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I had really high hopes for The Travel Channel‘s 1000 Places to See Before You Die. I’m not sure why. Before its debut, all I knew about it was the nifty commercials featuring a young guy or girl visiting one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks and pushing a red map marker pin into the ground in front of it. “Only 999 more to go,” the narrator would chime in. But then, I’m a sucker for any slickly produced TV commercial for a new travel show.
I don’t mean to unfairly judge the couple, the Ulles, on this show – they seem nice enough. However, they’ve wandered into the public eye and to me that makes them and the show fair game for criticism. To be fair, I recognize that any faults in the show are those of the producers. And right upfront, let me say that I personally don’t have a commanding presence for video or for speaking off the cuff and on my feet. Let’s just say that I’m better suited for blogging where I have time to collect my thoughts into something resembling coherent sentences. But I wasn’t picked to “host” a travel show; they were.
I’ve watched a couple episodes so far and the best way I can sum it up is by saying that they just don’t have it. “It.” You know: “it”. Globetrekker’s Ian Wright has “it”. Tony Bourdain has “it”. Granted they’re both professional hosts with years of TV and media experience. But even previously unknown-to-TV Man vs. Wild‘s Bear Grylls has “it” too. The Travel Channel couldn’t find just two more people with his onscreen presence and charisma?
One of the most glaring problems is the distinct lack of chemistry between the Ulles. There’s no sense the two of them are really enjoying the trip together. At times, it’s awkward. I mean painfully so. Watching them in Alaska, sipping wine picnic-style on the side of a mountain was like watching the Clinton’s play the ‘happily married couple’ bit for the press core.
There’s also the odd “Good job!” they give each other every time they try something new. I’ve never said this to a significant other and frankly it’s a bit condescending. It reminds me of a kindergarten teacher giving kudos to a six year old student who’s just finished his first coloring book without straying too far outside the lines.
The husband is well-spoken enough and better able to communicate his reactions to their new experiences. The wife, on the other hand, not so much. It’s as though the show’s producers are paying her based on how many ways she can work “This isn’t what I expected.” into a single forty-four minute television appearance. Some of her worst throwaway lines spawn from the Alaska episode. While on a canoe trip through glacier-riddled waters:
Because you know how cold that water is … it’s like maybe 32-35 degrees … and you see ice all around you. And I definitely didn’t want to fall out of the boat.
I think we can file that away in the goes without saying folder. And during a helicopter tour above glacier-riddled waters:
I don’t think I had any idea how diverse Alaska was gonna be. The mountains are very, very green. And then it’s like dark, craggy … rocks. And then it’s like white, beautiful glacier. And then it’s … blue water. … I don’t know what I expected.
I’m not sure what she expected either. Yes, the rocks in Alaska are dark and craggy. And the water is blue. It’s also wet. And watery. Again, she’s not a professional travel host; but it makes for yawn-inducing television nevertheless.
When the couple isn’t on camera, the show runs like standard Travel Channel fare: wide b-roll shots of grand landscapes and slow 360 degree visual tours of hotels and restaurants are voiced-over by an excitable and impeccably well-voiced narrator. I suppose the show’s best moments are when the Ulles aren’t on camera.
To sum up: I like the concept and substance of the show. Hell, what’s not to like? It’s about travel! But there’s nothing fresh or groundbreaking here. The presentation is pretty rough around the edges and I’m not sure this lucky couple has the charisma or onscreen presence to give those edges the polish they need.