Did we like it?
Rather like being strapped into a primed electric chair, while a debauched lord tucks into a banquet in front of you, firing off sketchy platitudes about how delicious the food is neglectful of whether you’re interested or not in his gluttonous indulgence.
What was good about it?
• For a series about a novel odyssey, it’s bizarre that the most engaging episode was when Charley took his wife and children to his mum and dad’s in County Wicklow, Ireland. Charley’s dad is film director John Boorman, who made Deliverance and The Emerald Forest (starring Charley), and father and son reminisced. He also entertained his daughters by acting like the typical embarrassing dad by leaping into the river in just his Y-fronts.
• Charley also spoke enthusiastically about his passion for motorbikes (a subject that was deathly dull elsewhere), and how he used to drive for hours about the wilderness surroundings. And the reason that this chapter was so captivating was because Charley could express a depth to his childhood and was able to passionately convey this to the viewer, but elsewhere – either through his disinterest or absence of knowledge – he failed to achieve.
• The counter that clocks up the various methods of transport Charley employs to reach Sydney was a welcome and indispensable innovation.
What was bad about it?
• Charley’s main flaw as a guide is that he talks as if he’s just been released from a dungeon where he’s been kept out of the sunlight for the past 20 years. He approaches everything as though witnessing a miracle of Jesus.
• It’s praiseworthy to accentuate events with significance but this practice soon palls when applied to everything from the mundane operations of a trawler – “It?s so cool!” – hurtling along the Isle of Man TT course – “This is incredible!” – to a motoring museum in Coventry – “What a place!” – and being greeted by hundreds of kindred spirits at the Ace Cafe – “It was wonderful!”.
• Unlike his journey home, none of the other places or people Charley encountered emitted quite the same allure, and this was because of Charley’s lack of curiosity; either that or all the profound moments were expunged as part of the editorial policy.
• Charley “interviewed” two greats of the Isle of Man TT, but this was truncated to a snatched few words, while a rather melodramatic account of a crash by a biker called Milky was given undeserved prominence.
• And Charley’s chat with a member of the RNLI was shoved aside by the necessity of watching Charley aboard the lifeboat as it launched, colouring the occasion with such trademark insights as “This is great. This is fantastic. It?s going to be really good fun!”
• The title, especially the fact that Charley’s name is in it. Was it called Ewan McGregor?s Long Way Round? Of course not? We’ve come to the conclusion that the less famous someone is, the greater the likelihood of their name appearing in the title because their obscure face alone isn’t famous enough to trigger recognition from the semi-literate viewer who needs the affirmation that the person is famous by spurious notion of an authored appellation.
• Despite Charley’s genuine concerns for the oppressed peoples of Tibet, there was a nagging doubt that the thing that most annoyed him about the unrest was that he would have to circumnavigate the country, and the same could be said of the civil war in Afghanistan, even though he did state that he wanted to visit the troops.
• Although during the first episode, Charley appeared to be taking far too many different journeys by too many different modes of transport, and by the time he was chugging from Brighton to Dover in an old Land Rover (when he could have driven there from London in his bright red bus instead of taking a detour elsewhere) it began to get a little tedious.
• One reality show device of relieving tedium was present – the suspiciously dramatic incident to give haste to a snail’s pace documentary. Charley and his crew had to race across Liverpool to catch their train, which they managed with just seconds to spare, apparently. While their voyage across the English Channel in a Laser boat (the same boat in which Ben Ainslie won gold in Beijing) was preceded by Charley’s promise/ worry of, “How we’re going to get across the Channel without capsizing I don’t know”, and followed shortly after by a caption insisting that Charley and friends were now alone, and then we watched the vessel capsize, a scene of tragedy and catastrophe shot from about 20 metres away. This is the cliffhanger for the next episode.