Phil is friendly. Phil is kind. Phil is funny. But those qualities count for very little over at foodie magazine Eater where Somebody Feed Phil, the Netflix travel documentary eating its way around the globe was cruelly slated as “too cute”, “annoying” and having “no discernible point of view”. Conde Nast Traveler is much kinder, praising the positivity and optimism wrapped up in each delicious bite. So, which one is it? Sweet or sour?
This new to Netflix series is fronted by a gangly beaming Phil Rosenthal, a television writer and producer, best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. He had a similar show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS in America, but this is the first time an international audience has seen his culinary adventures.
And what a road trip he’s on. In six hour-long episodes he covers Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, New Orleans and Mexico City. I’m immediately jealous of his experiences and his air miles. He begins in the exotic east, but this isn’t just an American on a gap year, as he’s keen to promote food closer to home too, understanding that not everyone can afford international travel. Each episode also runs the full gamut of food available for the budget conscious backpackers and the money-is-no-object crowd. We seem him try street food out in the road on plastic chairs, befriend old ladies in shopping mall cafes, try all sorts of strange things in cafeterias off the beaten track and other hole-in-the-wall cafes where you’d need a local guide just to find the place.
Another jaunty ITV travelogue for those of us going no futher than the park this summer presented by Joanna Lumley (don’t be fooled by the rocks that I’ve got, I’m still J-Lum from the block), grande dame of the small screen and the lady who the word mellifluous was coined for. This is a three part whistle-stop documentary on ITV and J-Lum (I’m going to use it until it catches on) is keen to play up the family connection. She was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, in the last days of the Raj and her family ties go back several generations. One might think she’s rather brave trading on being directly related to the old colonial empire. Thinking about it, that apostrophe in the title might be a little insensitive.
But don’t worry – this is not a programme designed for much thought or reflection. “Gosh!” and “Fabulous!” she enthuses every few minutes about everything. To her credit it certainly doesn’t seem forced and her sparky interest is very infectious. She talks with her hands in rhapsodies about everything – Morgana Robinson’s impression of her on The Agencyis entirely accurate. Amusingly the Radio Times insists she’s toned it down a bit this time!
This week the force of nature that is my daughter announced she had (free) tickets for a recording of the new series Harry Hill’s Tea Time (as yet un-aired).
Harry defected from ITV to Sky and now he he has this new spoof cookery/interview with a celeb show with elements of TV Burp and references to You’ve Been Framed.
Girl applied for priority tickets to see it made and to her surprise got them. Excitedly we headed off to Osterley Park. Now, we live east of East London. This destination was west of West London. So to me it might as well have been Australia.
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.)
Sir Terry Wogan is living the good life, and he knows it. He’s worked his way up the tv and radio schedules to the lofty status of national treasure and jolly decent chap. He’s the sort of presenter it’s absolutely categorically impossible to dislike, with his warm tones, his charming manner and his often repeated jokes. He’s perfect for happy little interviews with the general public and asking tradesmen and restauranteurs “What is it that you do?”. Over the years he’s perfected his jovial, warm, interested style. He’s happy for you to know he’s on easy street and in this series he doesn’t even have to worry about the driving. Mason McQueen (sadly not called June) is a London cabbie and adventurer, thanks to A Cabbie Abroad which was shown on BBC2 last year. He’s not afraid to leave the confines of the M25 and, like Terry, seems genuinely interested in meeting people and learning about their trade.
Repeat warning: Haven’t we seen this somewhere very recently? Yes, yes we have. It was Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure (BBC2) in which Dara O Briain and Ed Byrne drove the length of Central America in the footsteps of pioneering journalists who braved the then wild Pan American Highway. And sadly for Stephen Fry, the Irish comics did it better – they had more fun and seemingly a better connection with the people they met. Fry straddled a gulf between sincere and aloof. He was at a massive protest march in Mexico City marking the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 students and he found it very moving. He was genuinely upset, but this was undermined by a lack of explanation, or follow up with the protestors or anyone involved. All we got were his thoughts and observations as an outsider. It wasn’t enough. Two minutes later and we were back on the road again and Mexico City was forgotten. It was a real shame as you can’t fault Fry for a lack of curiosity.
I’m looking forward to watching Sue Perkins on Kolkata. She was a revelation on the Mekong River – a travel guide who wanted to give you an insight longer than a few scribbles on the back of a postcard. She had conflicting feelings towards the countries she travelled through and the aspirations of the people she met, and wasn’t afraid to make that clear on camera. There was a depth and breadth to her travels that maybe 60 minutes without adverts on the BBC could offer but ITV couldn’t.