't.
posted by howfar at 4:52 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Indeed, was not very impressed. Like maybe some others here I have so far just watched the one with my own state in it, the Pacific episode. Seems like for every state they just ahead of time decided to go with whatever the producer could remember was in each state, when queried in a lightning round trivia format.

California: San Francisco is here, Johnny Ive lives there. Marijuana.

Oregon: Tree-huggers save forests for the spotted owl. Bigfoot.

Washington: Pike Place market in Seattle is here, and there's that grunge-era music scene.

Alaska: You can see Russia, there's fishing, and -

I stopped watching at this point.

I totally enjoy hearing what foreigners think of the US even if they haven't been here (for a fun time, search for Japanese-language websites about etiquette for dealing with Americans, run them through Google Translate), but since he did visit it might have been nice if this was a little deeper.
posted by floam at 5:00 PM on November 2, 2012


supercres: "I liked the (perhaps artificial) premise-- he wanted to explore America to see what his homeland would have been, had his father taken the job at Princeton."

That's something he explored in his novel Making History, as well. Clearly it fascinates him.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:00 PM on November 2, 2012


I'm not sure I like Stephen as a grown-up.

I'm pretty sure Stephen Fry is just another example of the Alex Trebek effect. People think game show hosts are smart because they infer internal traits despite the behaviour being determined by external circumstances (the script and pre-show research). Correspondence Bias.

I'm sure he is smart and funny. Just not as smart as funny as people think. I will give him some props though for being willing to be human - he disclosed his bipolar issues and was apparently ok with how pathetic he looked in the documentary where he went to the amazon (I think it was) and fell on a boat and broke his arm.
posted by srboisvert at 5:07 PM on November 2, 2012


Also, if you want real travelogue entertainment I suggest you watch anything by Johnathon Meades preferably while slightly impaired. That man is a very strange trip.
posted by srboisvert at 5:13 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just re-watched the New York segment. It is very funny they take him to a social club in Queens. The guys say "aaaa oooo" , "oooo aaaa" for about 2 full minutes when he walks in. They were 30 seconds from saying "fugeddaboutit" or "takedeash".Nothing is more New York than trying to scare the hell out of tourists by regaling them with tales of how many times you have been shot at.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:19 PM on November 2, 2012


Jamie Oliver's cooking series in USA (not the school lunch stuff) was exactly what I thought the Fry series might be.

When he went to LA, he didn't go to the west side - he went to East LA, explored the Mexican American experience, ex gangbangers, markets. When he went to NY, he went to Astoria where people were doing in-home pop-up dinners. When he went to the south, he found a non-touristy bbq and entered a competition. Even though it was nominally a fluffy cooking show, there was more cultural insight, regional insight, and subtext about the currents in US culture. The story selection was far less superficial than in the Fry series.
posted by C.A.S. at 5:40 PM on November 2, 2012


Did Jamie Oliver make it up to anyplace north of Sonoma County in California? Because I was just excited to see Mendocino get on TV, even if it was only for marijuana.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:55 PM on November 2, 2012


I find Jamie Oliver an interesting programme maker, actually, because he genuinely does seem to be the emotional and intellectual driving force behind most of the stuff that he does. His obsession with food, and his evident belief in its paramount cultural importance runs through everything he does, both for good and for ill. I don't think it's possible to watch a Jamie Oliver show without being both impressed and irritated by his passion.
posted by howfar at 5:58 PM on November 2, 2012


When I watched the Globe Trekker episode covering Hong Kong and Taiwan, they covered the entirety of Taiwan in about twenty minutes. The Grand Hotel, the Martyrs' Shrine, Taroko Gorge, a few other things... that was about it. Yet there's so vastly much more to see there. And the episode about the Midwest showed precisely one thing about Minnesota (a trip to a voyageur reenactment camp). It's all a good reminder that travel shows never cover places with much depth -- they can only skim the surface.
posted by jiawen at 5:59 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When he went to NY, he went to Astoria where people were doing in-home pop-up dinners.

One of these days, a program will see New York as more than New York City.
posted by troika at 6:06 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of these days, a program will see New York as more than New York City.

Yeah, and one day US TV will make a documentary about Essex. Pull the other one.
posted by howfar at 6:08 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fully worth it for the Scene where Stephen visits a sheep dairy only to be taken to the milking parlor and find himself confronted by not one but TWO! layers of sheep vulvas as the owners of said vulvas patiently sat in their stands being milked. He was very, very uncomfortable.

