Let me begin by stating that I’m not sure exactly how to classify “Discovery TRVLR.” Discovery Channel categorizes it as a documentary series, but, to me, it’s a virtual reality exploration. Now, that doesn’t impact my perception of the series or the network itself, but I feel compelled to be upfront about the unique nature of “Discovery TRVLR.” With that caveat out of the way, I can turn my attention to my assessmnent.
When I set out to screen “Discovery TRVLR,” I encountered a strange problem: I couldn’t figure out how to watch it. No, seriously, try Googling the series and see if you can watch it on your computer. I’ll wait.
Give up yet?
Regardless of whether you actually tried to find “Discovery TRVLR” on your computer, I can tell you that you can only view the series on a mobile device or a VR headset, such as the Oculus Rift. I spent 10 minutes attempting to watch it on my computer to no avail, before coming across a page on the Discovery Channel website informing me that I needed my phone or a VR headset to screen the series. Yeah, I’m a dumbass, please don’t remind me.
For what it is — a VR exploration series — “Discovery TRVLR” is mildly interesting. Each episode of “Discovery TRVLR” offers viewers the ability to virtually navigate and experience exotic locales and cultures, from a black volcanic beach to a tribal tattoo ceremony. With a premise similar to The New York Times’s Daily 360 series, “Discovery TRVLR” is not particularly revolutionary, but it remains an exciting concept that, if successful, could trigger a wave of similar VR television programming down the line. If VR continues to develop and grow, as I believe it will, then “Discovery TRVLR” could dominate the market for VR travel shows.
While it’s built around an intriguing idea, “Discovery TRVLR” is doomed by its lack of depth, which ultimately prevents it from developing momentum. The series is produced in a bare-bones style, with episodes containing only essential narration. It’s almost as if its creators deliberately chose to not give information in the hopes that audiences would enjoy the freedom to explore alien places. However, we’re now in an “age of explainer TV” where audiences crave direction, and “Discovery TRVLR” fails to provide sufficient guidance for viewers to fully understand its content within its larger context. Although it’s not ideal that the series lacks these sorts of explanations, it’s also worth observing that it’s not ideal that modern audiences have come to expect their television shows to explain themselves. “Explainer TV” detracts from the exciting experience of having to piece together a show’s plotline, à la “Stranger Things.”
Along with its lack of information, “Discovery TRVLR” falters due to its brevity. Since episodes do not last more than a few minutes and contain little narration, the series appears to be more of a virtual picture than a virtual documentary series. The brief nature of each episode further detracts from the quality of “Discovery TRVLR” because of the lack of carryover between different episodes — every episode addresses a distinct cultural aspect or locale. Although having episodes grouped by their geographic region is helpful for establishing a broad structure, it does little to reduce the overwhelming sense that each episode feels entirely unrelated, as if its topic was chosen at random. Again, this would make sense if the series were a different type of program — a travel show, to return to a prior example — but, in its current format, this disparity from episode-to-episode just makes “Discovery TRVLR” look downright bad.
As a whole, these issues elucidate the overarching problem facing “Discovery TRVLR”: It simply doesn’t offer audiences enough. Episodes don’t have enough background information. Episodes don’t have enough time. Episodes don’t have enough of a connection to each other. With that in-mind, here’s my in-depth and expert advice to anyone thinking about watching it — don’t.