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Review: Michael Palin's New Europe

Posted on September 18, 2007 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Michael Palin's New Europe

In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, BBC1
In the US: Not yet acquired

I feel sorry for Mrs Palin. Isn't her husband ever home? He's always off globe-trotting somewhere. It doesn't seem fair on the poor woman. But then, maybe she gets a share of the proceeds from the inevitable coffee table book from each series.

Now Michael Palin's off trotting round Eastern Europe. It's a bit of a whistlestop tour: Sunday's episode took in four - or was it five? - countries in under an hour. But if you're used to the Palin formula, it's moderately entertaining, albeit with diminished returns from previous series.

In said series, including Around the World In 80 Days, there was something of a point to the trip and whomever Palin met, it was a near-random encounter. Now, he's no different from any other holiday presenter, chuntering around the world at his leisure and in various nice hotels, happening to meet up with interesting local natives ?��Ǩ��� the meeting having been pre-arranged weeks previously after intensive efforts by a hand-picked team of researchers.

So New Europe feels a bit like a holiday programme, rather than a documentary or “personal journey”, although one that spends its entire time talking about a certain recent Balkans conflict. Admittedly, it was John Cleese, not Palin, that coined the catchphrase, “Don't mention the war”, but it's one that Palin could have thought about before spending his allotted ten minutes in each country talking about genocide with everyone he meets. Even when he visits Belgrade* to talk to members of its clubbing scene, he only wants to know about how the next generation feels about the conflict during which they grew up.

Yes, we do get a good idea of how each country's inhabitants recall that war, but that's all we really end up finding out about most of the places visited, other than a bit about architecture and a random recent ruler. It's a shame, really, because there's beautiful scenery and interesting people - as well as interesting scenery and beautiful people - on Palin's route.

Nevertheless, it's all gently entertaining. Palin's running out of funny things to say, so he's more of a genial conversationalist instead of a source of a thousand laughs. His guests may be hand-picked by researchers, but it's a good selection, all of whom can speak loquaciously and in English on their allotted subjects.

It's just a shame we won't find out more about the countries in question until we buy that coffee table adornment. Just as programmes about Africa only talk about misery and corruption, with the tabloids only acquainting us with Polish plumbers and East European gangsters, I have a feeling that Palin's programme is going to be one of a new wave that deals only with East Europe's potential for holidays and conflict.

Worth watching, if only because there aren't that many semi-balanced programmes on Eastern Europe, but it's still worryingly close to one of Marty Feldman's coach tours:

* Or was it Sarajevo? I only watched it this morning and I've already forgotten, such was the brevity of the stay in each place

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