The fact that the sheep were clearly in heat as evidence by their ginormous swollen vulvas made it that much better. Poor Stephen.
posted by stet at 6:10 PM on November 2, 2012


There's a lot to cover even with six hours. I enjoyed it overall.

This came out when I had just moved to London from Chicago, and the first one I saw was the one that ended with a 15 minute love letter to Chicago. So much homesickness (and I'm not even originally from Chicago).
posted by mzanatta at 6:35 PM on November 2, 2012


I love it when he has to put up with Ted Turner's "powerful impatience with prattle" when at Ted's bison ranch.

"Look at the light on those hills.." "Those are mountains. That's what we call 'em here."
"How long will the snow stay?" "Depends on how warm it is."
posted by thecjm at 6:42 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Billy Connolly has done some similar travel shows. And I think he does a much better job of connecting with the people he meets instead of just racing from tourist site to tourist site. You can watch his trip along the three coasts of Canada here.*


*At least I hope you can. Please let me know if this ends up being a Canada-only stream.
posted by thecjm at 6:50 PM on November 2, 2012


I liked when he visited the woodland reserve distillery cause I got to see what a drunk, puffy Stephen Fry looks like.
posted by The Whelk at 7:15 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Worth it just to watch Stephen Fry discover truck balls. Truck balls, people!!
posted by dry white toast at 7:28 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those Maine lobstermen were being really, really nice and forgiving.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:51 PM on November 2, 2012


As a North Dakotan I feel a familiar feeling - we got short-changed. 3 minutes of footage at Kroll's Diner and that's it?
posted by Ber at 7:57 PM on November 2, 2012


As a North Dakotan I feel a familiar feeling - we got short-changed. 3 minutes of footage at Kroll's Diner and that's it?

If it makes you feel any better, you get 4 entire pages in the book. Three of those pages are history, and one is Kroll's diner, so perhaps that won't make you feel any better.
posted by netd at 8:50 PM on November 2, 2012


I don't think that's due laziness or lack of brains, but rather whatever it is that leads him to say "yes" to pretty much anything that comes along.

I have this impression as well.
posted by Anything at 8:59 PM on November 2, 2012


I have to agree with everyone who was disappointed in this. Does anyone remember which state or states it was that he didn't even visit - he just stood at the border and stepped in to them? Idaho maybe?

Either way, it seemed like the United States for people with no interest in the subject or attention span.
posted by madelf at 11:00 PM on November 2, 2012


Thanks for posting this.
posted by homunculus at 1:16 AM on November 3, 2012


I am rather intrigued by the number of US-ians who are genuinely underwhelmed by this programme. If anything, it should be interesting to see how the outside world sees you?
posted by kariebookish at 1:41 AM on November 3, 2012


If anything, it should be interesting to see how the outside world sees you?

I was thinking a bit about this the other day.

There is a sitcom called Cuckoo currently airing on the BBC which articulates, in its own bizarre and often poorly-written way, how much of the UK sees Americans. Not the usual gun-toting hamburger-eating stereotype, but the thought, horrifying to our sensibility, that there are people out there who talk about their feelings all the time and do not laugh at themselves and talk about their feelings without ever laughing at themselves. This is what is being referenced when my parents refer to such disparate things as saying one 'loves' ones friends, the expression 'blue sky thinking', and the practice of going around a circle saying something good about the person to ones right, as 'a bit American'. Sometimes they even put on the accent when talking about such things, in order to more adequately convey their contempt and, more than that, utter bafflement.

I have a feeling that most Americans would watch this show without ever realising that this is what, at one level, is going on. I really doubt that they would see Cuckoo with any kind of recognition.

Clip.
posted by Acheman at 2:42 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Acheman - my mum often describes Americans as 'schmaltzy', a word that she must have picked up from an American show itself. I think it's because we see the US via TV, and 90% of US sitcoms have a 'schmaltzy bit' toward the end. Sure, Seinfeld didn't, but that was barely shown on TV here when it was big in the US.

When I was ten, my family lived in England, and we were fascinated by the fact that the English soccer teams would each record a music video of their team song.

I don't know what you mean by this - English teams don't really have a 'team song' as such, but it was common practice to record a 'cup final single' by the teams in the final, which would usually change each time. Not sure if they still do this, the last one I remember is Chelsea's Blue Day in '97 but then I don't follow football too closely.
posted by mippy at 3:23 AM on November 3, 2012


Also, Stephen Fry's had a wee bit of a backlash over here in the past few years due to some slightly dubious comments on female sexuality, and being smug on Twitter. Didn't know about Martin Freeman, though.
posted by mippy at 3:25 AM on November 3, 2012


It also doesn't help him that he has fallen in a bit with the Hitchens-Dawkins tendency of radical atheism and not realising that a lot of that sort of militant atheism was just a cover for islamophobia.

