Vice's video series is better than we expected and a clear sign of the Bourdain-ization of travel video.
In December, Vice rolled out the first installment of its new Vice City Guide travel series, which will eventually cover New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.
The first guide in the series is a look at New York City. But since this is Vice, by “New York City” we mean “Brooklyn.”
The guides are a mix of local expert suggestions, an interactive Google Map, more traditional guidebook suggestions, and the most interesting part, a video series called Streets by Vice.
The premise of the new video series is simple: “We pick one American city and try to tell its story through the history of one single street,” as the host Krishna Andavolu explains in a voiceover. The one city/one street approach gives the series a set of limitations that both forces it to tell a good story and at the same time avoids the “best of” approach that makes much of travel television look the same. In Streets by Vice there are no landmarks or tourist haunts, just locals doing local things like skating, eating, and kicking off Shabbat.
Another way it doesn’t look the same is the diverse range of on-screen talent and interview subjects. Along with Vice’s obsession with youth culture comes a more genuine embrace of diversity, from its Indian-American host to a mixed group of twenty-something female skateboarders to the Hasidic Jews of Bedford Avenue. It’s a refreshing break from the norm in travel media in the U.S.
Andavolu takes viewers along Bedford Avenue, north south through Brooklyn. Starting at KCDC skate shop in Williamsburg, the host promises a tour of the “spiritual home of gentrification,” which is a fair way to describe the borough these days. Keeping up with the tourism-free approach to the show, he discusses urban planning issues and secondary displacement with rapper Manolo Rose in Bedford–Stuyvesant, before sitting down for dinner with Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, who somewhat gleefully share that “people are moving in with beards, but not for Hasidic purposes.”
There’s also a segment about Hurricane Sandy and the devastation and rebuilding around Sheepshead Bay, as well as a stop in at the closest thing to a tourist attraction, Peter Luger Steakhouse. It’s a quick, surgical look at one part of one neighborhood that tells a good story about New York City right now, both to visitors and to locals.
Vice’s earliest attempt at travel content in the summer of 2014 came off as a half-baked TripAdvisor for trust-funders, but the video series series takes big strides forward in quality and tone, dropping the rebel poseur approach for an Anthony Bourdain-lite look at the city and a real desire to tell a story.
But being Vice, it still can’t avoid trying to be “young.” The online city guides lack the sophistication of Streets by Vice, and quickly reverts to wannabe edgy millennial default position.
In the text of the New York City guide its writers can’t make it four paragraphs before dropping an F-bomb, and in the ninth graph advocates DIY graffiti by tourists in Williamsburg: “Go ahead, tag something. Tell the cops we said it was chill.”
Because if there’s someone locals love more than a tourist it’s a tourist who is also a vandal.
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