Last week I discovered a new travel documentary on Netflix featuring an unlikely host, comedian/actor Jack Whitehall. In Travels with my Father, Jack invites his cantankerous dad Michael to join him on a long-delayed gap year trip to Southeast Asia. This mismatched buddy road trip was filled with visits to quirky tourist attractions, “exotic” food experiences and plenty of familial acrimony.
Lest you think this travelogue is a non-stop laugh fest, there are moments of tenderness and bonding as well between the 28-year-old comic and his 77-year-old father, a retired theatrical agent. The most poignant interchange was probably when Jack explained that the only thing he minded about having an older dad was that he wouldn’t have as much time with him as his friends did with their younger fathers. Yes, I shed a tear and you will too.
While this specific premise might be out of the ordinary for a travel documentary, it’s certainly not the first time a British comedian has taken to the road with a camera crew in tow. I’m not completely sure but I assume the trend started nearly three decades ago with Michael Palin of Monty Python fame and his attempt to circumnavigate the globe as inspired by the Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days.
Since then celebrities such as Joanna Lumley, Sue Perkins, Ewan McGregor and Robson Green have all have taken viewers on vicarious journeys to far-flung ends of the earth. If you hanker for a bit of armchair travel with a jocular tour guide, I’ve compiled a list of documentaries you can stream today!
An Idiot Abroad (Three series from 2010-2012)
Presented by: Karl Pilkington, friend and former producer of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s radio show. His motto is “If you can’t do it, don’t do it.” Pilkington griped his way through an itinerary intended to inflict the greatest amount of awkwardness and discomfort possible, which was set especially for him by Gervais and Merchant.
Other travel documentaries by this host: The Moaning of Life
Last Chance to See (One series, 2009)
Where to watch it: Netflix
Presented by: Stephen Fry and zoologist Mark Cardawine, this program revisits the status of endangered animals first investigated in the 80's radio series of the same name. Some of the locations featured include New Zealand, Africa, Malaysia and the Amazon. Fry provides the layman's curiousity and wit while Cardawine supplies the scientific facts.
Other travel documentaries by this host: Stephen Fry in America, Fry’s Planet Word, Stephen Fry in Central America
Billy Connolly’s Route 66 (One series, 2011)
Where to watch it: Acorn TV
Presented by: Scottish comedian Billy Connolly makes a joyful 2500-mile trek across America from the Midwest to California in hopes of fulfilling this Easy Rider-inspired dream of a lifetime. It's always enlightening to see our country through the eyes of one born and raised elsewhere and Connolly brings the history of the road to life.
Other travel documentaries by this host: Tracks Across America and Journey to the Edge of the World
Travel Man: 48 Hours in… (Four series from 2015-2017)
Where to watch it: Amazon Prime
Presented by: The It Crowd star, film director and frequent comedy panel show guest, Richard Ayoade. In each episode, Ayoade invites a friend to join him for a highly organized weekend excursion abroad. His travel companions have included Chris O’Dowd in Vienna, Mel Giedroyc in Paris, Rebel Wilson in Florence and Paul Rudd in Helsinki.
Other travel documentaries by this host: None, but Travel Man morphed from Ayoade’s previous presenting duties as Gadget Man. He currently serves as the Maze Master on the reboot of celebrity team game show, Crystal Maze.
The Trip (Three series from 2010-2016)
Presented by: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon who play heightened, fictionalized versions of themselves embarking on restaurant tours of northern England, Italy and most recently, Spain. Each series of this improvised TV program was edited into a movie format for US audiences. This selection is a bit of a stretch, I know, but the audience gets the food, the scenery and the culture of a travel documentary along with the bonus features of celebrity impressions, quarrels and one-upmanship.
Other travel documentaries by these hosts: None, but Brydon has hosted the comedy panel show Would I Lie to You? since 2008 and hosted his own chat show for a few years. And, of course, Coogan has played radio presenter and short-lived TV chat show host Alan Partridge off and on since the early 90’s. Alan would jump at the chance to present a travel program in a heartbeat.
So how do you feel about travelogues with a humorous twist? Will you watch Jack and his daddy? Have we missed a favorite? The comments section is on standby!