I have a feeling that most Americans would watch this show without ever realising that this is what, at one level, is going on. I really doubt that they would see Cuckoo with any kind of recognition.

I'd think hipster or trustafarian would come to mind more quickly than British stereotype of a certain type of (Californian) American. Mind, it's a real BBC3 comedy, so not very good, overtly broad and not that funny.

If anything, it should be interesting to see how the outside world sees you?

Thing is, it was sold to the British public at the time as a look at what the US really is like, then shortchanged most of it, went for cliches recognisable even to non-yanks as not entirely true and didn't show much new or interesting.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:46 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


(With the possible exception of the programme he did about his manic depression, which must've been scary.)

Saw most of that on youtube before it got yanked, and it was wonderful seeing someone who could put what i feel into words so much better than i, and wish it was shown more. This show though, just not that interesting.

I don't get how people are saying that the show should have shown the weirder parts of America though, i live here, and it's actually quite boring and uninteresting. If you pick out the odd ducks, what does it really show you? Show the Gathering of the Juggalos, the neo nazis, etc, what does that prove? How would that be different than showing only tribes and warlords in Africa? In a show that focuses on a whole country in such a short amount of time you can't really cover too much, so stick to the masses.
posted by usagizero at 5:33 AM on November 3, 2012


I second Jonathan Meades' travel documentary things. Some of the best TV ever made.

Stephen Fry is just a bit of a myopic posh boy when it comes to class/education and Martin Freeman needs a fucking slap.
posted by fullerine at 6:15 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember watching what I believe was a similar BBC miniseries being replayed on the CBC in 1996. At one point the British host visits a shooting range where customers can fire at old cars, trucks and...metal silhouettes shaped like Viet Cong fighters. The proprietor says a bunch of his customers are Vietnam War vets and the host, clearly appalled, asks him what he thinks the appeal would be. He pauses for a moment and replies "Nostalgia, probably."

Does this ring any bells with anyone?
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:45 AM on November 3, 2012


I have a feeling that most Americans would watch this show without ever realising that this is what, at one level, is going on. I really doubt that they would see Cuckoo with any kind of recognition.

I might not recognize that in myself becaues I'm a Minnesotan of Scandinavian descent. The US really does have some regional differences in culture and behavior.
posted by Area Man at 6:58 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


and being smug on Twitter.

Being smug on Twitter?! Have you ever seen Twitter?
posted by Jimbob at 7:04 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Freeman seems to exemplify the most common sort of racism, the rather dim and deeply unimaginative person who gathers opinions like burs. No matter what he's talking about, he sounds like someone repeating something he heard in the pub or from his dad. The sort of "it's PC gone made" racism he trots out is exactly the sort of background prejudice that lets the far-right win councils while shaking its head ruefully.
posted by howfar at 7:28 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alan: Hello, Lynn, message from Alan. Idea for a television programme based on Michael Palin’s ‘Pole To Pole’. Except I circumnavigate the globe only driving through countries where they drive on the left. And I do it in a lovely old Bullnose Morris. We could call it ‘Around The World With Alan Partridge In A Bullnose On The Left’. Oh, I’m sorry, Lynn. I think that is possibly the worst idea I have ever had.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:32 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a feeling that most Americans would watch this show without ever realising that this is what, at one level, is going on. I really doubt that they would see Cuckoo with any kind of recognition.

I've seen and loved the whole series. Cuckoo is a stock young, privileged hippie. It's basically the same character as the would-be Traveler Tash in Jam and Jerusalem, or Neil from The Young Ones with a bigger wardrobe and fewer chores to do. The Americanness occasionally plays a part (e.g., "jacket potatoes" really is just a silly nonsense phrase on this side of the Atlantic, and a more delightfully colorful description than what we call the same thing), but it's not particularly central to his character, except as another reason for the dad to loathe him immediately.

