For those who aren’t Hollywood actors, traveling to the world’s most expensive hotels, eating exotic foods and sightseeing at remarkable locations is mostly out of reach. In “The Reluctant Traveler,” viewers are introduced to an unattainable celebrity lifestyle as they join Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”) on eight different vacations. Levy, lacking colorful taste in food and style, goes to all eight locations with little knowledge of what his journey will entail. At each site, Levy meets with at least three different people who live in that region to guide him through the different excursions he’ll embark upon. He dunks himself in the frozen waters of Finland, seeks connectedness to the rain forest in Costa Rica and the first Jewish ghettos in Venice, immerses himself in Navajo culture in Utah, rests in a sound bath in the Maldives, hears the roar of a hippo in a South African safari, sails along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean by the city of Lisbon and adjudicates a battle between sumo wrestlers in Tokyo, among other things.
To set the audience in a state of excitement, “The Reluctant Traveler” opens and closes each episode with a beautiful rhythm. A tune using instruments such as the violin, cello, drums, trumpet and more immediately connects viewers to the stunning environment unfolding in front of them. Like an intro to “Jumanji” or the more recent James Bond movie “No Time to Die,” it’s an inspiring way to engage the audience in his travels. You’re with him in the boats, helicopters, planes, trains and automobiles, waiting for an adventure to play its deadly card. Go ahead, get up and dance to it.
While the music brings joy to your ears, the narration will not. The series shows both Levy speaking by himself and with others, along with voice-overs. Sadly, almost everything seems scripted, making the dialogue feel awkward. This is partly due to Levy’s irresistible urge to constantly be sarcastic, as many comedians are, and could be something he just can’t help when speaking. The most disappointing symptom of this is that it distracts the viewer from the amazing landscapes he explores. By making the style more representative of a documentary or simply using less cheugy dialogue, the series could have advanced to another level of anticipation and made his reactions appear more realistic. Who knows, maybe the less scripted version wouldn’t be posh enough for the $6,000+ (per night) hotels? (smirk, smirk) At least Levy is an actor, so the scripted jokes are seemingly less rehearsed.
Despite the irritating narration, Levy is still daring enough to do what his peers in show business are not. He shows himself in a vulnerable element. In every episode, we are reminded of his fears, whether that be heights or trying new foods like sushi, a contrast to the high pedestals we place celebrities on. Society constantly glamorizes the lives of the elite and makes it impossible to envision them in roles of trepidation or, better yet, anxiety. Here, Levy is a normal person who has the same emotions we do and he makes sure to point them out, often.
Don’t let his integrity fool you though — he is still a rich actor who gets the luxury and time to travel to some of the most expensive locations and eat food cooked by extraordinary chefs. However, in a way, it is nice for the general public to watch. Those who couldn’t imagine basking in the wealth and isolated treats that he devours, spending money for two nights in a hotel that almost amounts to one year of in-state college tuition at the University of Michigan and being constantly waited on can do so through Levy. We gain a peek at the lives of those at the top.
Since the amount of money spent on these vacations is such a high toll, it is slightly grotesque to see Levy still deny certain opportunities. On-screen, he forgoes swimming in the Maldives, a place inhabiting the seventh largest amount of coral reefs in the world, and doesn’t take certain things seriously like his spiritual expedition in the Costa Rican jungle. While his trying of new things is applaudable, his hesitancy does emphasize the options that those who are wealthy can afford. This reminder brings viewers back to reality and lessens the enjoyment of the series. The people and families that Levy meets on vacation are truly the most enjoyable to watch. With their enthusiastic personalities and passions for their families, nature and work, they are easier to connect with than Levy himself.
Either way, Levy opens doors for those who can’t travel to those lengths and as his cultural diversity expands, his personality grows with it. “The Reluctant Traveler” is almost like a personal diary played out on screen. Levy is a stubborn child who is reluctant to try new things and we’re his parents, smiling as he breaks through the wave at his comfort level.
Daily Arts Contributor Eliza Shearing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.