Eugene Levy, the brilliant star and co-creator of “Schitt’s Creek,” has taken the money and power from that massive show and hit the road with Apple TV’s comedy/travel program “The Reluctant Traveler.” Over eight half-hour episodes, Levy journeys around the world, basing himself in extremely extravagant, unique, four-figures-a-night hotels that are fascinating in their own right but then using those locations to explore new experiences, people, and cultures. The “Reluctant” part of the title can be a bit overplayed—every episode opens with Levy talking about his fears of basically everything outside of his house—because what comes across most in this show is how much Levy is a social creature, someone interested in how other people tick. He comes to life most in personal encounters, whether it’s the gondolier passing down his work experience to his son or living alongside active wildlife in South Africa. The reluctancy feels increasingly forced as the season goes along. I’m not saying I don’t believe Eugene Levy when he says that he doesn’t like water, only that the set-up for each episode gets less and less intriguing as this promising travel show unfolds.
“A great philosopher once said, ‘the world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page.’ Well, I’ve got to say I’ve read a few pages and I’m not crazy about the book.” That’s the opening line of every episode of “The Reluctant Traveler,” which sends the Christopher Guest alum on his own to wildly difficult locations around the world. One of the charms of the show is the itinerary that provides very different experiences, from the jungles of Costa Rica to the deserts of Utah to the waves of the Maldives. Travelogues often become repetitive through similar destinations, usually defined by the history of the region and its cuisine. Levy’s approach is experiential more than educational. We watch him hesitantly arrive in some of the most unique lodging options on the planet—the $7,000-a-night resort in the Maldives boasts an ability to get every guest anything they want in 24 hours or less from around the world—and then the episode comes to life as he leaves the safety of the concierge desk.
The series opens in Finland, Lapland to be precise, where Levy finds people who are surprisingly cheery given the frigid climate. If there’s a theme in the eight episodes of the first season, it’s finding people with connections to where they live instead of just using it as a backdrop. Levy seems invigorated by people who not only live off the grid but live with a connection to their ancestors and the natural world around them. He goes to a resort in Costa Rica that's inside an active jungle and another in the Maldives that brings new meaning to the phrase “ocean view.” There are times when it feels like the city is almost too much for one half-hour episode—you barely scratch the surface of a place like Tokyo in that time—but this show isn’t meant to be comprehensive as much as it is a taste of a world that most people will never see.
The lavish resorts are enticing, but “The Reluctant Traveler” is easily at its best when Levy gets away from his wealth and interacts with the people at his destinations. Listening to his genuine laugh when people so far off the grid in Costa Rica still talk about how they’re “American Pie” fans or watching him get emotional over the idea of the aforementioned gondolier working with his son—don’t forget how close Eugene and his “Schitt’s” co-star/son Dan Levy are—gives this show its undeniable charm. Visiting places is one thing; you only really get something out of traveling if you’re willing to try to connect with a place and the people who live there. With “The Reluctant Traveler,” Eugene Levy isn’t just trying to skim over the “pages” of the world but to truly understand them.
Whole season screened for review. "The Reluctant Traveler" premieres tomorrow, February 24th on Apple TV+.