I have just spent the last six hours watch a very personable (and quite funny) British television personality show me parts of America that I never knew existed. It sometime takes a person from overseas to show us things about ourselves and our culture (and our beautiful natural resources!) that we are too close to see.
Stephen Fry explains, in the first few minutes of this FABULOUS six-part BBC series, that he was almost born in Princeton, NJ where his father lived for a while. He's always had a fascination with the US and so in 2008 he brought a real British taxicab here and drove to every one of the 50 states. (Well, that's what he says he did. In reality he covered 51, because the District of Columbia - where he stopped - is not a "state", and he had to leave the taxi in Washington State and fly to both Alaska and Hawaii.. But who's griping? Not me! I don't know how long it took to film this journey but it was obviously 6 months or more. And I give lots of credit to the photographer and Directors John Paul Davidson and Michael Waldman, who are there capturing the beauty - as well as some eccentrics.
The show aired on the BBC and was aimed at UK audiences so you'll hear a few curse words once in a while. And the section on Nevada visits the famous "Mustang Ranch" (where prostitution is legal) and parents may not want to share those moments with young children. But the rest makes great family viewing.
The six hour-long episodes cover a different region. Fry starts in Maine and heads south. From the Deep South he heads to the Mississippi River and follows it all the way from Louisiana (visit to New Orleans after Katrina and to Angola State Penitentiary) to Michigan (Detroit auto industry). Then, the great Mountain States, The Southwest and finally, The Pacific. He visits famous tourist places of course but he gets to places you'd never see on your own. In Knoxville, TN there is a real "body farm". In Miami he visits a Senior Housing compound where he meets "senior male escorts". (The ratio is 10 women to one man!. He visits Kent State and discusses the massacre there, and in Chicago he gets a tour with blues man Buddy Guy.. The "Mountains and Plains" section includes a great interview with Ted Turner - who is America's largest private land owner - on one of his ranches and Fry joins him for a buffalo dinner. I really could go on and on about the highlights but that will destroy the fun! Okay, a few states are just "drive thru" moments and Fry confuses the State of Delaware with the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania when he crosses on the Cape May (NJ) to Lewes (Del) ferry and says that George Washington "crossed the Delaware here in 1776".
Within minutes of the start you can't help but like Fry and bond with him. At the beginning of Episode Three we find him wearing an arm cast (!) but he never explains why its there and by the next few states, it's gone. And he does ask insightful questions of the people he visits.
I can't recommend this set highly enough! I've even found a few new states I want to visit. This was a massive project to produce and I, for one, am glad that Fry allows all of us to join him on his journey!