The cultured QI presenter finds that he has plenty to learn from his tour of the USA, writes Lisa Lavelle.
What can one say about Stephen Fry in the midst of Americans? He is, as ever, adorably English, and ceaselessly inquisitive. Fry drives around America in his black London cab, meeting and verbally dissecting the locals, who seem happy to answer his many questions and smile patiently when he imitates their accents.
The show, which is written by Fry himself, charts his journey through the United States. Highlights so far include Fry’s visit to the city of London in Kentucky, his driving around New York with a taxi driver from Queens and meeting with Jimmy Wales, the creator of Wikipedia.
Fry is not afraid to get stuck in: he descends into a cramped, claustrophobic coalmine with miners, clambers awkwardly down a ladder into a US navy submarine in Connecticut, sees North Carolina from a hot air balloon and very enthusiastically, gets stuck into a whisky tasting session in a distillery in Kentucky.
The show has a rather cheesy, touristy feel to it at times, but it’s the good kind of cheese; the kind of unaffected enthusiasm that has made Fry such a beloved figure. Examples of this include Fry stopping in Vermont to create his own Ben and Jerry’s flavour (Even Stevens), meeting a modern day witch in Salem and generally getting very excited about yellow taxis and clapboard houses.
The sightseeing is peppered with phrases like “Oh, I say” and “simply splendid”. The show does poke fun at Americans at times (at one point Fry remarks, “I got the impression all Americans liked to dress as chickens”), but the fact that Fry mocks himself in equal amounts for his spats and crumpets Englishness takes the sting out of it. It’s good-natured humour.
That being said, the show’s value does not lie only in its portrayal of a typically befuddled Englishman in the States. Fry talks to Americans, in his own witty, articulate manner, about their opinion on their own culture.
The programme is beautifully shot and Fry revels in the American scenery, even if he disapproves of some of their culture- he speaks out very strongly against casinos and legalised gambling. He continues to explore controversial issues when he travels to Boston and meets Professor Peter Gomes of Harvard, a black, gay, Republican, Baptist academic.
The show is informative, in an offhand way, but mainly it’s Stephen Fry soaking up little bits of culture. It’s very entertaining, and like everything Fry does, charming. For viewers familiar with Fry’s panel show QI (Quite Interesting), this show has the same air of casually imparted knowledge that’s more concerned with being interesting and engaging than comprehensive.
Each episode follows Fry through a different area of the United States. Overall, Fry seems sincerely delighted by the places he visits and this delight is contagious. The show will visit all 50 states during its run. Stephen Fry in America is the next best thing to going on holiday with Fry himself, and that should be recommendation enough.