We already know you’re going to spend most of this holiday season streaming travel shows. How else will you spend your delay at the airport, dodge political fights at the family table, and generally recuperate from a horrific 2016? Since it’s inevitable, here are the travel shows we think are worth bingeing.
The Amazing Race
This senior citizen of a show will enter its 29th season in the spring and it’s still great entertainment. Somehow, against all odds, it thrives on the absolute worst parts of travel: the exhausting logistics of sprinting from point A to point B under threat of deportation while hemorrhaging money, burdened with a giant backpack, probably illiterate in the local language. Yet there’s something wonderful about watching them dash through Rio in peak afternoon heat, knowing you’ll probably never have to do that yourself. Sort of like watching The Biggest Loser while eating red velvet cupcakes on the couch.
Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse
We really wanted to not like this series, which seems to follow the same food/travel series formula as so many others do, and features the larger-than-life chef Emeril Lagasse. Yes, he of the “bam!” fame. But to be honest, what this Amazon Original smartly does is let Emeril take a bit of a backseat. In this show, Lagasse is an explorer, much like the viewer, and it really helps that he has a lot of knowledgeable chef friends who can help him navigate cities all around the world.
One of the best episodes? When Lagasse travels to Seoul with rising chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food fame. They not only break bread with a Buddhist monk but even join forces together in the kitchen to teach an unofficial Mission Chinese Food knockoff how to do Bowien and Lagasse’s food right. The show, like most food travel shows, will make you hungry/hangry, not only giving you a better appreciation for the food, but for the people Lagasse encounters along the way.
For anyone interested in the business of travel — and food and beverage certainly falls therein — Bar Rescue will be good clean schadenfreude. Everyone looks at their favorite bar and thinks, I could totally do that, and better! Just rent a space and drink heavily in it with other people who pay you… Cue host Jon Taffer, who storms into failing, misguided bars across the country, often in hot spots like Las Vegas and New Orleans, and after damning the bar’s intoxicated management, he angrily gives them a makeover. He analyzes the local economy and potential market, and incorporates the city’s personality and local neighborhood flavor into his master plan. Naturally, many of the bars go on to shutter for good.
An Idiot Abroad
If you haven’t at least sampled this show, it’s high time, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their provincial and simple-minded friend Karl Pilkington on complex, far-flung, expensive trips and force him to be as uncomfortable as possible, both physically and culturally. On one hand, it’s frustrating to see Karl repeatedly fail to appreciate other cultures, but on the other, he does deliver good comedy. Let’s put it this way — if you don’t feel bad laughing at the contestants on Amazing Race or Bar Rescue, you won’t feel bad about laughing at Karl either.
Underground BBQ Challenge
This show only lasted one season, but it’s an engaging take on the standard eat-things-in-various-locations show. The host, chef G. Garvin, explores different American cities like St. Louis that aren’t frequently the subject of flashy travel specials, and he finds local barbecuers to spontaneously create a multi-course meal inspired by their neighborhood, to be judged by Garvin with a prize of $10,000. Most of the featured cities are longtime barbecue meccas, but not all (I’m looking at you northerners, Brooklyn and Detroit), and it’s a reminder that regional barbecue has become serious business in the U.S.
Girl Eat World
Kamini Pather, a South African chef and food blogger with Indian roots, travels quite far and wide, searching for the food that characterizes a city like Johannesburg or Tokyo. But instead of approaching the task with the macho hubris of Anthony Bourdain, she arrives with an open mind and takes the viewer along for an educational ride. It also serves as a solid primer on a city you’ve never visited, but might like to explore.