Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stephen Fry in America, Episode Six: Pacific

Stephen Fry in America
Episode 6, Pacific
The original air date for this episode on BBC One was November 16, 2008.

All good things must come to and end and, alas, Stephen Fry in America is no exception.  We've covered thousands of miles and 45 states with our fearless host in his little black London cab.  In this episode, we visit the last five states in the Union.

We start in San Fransisco, California.  Trolley cars, hills, the Painted Ladies and Chinatown.  Stephen tours Chinatown and sees fortune cookies being made and gets to taste a freshly made and still hot chocolate cookie.  He heads to Nob Hill to speak with Jonathan Ive, design guru for Apple Computers.  As well all know, Stephen is a huge fan of Apple products.  Stephen drives across the famous Golden Gate Bridge on his way to Mendocino County to ride with Sheriff Tom Ullman who is on the front line of the "weed growing" in California.  Stephen attends a quick firearms class in preparation for the bust he is getting ready to attend with the officers.  He gets to shoot a "Dirty Harry" magnum.  It's clear to see that Stephen isn't completely comfortable with firearms from his handling of the gun.  Stephen is fitted with a bulletproof vest and we set off for the bust.  The cameras go inside to see what the police have taken in the bust.  Sheriff Ullman tells Stephen that marijuana sells for roughly $2,500-3,000 a pound and each plant can produce two pounds.  The grow rooms are full of marijuana plants.  Thousands upon thousands of possible dollars of weed.  Stephen leaves the drugs and heads for Humboldt University to a cafe where there is an all-female amateur performer night. 

In the state of Oregon we arrive at the Rogue River forest to track down an endangered red tree vole.  Two activists are trying to find some red tree voles so they can help save the trees in the forest.  If there are red tree voles, the trees will be protected as well as the voles.  A red tree vole nest is found much to the happiness of Nate and Laura and Stephen.  Next, we move on to speak with Matt Johnson to talk about a creature some believe is real and others believe is fake:  Bigfoot.  Johnson describes an encounter he and his family had with a Bigfoot.  He describes it as a very tall hairy primate that walks up right like a human being. 

In Seattle, Washington at Pike Place Market Stephen meets Christopf Snell.  They tour the Pike Place Market and Stephen samples some of the foods they sell there and enjoys some of the performances.  He heads to a marina to visit with some sea lions.  He meets Barney who gets a tooth brushing and does some tricks for the camera then we get to see some very playful sea otters having dinner. 

Unfortunately, we must leave the adorable little black cab behind as there is no room for it to go along to the last two states we visit. 

Stephen lands at Kodiak Island, Alaska, the second biggest island in the United States.  Stephen gives us a brief history of the state and takes us to see some of the Russian influence that still remains in Alaska.  He visits a Russian Orthodox mission in Kodiak.  Stephen and Lee Robinson, a local fisherman, go out onto the water to see sea otters in the wild.  Stephen and Lee do a little fishing and Stephen catches and Irish Lord fish.  It's a horrendously ugly fish and it ends up going back into the waters.  Stephen takes to the air again and heads to Barrow to visit with the Inuit peoples who live there.  He goes out on a whaling mission with the natives who are allowed by law to capture 22 whales per year.  Henry, the whaling captain, tells Stephen that he always says "no" to the oil companies because the waters is their food.  If they are contaminated they will not be able to eat.  The waters are too choppy to harvest a whale for now so the whalers come in and put away their equipment. 

The final stop in our journey is the state of Hawaii.  Stephen walks along Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu with a rea-life Magnum P.I., Terry Pennington, a private investigator.  They talk about the dark side of Hawaii; the vices and homelessness.  Stephen then moves on to the other side of the island, the North Shore where he is going to swim with sharks.  He gets into the shark cage and is lowered into the water.  Immediately, we can see sharks all around the cage.  They're curious about Stephen.  He finds the experience to not be frightening at all, but instead beautiful.  On to Kauai, Stephen meets with Titus Kinimaka for a little ukulele music and a  walk around Kauai to see some of the beautiful sights.  He goes with Titus to his home for a traditional celebration.  The Big Island is where we go to to visit the Keck Observatory.  We then go for a flight over the lava fields that form new land. 

It's been a long, colorful and interesting journey.  We've seen sights that were beautiful, grim, depressing and inspiring.  I think it is fantastic that Stephen took us not just to the most popular US tourist attractions but to places off the beaten path.  Stephen has taken us places the average traveler wouldn't get to see.  He has shown us the good and bad that the United States has to offer. 

Some Americans might argue that Mr. Fry has shown only the dark side of the United States.  That he deliberately focused on the crime, homelessness and seedy characters.  America has its flaws.  But, for every flaw you also have something good.  For the crime you have the majestic beauty of Monument Valley.  For the homelessness, you have Anita Singleton-Prather helping preserve the Gullah culture for future generations.  For the seedy characters you have the working class folks in Maine, West Virginia and every other state in the Union working hard to make life better not only for themselves but for their communities.

Seeing something through rose-colored glasses isn't really seeing it.  In Stephen Fry in America, those glasses came off. 

I am thoroughly convinced that when, and if, the announced sequel More Fry in America airs on the BBC it will be just as entertaining and interesting as its predecessor.


  1. I enjoyed this series even though it showcased some of the lesser known dark spots of the United States. I appreciate when programs hold back the sugar coating and I think in this case it made the country a more honest and believable place. Great series!

  2. It was very interesting to finally see a documentary on the United States that focused on more than just the typical tourist attractions. I was very pleased to see more than the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Yellowstone National Park. Many kudos to Fry and his crew for taking us well off the beaten path! It was a great series, I agree! :)