Ray Mears Goes Walkabout begins with a wonderfully ludicrous title sequence, in which honeyed shots of the presenter eating bits of bark and setting fire to twigs are decorated with printed imperatives, fading in and out on screen. "Journey," the words say, "Reveal... Encourage... Search... Inform... Learn... Understand... Engage... Enlighten." Dearie me, I thought, give us a break, Ray, just get on with it and bite the head off a witchetty grub. Still, it's not his fault, I imagine, but that of some bright spark on the production team, who presumably thought that quoting at length from the commissioning editor's latest pitching brief would be a good way of showing how zealously on-message the series is. Whoever came up with the idea, the result is ridiculous, conspicuously failing to grasp that Ray Mears is not loved by the public as a guru in khaki shorts but as a comedy act of delicious understatement. I suppose you could watch him in earnest he does nothing himself to prevent you but I would have serious doubts about your sense of humour if you never cracked a smile at all.
I couldn't entirely understand the rationale for this new series from Ray's introduction, though there was a worrying hint that he thinks of each programme as his take on an Aboriginal song line. I fear that at some point he will be taught how to paint a dot painting, which will release his considerable reservoirs of New Age piety about tribal lore and wisdom. For the first episode, though, he was following in the footsteps of a man who must be regarded as something of a villain by Australia's Aboriginal people: John McDouall Stuart, an early explorer who successfully crossed the continent from south to north, opening the centre up for the telegraph and trade. Where other explorers set out with the full paraphernalia of Victorian society (Burke and Wills even took a wooden dining table with them on their fatal expedition), Stuart travelled light and fast, letting the land draw out his route in a dot-to-dot of reliable waterholes.
Watching Mears tell this story isn't the funny bit. I was engaged. I was enlightened. And his enthusiasm for the landscape and its surprises is rather endearing. But it's the superfluous bubble of survival information that makes me giggle, offered in a way that suggests he's addressing members of an imminently departing expedition, rather than a random group of couch potatoes who want a bit of proxy adventure. At one point, he carefully took time out to give us a little tip about how to attach the shackle to your 4x4 when it gets bogged down in desert sand. He very nearly drew a diagram, so concerned was he that we would get the details right, and there was the same misplaced concern for our future safety when he showed us how to extract water from a desert eucalyptus with a large plastic bag, something that I venture not one of his devoted viewers will ever find themselves needing to do for real. Still, I guess information doesn't weigh anything at all, so there's no harm in tucking it away just in case.
Greek, a new series on BBC3, also showed us an explorer venturing into hostile terrain with very little in the way of equipment and resources. Rusty Cartwright is a freshman at Cyprus-Rhodes University, arriving to find that he was rooming with a born-again Southern Christian whose first act was to lay out his bible and tack a Confederate flag to the dorm wall. This wasn't what Rusty was hoping for from college life and the engineering course's freshers' party was a considerable letdown, too, a giant stack of Red Bull cans and people playing robot wars. So Rusty decided to go in for Rush week, where prospective members eyed up various frat houses in the hope of being invited to join. Rusty's socially ambitious sister is a member of Zeta Beta, an lite sorority, and is going out with the head of Omega Chi, the most desirable fraternity, which gave the otherwise hopelessly geeky Rusty an outside chance of a place. But romantic complications meant that he also had an in at Kappa Tau, which clearly regards the film Animal House as holy scripture.
It is, I suppose, what US TV executives like to call dramedy, though there isn't a lot to justify the second half of that ugly hybrid, since it is distinctly timid about sinking the knife into America's gilded youth. The tubby Christian redneck got a pounding because, presumably, the execs calculated his demographic wouldn't be watching anyway. But the pretty characters are treated much more gently, and we're clearly expected to care about their emotional dilemmas. It has the essential dynamic of Scrubs an innocent at sea in a society that requires a meticulous knowledge of the done thing but none of Scrubs' Indian-burn relish for making its characters yelp.Reuse content