Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stephen Fry in America, Episode One: The New World, New England

Yeah, I've gotten a tad side-tracked and it's taken me longer than I intended to get this up.  I know I promised this a while back, so, after too-long of a wait, here it finally is.  Mr. Fry packs so much into a single hour that it would take several pages to give you every single detail so I'm just going to be giving you a hit-and-miss review of all the places he goes and all the things he sees.

Stephen Fry in America
Episode One, New World, New England
The original air date for this episode on BBC One was October 12, 2008

In this, the beginning of Stephen Fry in America our fearless hero takes us on a guided tour of the eastern United States.  The eastern portion of the United States is best known for its picturesque views, stunning fall colors, never-sleeping big cities and colorful residents.  We see all of these things in this episode, plus.

The first stop on our journey is the state of Maine.  Maine is the northernmost, easternmost state in the continental United States.  It is widely known as the home of author Stephen King and setting for the large majority of his writings, moose and as one of the best places, if not the best place, in the United States to go for fresh seafood.  Following the latter, Stephen takes us to the city of Eastport where he goes lobster fishing with a local family of commercial fishermen.  Stephen goes out on the boat with them and, then once back on land, he learns how to "put a lobster to sleep" before enjoying a fresh lobster dinner.

Next, we move on to the state of New Hampshire.  New Hampshire must come in second only to Massachusetts in terms of political importance to the United States.  If it weren't for the prominence of Massachusetts' Kennedy family it would probably come in first place.  Stephen's visit to New Hampshire focuses on a political rally for Mitt Romney.  He attends a house party at the home of one of Romney's supporters and discusses the political atmosphere and process in the United States.  Then, he moves on to something much more interesting and relaxing than politics. (And, really, isn't just about anything more relaxing and interesting than politics?)  Stephen visits the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods and takes a train to the top of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States.  It is also the windiest place on the planet.  A record of 231mph was set on April 12, 1934.

Next, Stephen moves on to Vermont where he visits Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.  Ben & Jerry's is one of the most popular brands of ice cream in the United States.  They specialize in unique flavors that have even more unique names.  Some of their popular flavors are Cherry Garcia, a cherry flavored ice cream named after Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia and Chunky Monkey, a banana flavored ice cream.  Stephen tries his hand at creating his very own ice cream flavor.  He mixes vanilla ice cream with candy bits and walnuts and a blend of chocolate and the flavor is ultimately named "Even Stephen".  You know, I wouldn't mind stocking my freezer with a pint or two of "Even Stephen"!

But, unfortunately, we cannot stay with Ben & Jerry forever so we move on to New York state.  Of course the most famous thing about New York state is New York City but, for now, we're not going there.  We are in the Adirondack Mountains where we visit a beautiful cabin built by Marjorie Merriweather Post, Topridge.  After a brief tour of the luxurious cabin, Stephen on to his next activity in New York state:  hunting white tailed deer.  Now, I've really got to say here that I find deer hunting to be an absolutely repulsive sport so I developed an entirely new love for Stephen when he asked the hunters if they could shoot the deer with the cameras instead of guns.  While Stephen is a meat eater, he doesn't want to see an animal actually being harmed.  When you consider the other rituals the hunters go through to track their prize (such as smearing themselves with deer poo and not washing their hunting clothes for the entirety of hunting season) and that deer hunting can be long hours of simply sitting and waiting I can imagine Stephen was mighty happy to be moving on from his New York hunting party to his next destination.  (I know I would have been!)

Next, we enter the state of Massachusetts.  Massachusetts is the home to the famed Kennedy family of politicians (President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy) as well as home to famed ivy league university Harvard.  Stephen attends a tea party in Boston at Harvard University being hosted by Professor of Divinity Peter Gomes.  He discusses the history Harvard University as well as a brief history of American social attitudes.  Another thing that the state of Massachusetts is famous for is witches.  And not the witches of Hollywood like you see on Charmed or Sabrina the Teenaged Witch but real people who practice witchcraft as their religion.  Stephen stops by Salem, Massachusetts and speaks with Laurie Cabot in her shop about her religion.  He even gets to attend a Sowain (Samhain) celebration, or a witches New Year celebration. 

After a night of celebrating with witches in Salem, Massachusetts, Stephen moves on to Connecticut where he starts off by sailing on an America's Cup yacht, The Weatherly, before heading to the United States Navy submarine yard where he tours a submarine and gets to raise the periscope and look through it much to his pleasure.  He has a seat in the officers mess and speaks with his tour guide about daily life on the submarine.  He gets a view of the torpedo room and gets to see an actual Tomahawk missile.

Next, we move to the tiny state of Rhode Island and the city of Newport.  Stephen shows us a few of the stately "cottages" built there by the wealthiest of Americans at the start of the twentieth century.  He visits one of the cottages where author Edith Wharton used to live.  He speaks with one of her friends about life at the cottage and about attending the wedding of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier.

Back we head to the state of New York, but this time, we go to the Big Apple, New York City.  There, Stephen meets up with a gentleman who drives a cab for a living and is given a small tour of Manhattan where he learns about the "class cleansing" in New York City and how the cabbie judges who he will and won't pick up.  John the cabbie takes him to what Stephen calls a "Goodfellas social club".  There, he meets a group of gentlemen who are true New Yorkers through and through.  From their sense of humor to their accent they are pure New Yorkers.  They talk to Stephen about everything from running numbers to why there are bullet holes (!!) in the walls of the club to one of them having the pleasure of working with Robert DeNiro.  Before leaving New York City, Stephen drives ex-Police front man Sting around for a bit while they discuss life in the Big Apple.

On to New Jersey!  No Jersey Shore antics on this visit!  No, Stephen takes us to Atlantic City.  Atlantic City is one of the most famous gambling meccas in the United States; right up there with Las Vegas.  Stephen tries his hand dealing blackjack in a casino.  He doesn't do a bad job but I really do think it's best he keep his day job.

Next, he crosses the Delaware River by ferry.  Once on land and in his little black cab Stephen recites the old song Delaware by Perry Como.

Our next state is Maryland.  However, we're just passing through here.  Nothing to see here, gentlemen.  Move along, please!!

And we hit Washington D.C.  Washington D.C. isn't a state but, by all American standards, it could be.  Washington D.C. is where all American laws, both good and bad, are made and American politicians, both good and bad, get together to make those laws.  It is a city that is often ripe with scandal, corruption and dirty politics.  But we don't see any of that on this visit with Stephen, thankfully.  Instead, he sits down for a brief conversation with the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales then heads off for a show at a local comedy club, Capitol Steps.  Stephen talks politics and show business over lunch with two of the performers from the club before heading off to the Willard International Hotel.

The final leg of our journey in episode one is the state of Pennsylvania.  Stephen visits the city of Gettysburg where he views the Civil War battlefield where more than 46,000 and 51,000 men and boys were killed in the battle fought there from July 1 to July 3, 1863.

The next installment of Stephen Fry in America takes us to the Deep South where he visits states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Florida and Alabama.

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