Clips are surfacing on YouTube – mainly because they were posted there by the network – of a new “adventure travel” show set in Peru, called Martin & Olly.
It’s one of those “let’s put these guys in the jungle and make it seem like they’re alone and in peril” kinds of deals, filled with shaky camera work and night-vision shots where tree-branches thrash the lens and people’s eyes are pearls in the darkness, in an attempt to give it at least the appearance of being real and dangerous and like the hosts are out there on their own and not being dogged by a crew of up to five people every step of the way.
Not surprisingly, some youtubers aren’t convinced. Their comments on the “reality” of the show are less than forgiving, suggesting that the whole thing is set up and therefore “fiction”, forcing the network to jump in and write its own comments defending the series before it’s even hit the screen.
Problem is – and I speak as someone who’s been down this path and knows – these shows can almost never be authentic. Travel programs are by their very nature phony, and it’s the viewers’ fault. They’re idle layabouts. Fact. They can’t be bothered to travel into dangerous jungles themselves; they prefer to stay at h0me and let a TV network do it for them, Not only that but they then have the nerve to insist that the experience should feel real, like they’re walking in the host’s shoes. Jeez.
Well, to accomplish this is not easy, I need hardly tell you.
From day one the producers are in a pickle. If the show were actually real and shot that way, it would look and sound crap, like Blair Witch mixed with a home skateboarding video. So they have to cheat. For the greater good, they compromise. They go to enormous lengths to make sure the pictures and sound, especially the sound, are vivid and professional. And the only way to do that is to have a full production crew “lost” in the jungle too. Which is where things get tricky.
Example: in one scene, the explorers – that’s what M and O are, apparently, “explorers” – suspect they’re being followed through the undergrowth by a mysterious stranger. Oh, and guess what, they are! Otherwise why mention or show that guy we can see lurking in the bushes?
He comes to their camp in the night – cue night-vision cameras – and tells them in a series of easy-to-read captions that he was about to skin them alive for straying into his territory. Oh, right. Yeah, sure he was. For a start, he’s outnumbered, not only by the hosts but by their entire crew. Trust me, he wasn’t laying a finger on anyone. But also, my experience in this genre has taught me that natives are better actors than even the host has to be. They’re completely unselfconscious when it comes to filming. All you have to do is tell them, “Walk into shot and start talking,” and have your fixer slip them a couple of bucks beforehand for their trouble, and suddenly they’re Tom Hanks, slick, word-perfect, unshakable.
Their performance seems incredibly genuine, it’s amazing, but it is a performance, and because it is, somehow, by some invisible means, let’s call it intuition, the viewer smells a rat. Why? Because that’s not how life goes. The cameras might, might, just happen to catch such a dangerous incident once, perhaps twice over the course of a series, but in every show?Excitement is fickle. It tends to be sporadic and seldom turns up to order. You think those ice road truckers live in terror of their eighteen-wheelers disappearing through cracked ice into the ocean every single week? Come on!
These are early days, but Martin & Olly feels like old-style travel TV. The kind of TV that I’d like to think is dying out slowly. Overproduced and vacuous, overplanned and clunky, hosted by dull, two-dimensional non-personalities stuck in inauthentic situations played as real. Pretend dressed up as genuine, in other words, on the premise that we are dimwits and will believe whatever we’re shown because, hey, it’s on TV, right? And TV is god, it never lies.
Basically, Martin & Olly is the kind of travel show that Homer Simpson would love.
I like things to succeed, and so I hope the series is significantly better than the clips the network stuck on YouTube. But I won’t be setting my TiVo for it.
Rating for Martin & Olly: Two magic carpets out of five.
TV Swami – he say NO.