Monday, October 27, 2008

Stephen Fry in America - part 3: Review

Stephen Fry in America 3/6 - Mississippi (Sunday 26 October 9:00pm - 10:00pm BBC1) This series is about Stephen Fry visiting all fifty states of the USA, via his black London taxi. The third part of the series follows the mighty Mississippi River, from Louisiana in the south to Minnesota in the north. Stephen started this part of his journey in New Orleans, Louisiana, during Mardis Gras and explains that his arm is in a sling because he has a broken arm and it's being held together by 10 bolts. Stephen met a voodoo high priestess and watched a voodoo ceremony. He toured the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood in New Orleans which was left devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and then Stephen headed for Angola State Penitentiary. It's become a model of how a prison can work - every inmate has a job. The warden took Stephen on a tour of the prison, where the majority of prisoners are in for murder - 90 percent of the prisoners are locked up for life. He drove to Clarksdale in the state of Mississippi, the home of the Delta Blues where Stephen chatted with the actor, Morgan Freeman at his blues club, Ground Zero Blues Club. Next, Arkansas, for a canoe trip up the Mississippi River, to St. Louis, Missouri, where "It's suddenly turned very cold" and where Stephen met up with a group of homeless people and talked to them as they stood huddled together around an open fire in an empty building. He met a Maharishi psychologist at the Maharashi University in Iowa. Stephen was skeptical about having his alpha waves tested but pointed out that, "Americans do seem to be more open than most to everything that brings self-improvement." In Indiana, he rode up front in a fire truck (something he always wanted to do, he admits), and took part in a training exercise where he was dressed in all the gear, including a breathing mask. Stephen drove to Kent State University in Ohio which is famous because on May 4th, 1970, National Guardsmen opened fire on a crowd of unarmed students who were demonstating against the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia. There were 13 students shot and 4 killed by the National Guard and as Stephen pointed out, "killed by soldiers of their own country." In Michigan, Stephen visited Detroit, the home of motor cars, ("motor city" or "motown"). Stephen met with blues legend, Buddy Guy in Chicago, Illinois. He also saw an improv show at the comedy theater, Second City and (reluctantly) participated in one of the shows. Next he arrived in Wisconsin where it is "exceptionally cold"(-25C). Wisconsin is known for its cheese but as Stephen (quite rightly) observes, "One of the most striking things about America is that cheese generally is appalling - orange and disgusting." He learned to milk a sheep by connecting one up to a milking machine (his comments as usual were very witty and hilarious) and watched the cheesemaker as she made organic cheese from the milk of the ewes. Minnesota (my home state) was the final state he visted in this journey. He observed that in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Mississippi River is almost frozen solid. Stephen also pointed out that almost no one ever braves the cold because they use the skyways. As a Minnesotan myself, I have to add that the famous Skyway System in Minneapolis and St Paul is really fantastic and not just in the very cold winters but also during the very hot summers! Stephen also talked about the large community of Hmong living in Minnesota (originally from Viet Nam and Laos). They are the largest group of Hmong living outside SE Asia. He finished up with "a spot of more traditional Midwestern activity" by snowmobiling out onto a lake and participating in ice-fishing. Stephen caught a sunfish, the first fish he has caught since he was 10 years old. It's interesting how the series is making a real effort to present an honest view of the USA by showing the homeless and poverty-stricken areas of the USA as well as reminding people of some of the shameful episodes in recent American history such as the shooting at Kent State University and the people left homeless after the hurricane hit New Orleans. related links from my blog: Stephen Fry in America - part 1: Review Stephen Fry in America - part 2: Review Stephen Fry in America - part 4: Review Stephen Fry in America - part 5: Review Stephen Fry in America - part 6: Review Stephen Fry talks about his new TV series (video) Stephen Fry on the road in the USA


  1. I'm really enjoying this series!
    I fully agree with what you say in your last paragraph. That aspect makes it more interesting than the run-of-the-mill travelogue it would otherwise have been. xx

  2. I'm pleased you are enjoying the series, flighty.

    My husband loves the series but it's interesting to hear the views from other Brits too.

    It is a very interesting series but I hope some of the very honest (and quite negative aspects) of American life that the series highlights won't put people off the USA.