‘The Reluctant Traveler’ Navigates the Globe With a Hesitant Eugene Levy
Series about seeing the world tend to be hosted by someone who actually wants to see other places. The immediate charm of Apple TV’s “The Reluctant Traveler” is that it’s a visually rich trip around the globe hosted by an actor who would prefer to stay home. Eugene Levy is best known as the star and co-creator of “Schitt’s Creek,” and he’s the sort of actor who wears his personality upfront. If his demeanor and style are that of a homebody, it’s because he is one. At the beginning of each episode he informs the audience that he’s travel-shy for personal reasons. He hates sudden climate changes and essentially despises being uncomfortable. He’s not a curmudgeon by any means, but he’s certainly no Anthony Bourdain. He must be the first host in TV history to sound tortured about visiting Venice.
This approach helps the show make famous destinations feel fresh, while also dropping Levy into unique spots some viewers might be inspired to book as a destination. The host’s reluctant attitude is then filmed with the irony of a great-looking show where each stopping point is presented in wide, stunning images. Levy himself is not out for survivalist thrills and a running theme in the series is that he finds lavish hotels or resorts to set up shop. In Maldives, he stays at a $7,000-a-night resort that claims to be able to get you whatever you need in 24 hours. Levy’s first journey this season happens in Finland, where he stays in a spectacular room overlooking picturesque forests. All of it is colored with Levy’s matter-of-fact attitude. When he arrives in Venice, he first wonders how to even walk around the place. He also asks funny questions, such as how much weight can the stilts that hold up the iconic city sustain.
A comparison that can be made with Bourdain is that Levy has a natural chemistry that also lets him connect in endearing ways with locals he meets. In Finland, he goes ice fishing and has genuine conversations about the country’s history, while refusing to indulge in diving into icy lakes as one cheerful woman does without a second thought. When landing in Costa Rica, Levy seems to genuinely love his hosts, who confess to being fans of “American Pie.” This is a very touching episode where the actor also connects personally to the country over his love of coffee, which remains a prime Costa Rican export. While exploring Utah, Levy faces his fear of flying during a helicopter ride that proves to be hilariously anxiety-inducing, despite the stunning views. And, lest anyone think Hollywood fame makes one a major traveler, Levy confesses he’s 75 and has never even visited this part of the United States. Horse riding proves to be a particular challenge because, like heights, Levy isn’t a horse person.
Since he is also an excellent comedic actor, Levy finds plenty of moments that play like memorable gags, such as placing his hand inside an elephant’s rectum while exploring South Africa. In this episode, Levy also stays in a unique hotel that is made of 17 train cars suspended over a river on a 1,000-foot bridge. Take a step outside of your room and you can view crocodiles swimming by, or hear lions roaring in the distance. If anything, this series will prove to be a useful guide for where to stay when traveling. Ironically, if the show has a weakness it is Levy constantly reminding us of everything he hates and fears. For a guy who found success in one of the most competitive, intense industries around, he sure is loaded with micro terrors, from a fear of being eaten alive to a dread of walking down empty train tracks. No doubt the actor truly fears these things, but it’s as if every episode needs to remind us he is enduring these stunning experiences, when it’s obvious he’s having a great time.
Yet, that is a small qualm with a show that is infinitely enjoyable as a new kind of travel series. Levy is not pretending to be a rugged adventurer and basks in the luxuries of the hotels where he gets to stay. In Maldives he visits the kitchen of the stunning, above water resort hosting him and gazes at stocks of rich cheeses. Along the way we also get plenty of insightful facts and figures, from the kind of coral found at Maldives’s shores to quirky historical facts about Venice. For the non-traveler, there is a sense of discovering these things along with Levy. Expert world connoisseurs will delight in his hesitant approach to landing in places he never seems to have cared for. As this endlessly entertaining actor breathes new air and tastes new sensations, “The Reluctant Traveler” becomes a fine option for a streaming escape.
“The Reluctant Traveler” season one begins streaming Feb. 24 on Apple TV+.