Full disclosure: I dove straight into this six-part series anticipating a certain degree of irreverent humour. Instead, Jack and Michael Whitehall’s latest travelogue made for mildly disconcerting yet decent viewing, in equal measure.
‘What the fuck am I doing going to Thailand?’ Michael Whitehall notes aptly, readily admitting to his lack of travel experience beyond Britain. There are moments early on where certain cultural aspects of Thailand appear lost to Michael. In fact, the ignorant manner in which he dismisses the less glamorous characteristics of Thailand reminds me of some tourists I have encountered on my West Malaysian travels. The objectionable colonial-tinted mindset of disregarding anything foreign appears to reside in him, considering his evident dislike of many things non-British. Seemingly conjured from an Evelyn Waugh story, it might be initially difficult for some to find Whitehall Sr. remotely watchable — myself included. Yet begrudgingly, it is also easy to agree with him quite a fair bit — especially when he refuses to consider the prospect of living in a backpackers’ hostel. Finances aside, would most of us opt to share a crummy hostel room with eight strangers over a five-star experience? Not likely. Jack is incapable of retaliating either, despite preceding half-hearted protestations about wanting to experience a real gap yah.
In a similar way to Lost in Translation, the travelogue concerns the strengthening of the relationship between the two main characters. The setting serves as a backdrop more than anything, one used to enhance their interactions. And to be fair, both father and son gradually ‘sober up’ as the days progress. A particularly poignant moment stands out; the pair visits a former Cambodian execution cave filled with human skeletons and a rare moment of solemn reflection is witnessed, rather than the usual witty repartee. The show does not fall short on ensuring character development; a heartwarming change is witnessed in Michael towards the end.
On another note: Jack Whitehall’s laddish, mildly obnoxious persona truly stands out here. From aspiring to teach Cambodian monks the meaning of a ‘Tommy tanker’ to asking Michael if he would like to ‘stroke my [his] cock’ whilst holding an actual rooster, Whitehall Jr. does not hold back from dishing out his regular brand of phallic humour. This alone makes Travels With My Father a must-watch for avid fans of his Fresh Meat character.
As for the rest of us, there is no harm in adding this to an extensive list of binge-worthy Netflix shows. Early negative impressions aside, the second half of the show redeems itself. Somewhat.