Review: Stephen Fry in America tries to do too much

October 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

stephen-fry.jpgBBC1, Sunday 12th October, 9pm  Alert Me

It is no mean feat to take on the fifty states of America in a black cab.  For this, Stephen Fry must, no doubt, be praised.  To try and fit his experience of those fifty states into six episodes- well, to this bit I am inclined to sigh and shake my head a little.  The British TV treasure, ever entrusted to effortlessly bring his subject matter to life, is here, alas, stuck between the rock that is the vastness of American soil and a hard place- a Sunday night hour’s slot.

It’s fairly strange to imagine (even with his ex-partner in comedy, Hugh Laurie, having undergone the unlikely yet strangely successful transformation from bumbling British to sex symbol in US drama House) but Stephen Fry could have been born an American.  In the 1950s his father was offered a job in Princeton University though turned it down.  Since a young age, Fry has been fascinated by American culture and history.  In this new series he puts his foot to the floor and, with alot to get through, speeds along the highways and dusty roads of the US to meet the people in the flesh.

This episode he travels through Maine and onto New York, among many things having a go at deer hunting (well, deer spotting- he’s not so into the trigger pulling) and attending a New Year ceremony for witches.  The people he meets are fascinating in their own ways (look out for the slightly dotty, dolled up old lady who struggles to hear his questions and the intelligent response of the Professor from Harvard when asked about the general American attitude- oh, and Sting too!) but there is the sense that too much is being crammed in to the episode. In true Fry fashion, he does his best to draw out the crux of everything he discusses, nevertheless it does feel fairly rushed and at times you’re not only devoid of any connection to the people he’s met, but also a tad confused as to where he’s got to on his journey.

No doubt, the remaining five episodes will follow a similar format and this is a bit of a shame.  Perhaps, this is an inevitable reflection of the isolation that comes with never really being able to get to grips with everything in a country as enormous as America.  Perhaps though, it is more simply that the show should have just been allowed to span more of our Sunday nights.

By Susan Allen