Yes, we recognize the stereotype, because it exists here too.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:08 AM on November 3, 2012


(That said, the American named Brick in Outnumbered was, I think, exactly what you're talking about. And, well, no, nothing about that character rang true at all. Especially the accent.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:17 AM on November 3, 2012


Just to be clear, I'm not saying that all or even many Americans are like Cuckoo; just that in certain British people's minds, there an image of America which embodies many of these characteristics. I myself am aware of the difference between a (stereotypical) Californian and a (stereotypical) Midwesterner, etc., and I suspect almost everyone here does as well, if only because Metafilter skews American and contains many discussions of American regionalism. But believe me, there are many people of my parents' generation at least who have an image of Americanness that involves pathological earnestness and a complete lack of boundaries. I brought it up because I thought people from the US would find this very odd. In many ways it is extremely odd, and reflects the profound anxiety many of us over here about both earnestness and boundaries far more than it reflects anything about US culture. I mean, simply by using the word 'boundaries' in a non-ironic way I am betraying my own upbringing.

Just watched a couple of clips of Brick, and I agree he is another example. But I really don't think Cuckoo's nationality is an accident, and I think he's threatening in a way that a privileged hippie isn't usually threatening.
posted by Acheman at 9:18 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, simply by using the word 'boundaries' in a non-ironic way I am betraying my own upbringing.

[pithy retort re: British Empire]
posted by Sys Rq at 9:50 AM on November 3, 2012


Seriously, though, it's clear what you meant, and I don't doubt that many Britons do indeed have that view of Americans.

I just meant to point out that, while it may be present in Cuckoo, the show doesn't suffer if the viewer doesn't 'get' that part.

(For a nice look at what Americans think of what Britons think of Americans, see The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on November 3, 2012


re: craig ferguson - He's mostly unknown. I doubt even David Letterman is well known over here.

but, david letterman was never a working comic in the UK. interesting that craigyferg slips under the radar. i still think he'd be really good on the panel/quiz shows.
posted by nadawi at 10:29 AM on November 3, 2012


When I was 16, a group of students from England visited our high school for two weeks. They were accompanied by one of their teachers. One afternoon, I was in the offices of the high school newspaper writing something using one of the computers (I'm not sure why, I wasn't on staff). The teacher from England came in and introduced himself. After we'd been talking for a few minutes, he got a strange expression on his face and then asked in an overly casual manner whether I'd "ever heard of a chap called Shakespeare." I know now that I should have feigned ignorance and let the scenario play out, but I was young and foolish so I informed him that I had heard of Shakespeare and was actually about to head over to the theater because rehearsals for our production of Macbeth were due to start any minute.

Since then, I've had a strong sense that Britons think we are ignorant. Silly of me really, I know.
posted by Area Man at 11:34 AM on November 3, 2012


It's almost as if they've formed an arbitrary prejudice based on insufficient information.
posted by howfar at 11:53 AM on November 3, 2012


Heh, yes, I know. I'm improving myself, don't worry.
posted by Area Man at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


See that you do young man. There's a very interesting writer called Dickens you might like to read...
posted by howfar at 12:00 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


i still think he'd be really good on the panel/quiz shows.
There's slumming it and there's slumming it..
He could buy them and sell them a thousand times over.

Actually it still tickles the fuck out of me to think of Bing Hitler making so much money. I hear when they get independence he is going to buy Scotland.
posted by fullerine at 12:01 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's slumming it and there's slumming it..
He could buy them and sell them a thousand times over.


One of the glories of the BBC is that for a lot of them that is not necessarily so.
posted by jaduncan at 4:01 PM on November 3, 2012


When I notice Americans abroad, they're loud, oblivious to other people around them, inconsiderate of local culture, and dressed cheaply about 10 years behind the times.

This is not necessarily all Americans, because you don't notice all the quiet, considerate ones. But there is a cohort of Americans abroad who are working full-time to internationally humiliate their country.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:24 PM on November 3, 2012


dressed cheaply about 10 years behind the times.

I don't think it's very nice to judge people on the cost and age of their clothes.
posted by JanetLand at 5:09 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...and dressed cheaply about 10 years behind the times."

This is actually one of the things I love most about America, we had those kind of arbitrarily judgmental prickish attitudes once and have had such a backlash against them that clothes and presentation can almost be an honest medium of expression rather than a hereditary handicap or bonus, almost. Where I live now my co-workers are fascinated by the diversity of fashion senses one can see wandering around New York as in - Wow they can really just wear anything they want? Thats amazing!
posted by Blasdelb at 5:49 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I notice Americans tourists abroad, they're loud, oblivious to other people around them, inconsiderate of local culture, and dressed cheaply about 10 years behind the times.

Fixed that for you. It's no treat meeting Dutch people abroad either.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:17 AM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


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