Last night, I was finally at my tivo-less home to catch an episode of Spain, on the Road Again, the PBS series with Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow, food writer Mark Bittman, and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols. I was really looking forward to this show – I love Spain, and anything that gets more people to pay attention to this overlooked (by Americans, at least) country is good in my book.
Unfortunately for Spain, and for us, this show is not really about Spain. I am sure they had good intentions, but something in the final editing went seriously amiss. OK, so I’ve only seen one episode so I could be totally wrong and it was a one off and all the others will be so fantastic everyone will want to book a ticket to Spain immediately (kind of like Jose Andres makes you want to do in another PBS series, Made in Spain, which is totally worth watching.)
On last night’s episode, the foursome heads to the Basque Country. Gwyneth and Mario head to Bilbao and the Guggenheim and have a really long conversation with Frank Gehry about pressed metal and stuff. Mark Bittman and Claudia head to sample some of the grilled masterpieces of Victor Arguinzoniz at Etxebarri. All fine and good, except that after leaving the Guggenheim, Gwyneth and Mario got into their fancy car and proceeded to sit in traffic for 10 minutes and talk about – get this – Dora the Explorer and Barney the dinosaur. I kid you not. You are in BILBAO, people. We don’t really care about what your kids watch, can we see the train station or something instead? I mean, really. And at the famous Etxebarri, we get to see some cool grilling of caviar and prawns, but the over-the-top “I wanna f*** you” vibe emanating from Bittman towards the young, hot Claudia is so gross that it was kind of hard to watch. Then they get into THEIR nice car, Claudia’s hair blowing in the wind (but so little that I think they were maybe doing 40, which may be why other cars kept passing them.) And the whole time, Mark Bittman is trying so hard to impress Claudia… dude, she is Spanish. Do you know who Javier Bardem is? Competition. I’m being totally theoretical, but still. Stop trying so hard and you might stand a chance.
After all this lameness and, more conversations driving around in their fancy cars, I am surprised I kept watching, but I did. Disappointment after disappointment. They all head to the Rioja and check into another Gehry building, the Marqués de Riscal hotel. Great! Can we go visit some towns now? No… Gwenyth and Claudia go off and lay in bathrobes and prepare to have a spa. Gwenyth asks Claudia where Mario and Mark went. Claudia says they went to the gym. Gwenyth says na ah! Claudia says un ha! No way! Yes way!
Of course Mario and Bittman did not go to the gym, they went back to Bilbao and proceeded to eat and drink a lot, which was awesome except for exchanges like this:
Mario: this sauce looks like the (spa) clay coming off Claudia’s legs right now.
Mark Bittman (lecherously): Now there’s an intriguing thought.
Gross. I think I have the actual words all wrong but you get the idea.
In the meantime, we get lots of shots of Gwyneth and Claudia doing their spa thing, soaking in a tub (G) and walking on rocks with a bathing suit on (C.) Um. There is so much more to the Rioja than this. Medieval hilltowns. Vineyards. Stews with pork products in them. And we have to watch this? Maybe this is what guys like Mark Bittman like in a travel show. I never thought I would say this, but I feel like watching some Samantha Brown.
Who knows, maybe it will get better. But so far, if I was one of the sponsors of this “travel” show, I’d want my money back.