Judge Josh Rode will drink to that. Clink!
"If you're thinking this looks a bit like a thinly disguised drinking holiday, you may have a point." -James May
A few years ago, car expert James May (Top Gear) and wine expert Oz Clarke toured France for a month to teach James all about wine in Oz and James' Big French Wine Adventure. Since they managed to go that long without killing each other, they decided to spend an entire summer driving the length and breadth of their homeland in search of "the drink that speaks for modern Britain." Naturally, this means they are forced to down hundreds of ales, lagers, wines, ciders, and even Scottish whiskey. Not the worst way to spend the summer, provided your liver doesn't solidify in the process.
The first order of business for a long road trip is finding a car, which James is put in charge of. "I spent the entire budget on a 1982 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible," he says. Alas, that means their accommodations are reduced to a tiny camper (known in England as a caravan), with barely enough room for two, especially after James installs his beer-making equipment.
The episodes are not quite as organized as they were in the previous show. The tour takes them, very roughly, up the eastern side of England, into Scotland, over to Ireland, and then back down England's western coast.
• "Episode 2"—On to Wigon and then Newcastle, to compare and contrast a micro-brewery with a giant conglomerate. Plus, James challenges Oz to a beer making competition.
• "Episode 3"—In Edinburgh, Oz and James get lessons in Scottish whiskey making and determine that haggis is better than rotten shark meat but not as good as bull's penis. Then it's on to Alloa, where the abundant (and free) heather is used to make beer, and Oz shows he can pontificate about anything, including James' driving.
• "Episode 4"—It's across the Irish Sea to Dublin, where Oz and James try not to mention a certain famous Irish beer (hint: starts with a "G," rhymes with "Innis.") Then they head south to visit a place that has special meaning to Oz, and they test the old wives' tale that beer makes for good hair conditioner.
• "Episode 6"—A quick run through Wales introduces Oz and James to British vodka and Peary (a local pear cider). More importantly, it's off to a beer festival, where a panel of experts will judge the merits of their caravan-brewed beers and decide which is better. They finish at a British vineyard in Gloucestershire.
• "Episode 7"—Somerset brings up bad memories for James as they try west country cider and apple brandy. In Plymouth, James blends his own gin and Oz gets a gin and tonic taste test, then they end in Cornwall, where they try some British sparkling wine.
• "Episode 8"—More sparkling wine, this time in Sussex, and James is challenged to a blind taste test. Then it's Westerham and a beer garden, before Oz and James sit down and decide, once and for all, exactly which drink speaks for all of Britain. I won't tell you what it is, but there's no question in my mind they got it spot on.
Oz and James Drink to Britain carries on very much where their previous trip left off. The easy chemistry between the two is always palpable, as are the brief moments of irritation, such as when one accidentally steps on the other while trying to move around in the caravan. There is also plenty of humor, although at times it seems less spontaneous than in the previous show. Oz and James' Big French Wine Adventure relied on the two disparate men learning to deal with each others' idiosyncrasies for much of its energy; now they clearly like each other a lot, so Oz and James Drink to Britain tries to manufacture something similar by adding teasing asides and running jokes, such as Oz's inability to remember what type of car they're driving and James' forgetfulness about where they've been.
None of that matters, really. The show is entertaining and informative, and not just about all the various types of beverages they down. In Ireland, James learns things about Oz's past that he steadfastly refuses to believe. James' past gets a ray of light shone on it as well, as he is forced to confront a beverage that is connected to his darkest drinking days.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture is clear and bright, with vivid colors that make even the dreary, rainy days seem comforting instead of cold. The shots of the interior of the caravan, done with a home video camera, are purposely grainy and dark. The Dolby 2.0 stereo sound isn't asked to do much, but voices are easy to understand, except where heavy accents mar some words. There are no extras.
Oz and James Drink to Britain is less organized and a tad more contrived than its predecessor, but the natural charisma and chemistry of the pair makes it another fun and entertaining show. Watch it with friends and a lot of pints.
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