Stephen Fry In America
DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by John-Paul Davidson and Michael Waldman
Starring Stephen Fry, Morgan Freeman, Ted Turner, Jimmy Wales
Originally Released: November 17, 2008
Stephen Fry has become quite popular among the Internet Generation in the United States, and it was with great delight that I noticed Netflix had finally released his documentary miniseries, Stephen Fry In America, to their streaming catalog.
Known among many of our readers as the delicious and mischievous liberal media identity from V for Vendetta, I find it extremely agreeable that many of my American peers are beginning to discover a lot of Fry’s other work, from his comedy days with Hugh Laurie, to his current and ongoing panel series from the BBC called QI.
With the title of the documentary being self-explanatory, Fry journeys in a lightning zigzagging tour of all fifty of the United States of America – a lightning expedition that averages close to 10 states per episode. For the American viewer, the film acts as an amusing view of a stranger in a strange land – the fish-out-of-water element plays out very well, as you see his first experience with a college football game, or firing the same weapon used by Dirty Harry.
For the foreign viewer, the journey across the States is a deeper look into America outside of the known, popular, and often overused stereotypical imagery associated with the USA. Filmed in an era when international views of America were at an all-time low because political decisions/actions, Stephen Fry gives viewers from his home country and elsewhere a deeper and meaningful look into the heart of the nation – a glance at the people and the culture that make up this huge nation.
For me, on the other hand, I saw in Fry the same reactions I felt and had upon moving to the United States from Australia. Between the USA, the UK, and Australia, our westernized cultures are so closely related, that we often forget or overlook the unique differences between them, which are so glaringly obvious when you move from one continent to another. With Stephen Fry In America, I felt an element of nostalgia, remembering being asked some of the similar questions asked of Fry, or the look in his eyes as they take in an incredible view.
While Stephen Fry looks at the unique qualities and landscapes of each state (except Idaho, more on that in a bit), he also examines the individual cultures of each region – the music and the food and more – beginning in New England, down into the true South, and across into the West as he crosses the Great Plains and heads towards the Pacific Coast.
And Stephen doesn’t hold back from his criticisms in very much his style. From his amusing anecdotes of Mount Rushmore to grimacing to the impromptu peace/love musical performance by a hippie couple living underground in a decommissioned nuclear launch site, Fry is relatively open when expressing his reactions and thoughts of his encounters during his trip. He is far more openly critical of Miami, Florida than any other place he travels to, but these criticisms he expresses are few and far between.
My biggest criticism of the series is the limiting scope allowed, as you try to squeeze 50 states into 6 episodes, there are many things that are overlooked or missed outright as he journeys along his tour. His look into Idaho is quite literally a matter of sentences, with a couple of scenes of him driving through the state, with nothing much to say or show. It’s the time factor that crushes the quality of the series, which would have benefited from several more episodes to allow Fry examine more on his journey. I’m told there is to be a follow-up to the series, which may act as a welcome expansion to what he began – but this specific series is simply a snapshot.
Very much like Stephen Fry, the man does manage to delve into areas of his passion at times, looking into the wonder of language, the value of literature, and the importance of art during his travels. He has discussions with people such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, and the enigmatic Morgan Freeman (whose fleeting appearance had me wanting to view more of his conversation with Fry), and the eccentric Ted Turner.
I’m quite a fan of Stephen Fry, so viewing this documentary series was enjoyable as much as it was stimulating – I often find myself wanting to learn more, research more, read more, and discover more when he hosts shows that look eagerly upon that which is, appropriately, quite interesting. The series is limited in its length, but is an enjoyable romp across the 50.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5