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“Spain… On the Road Again” – Why I Don’t Like the Show

So, I don’t know if anyone is watching the new PBS program, “Spain… On the Road Again,” but although I couldn’t make it through an entire episode I thought I’d give it a mention here. For one thing, the show’s getting a crazy amount of press (especially for a PBS special that doesn’t have the name Ken Burns attached to it), and that’s despite it having some serious drawbacks.

The series purports to follow food icons Mario Batali and Mark Bittman, along with actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols (a Spanish star), on a foodie trip around Spain. As Batali explains in the opener of the first episode, he and Bittman had planned this trip (and the show) for just the two of them, but when he mentioned it to his “buddy” Paltrow she said she wanted to come along. Facing the possibility of having only one gorgeous female sidekick for the two less-than-gorgeous men involved, someone decided to harness Bassols into coming along as well.

Now, the premise of the show – four people road-tripping around Spain in search of good food – has all the promise in the world of being interesting, beautifully shot, and mouth-watering. But from the get-go, the show has problems. And the problems are such that for me, someone who doesn’t have a ton of time to spend in front of the television anyway and doesn’t feel like wasting any of that time on something that annoys me, it just wasn’t worth it to sit through even the entire first episode. Here are the main things that bugged me:

  • The show is, if I’m not mistaken, largely funded by Spain’s tourism department. While there’s nothing wrong with a country getting into the advertising act in the form of a TV show rather than a full-page spread in a magazine, the end result in this case means a whole lot of really forced and contrived scenes that probably didn’t need to be so contrived. If a place is as glorious as Spain is, why does it feel so forced?
  • I like Mark Bittman, but in this program he seems like a hapless tag-along to the overly mouthy Batali (who I also like). These guys might be friends in real life, but their on-screen relationship isn’t any fun to watch – which shows that just because people are interesting on their own doesn’t mean they’ll be doubly interesting if you put them together.
  • I’m not sure why, but for many of the scenes they decided that instead of putting all four of the travelers together, they’d film them separately in pairs. And it’s almost always the same pairs – Batali/Paltrow and Bittman/Bassols. They’re on a friendly road trip, right? One that was originally planned by Batali and Bittman, right? So why split them up into two convertibles to get around? I’m pretty sure Spain’s rental car agencies have four-person automobiles that would have been able to get everyone into one vehicle.

I’m not the only one with issues about this show. Miss Expatria lists the things that annoy her (along with several things she liked about the show), and some of the people I read on Twitter also were unhappy with it. It’s really a question of the potential the show had for being great, and how it falls short of that in many respects that’s so frustrating. Again, if the destination you’re trying to promote isn’t a place that people want to go, then you’ll have to force the issue and make it seem appealing. That’s not the case with Spain, so the contrived nature of the program just begs the question – really, is it that hard to make a great TV program about a road trip in Spain?

What do you think? Are you watching the show? Do you like it? Hate it? Does it make you want to go to Spain?