Man vs Weird, Channel 4 - TV review: Horrible Histories star gives us an eye-popping travelogue
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 13 May 2014
The man in Man vs Weird is Simon Farnaby, perhaps the most recognisable face on Horrible Histories, the best children's TV programme for years, and also a star of Yonderland, Sky1's wonderful Monty Python-meets-Labyrinth fantasy adventure. Here, then, is a man who has brought much joy to us all and thoroughly deserves an all-expenses-paid jolly around the world, whether it results in an entertaining programme or not.
Fortunately, this two-part series has a little more to it than that. Farnaby's travels are motivated by his desire to meet people who claim to have superhuman powers and see these powers for himself. He's like Patrick Stewart in the X-Men movies. Last night's episode, "Force" focused on people who claim to be able to control electricity, magnetism and other non-specific "energies" and eastern Europe is the hot spot for this sort of thing, apparently, so that's where he went. What a shame none of these human magnets live in a luxury Caribbean beach resort, eh Simon?
His first human marvel was Ivan, a portly nine-year-old from rural Croatia, who claims to have magnetic powers. No sooner had Farnaby arrived in the family home than Ivan was proudly attaching spoons to his chest, followed by dumbbells, and whatever other metal objects were to hand. When someone reached for a plastic accordion, Farnaby could contain his polite scepticism no longer. "I can't tell whether it's magnetism or just clammy skin," he whispered to the cameramen.
Most of the people he met were similarly unconvincing, though their levels of showmanship and self-delusion varied. The one exception to this was human lightning-rod Biba Struja from Serbia. He said it was a lack of sweat glands that enabled him to conduct high voltage electricity through his body and he put on one hell of a show for Farnaby – but not without a visible toll on his health.
What emerged from Farnaby's travelogue was not so much a better understanding of unusual physical phenomena, as a picture of these deprived pockets of Europe where superstition and poverty meet to create a depressing kind of magic. Farnaby is too kind a man to deprive people in these circumstances of their source of income, local pride and wonder. Little Ivan may not have been a superhero as such, but he was a nice little boy. After the interview, he turned to Farnaby and asked, "Would you like to play chase and catch?" "Why not?" came the reply, and off they ran, into the Croatian sunset.
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