Lesser known states in America have the negative nickname ‘fly-over states’ – the places that you only see from a plane window. Essentially, not much to see and not worth stopping by. Americanophile Billy Connolly wants us to know them better as he travels around the edge of the USA. Chicago to New York, the (very) long way around. 6,000 miles by train taking in 26 states. An epic trip but ITV have packed it all into just three episodes. The mood is quite a laid-back travel documentary but it must have been planned and edited to within an inch of its life. (Los Angeles appears on the route map but isn’t actually visited, which seems a shame.)
Despite the Glaswegian accent Billy has actually spent half his life in America. He’s well placed for this romantic, quirky and lyrical love story to his adopted homeland and the stunning variety of weirdos who live there. Pot growers (newly legalised) in Washington state, Elvis fanatics in Montana, and a woman who was in charge of a nuclear missile base in Arizona in the cold war.
One complaint though is that in his old age he’s just not angry enough any more. He waxes lyrical and gets misty-eyed about a self-governing homeless encampment in Seattle but doesn’t at any point say that it shouldn’t exist. It’s families living their lives in tents in one of the wealthiest cities in the world! Fortunately he’s more nuanced with the Border Patrol near Tuscon, Arizona. It’s tasked with stopping and arresting illegal immigrants and drug smugglers hopping the fence between Mexico and America. These law enforcement officers often ends up saving their lives in the desert. Billy, the old hippie, comes down on the side of the migrants but at least he appreciates the Patrol are doing a difficult job in a politically-charged landscape not of their own making.
This is the sort of show that can’t help but be beautiful, and it’s a great excuse for a cowboy style soundtrack (“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in.”) Huge vistas, enormous skies and amazing natural beauty. Maybe this explains the strange pieces to camera. It’s Billy in profile against the train window giving his opinions on his experiences, like neither he nor the camera can bear to turn their attention away from the scenery for even a moment.
Tracks Across America is middle-of-the-road mid-west. An easy amiable train ride with something new to marvel at around every corner. But it’s a whistle-stop tour with little time for depth or thoughtful reflection.
Six days left to watch Episode 1 at ITV Hub