Pretty much everything that I disliked about last week’s premiere of An Idiot Abroad was missing from this week. While before we had Karl as an explorer showing us these “exotic” people and places, here we had Karl the bumbler, getting through his tasks with a minimum of expended effort and a desire for comfort above new experiences. That doesn’t mean that the show shouldn’t have Karl interacting with other groups, but “Trans-Siberian Express” shows a much better way of doing it. Whether Karl is visiting Mongolia or China or just riding on a train, he’s the object of derision for both the camera and the people present. One of the best parts of this episode was Karl asking the people he’s been drafted to wrestle for why they’d want him, and they keep saying it would be an honor for him to do so while continually laughing. It’s obvious that what they really want is to see a Westerner get his ass kicked, and by the end of this I think even Karl is aware that he’s the object of mockery rather than the culture, not vice-versa.
That’s a thin line to walk in a documentary series like this, I’m well aware, and sometimes the show is bound to fail. This week, though, we had none of that from the moment Karl stepped onto the Trans-Siberian Express. It’s poignant that even while he’s stuck on the train for so many hours we never get footage of Karl looking out the windows. Obviously this could be something missing from the show’s editing, but I don’t really think so. The gorgeous landscapes passing by while he rants about whatever minor irritation is occuring at the moment is the show in a nutshell. There are these wonders in the world, An Idiot Abroad is continually saying, but you have to be willing to look outside or they’ll pass you by. To Karl, this is just a train ride. To anyone watching the show, it’s obvious why this would be on someone’s bucket list.
There are some experiences that I would think are just universally appealing to humans. One of them is flight, and I know that I’ve been jealous for years of a few friends who’ve gone up into zero gravity. Not so, with Karl, though. This is a man who’s given the choice as to whether to fly or not, and he chooses not. Weirdly he’s okay with being buried alive, which I’m guessing is something many would be unwilling to do, but I guess to each his own.
The episode ends on kind of an interesting and poignant note, too, with Karl visiting China’s infamous Dwarf City. There’s an aspect of this that’s obviously self-promotional. Ricky and Stephen want us to be reminded of Warwick Davis and their upcoming show Life’s Too Short. But more importantly, Karl asking Warwick what he thinks about Dwarf City is one of the few times Karl’s confronted with his own intolerance. Warwick tells him that he thinks the place is offensive and would never step foot there under any circumstances, and Karl just doesn’t understand why. However, he knows that he can’t argue with Warwick by saying that it’s not offensive.
“Trans-Siberian Express” ends on this note, and it’s another self-conscious moment in which An Idiot Abroad points out the issues of Karl’s tourism. With that, the show’s back to where it should be, acting as an HD travelogue mixed with humor and social commentary. Not only that, but it had a sort of unity to it, from the cab driver at the beginning to the conversation at the end, that made the episode almost poetic. As a standalone film, I consider it one of the better documentaries I’ve seen in a while.
•Karl stays on the toilet so long that he falls asleep?
•“I hope you do not value your life too much.” – The least reassuring words you can possibly hear from your taxi driver.
•“Why would I want to do something toally predictable? I’ll leave it to you English.” – The man has Karl pegged immediately. Speaking of which, he’s not so much like Karl as he is full-on Marvin the Andoird. I kind of wish to see a documentary about him.
•Whoa, Suzanne and Karl finally got married?
•Karl on sleeping on a train: “I feel like Anne Frank.” Probably one of the less offensive things he said that day.
•Somehow, Karl always finds a way of bringing monkeys into the conversation.
•So Karl’s story is just that he ate rotting donuts out of the trash and for some reason it made him feel bad? Cross-cutting this against people flying is some great filmmaking.
•Gotta admit that the human magnet guy has me wondering what’s going on here.
•I’m very happy that they subtitled Karl saying “innit.”