Picks and Pans Review: Adventure: Fat Man on a Bicycle
PBS (Mon., July 11, 8 p.m. ET)
How can you resist a show with a title like that? Well, don't resist. Unlike so many series on TV—That's Incredible! or The Big Event—the title of this one does not mislead. This four-part documini is every bit as enticing as its name. The fat man is an endearingly eccentric, oddly adventurous, wonderfully articulate Brit named Tom Vernon. And his bicycle takes him across 1,560 gorgeous miles of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Vernon avoids the big cities in favor of the countryside and shuns museums so he can go to any place having anything to do with food: an old sardine-canning plant, a new salmon smokehouse, a crisp-bread bakery. He explores a restaurateur's kitchen the way Lewis and Clark explored rivers. Mostly Vernon goes after the people. He tells a friendly latter-day Viking, a Norwegian sailor, "I expect your ancestors rampaged around mutilating my ancestors with axes." He meets Swedes who explain how their welfare state can work so well. He goes to a classy dinner party where he marvels at how many excuses for drinking Swedes can invent. And he gets red-faced at the insistence of a Finnish disc jockey that they share a sauna together. Vernon comes to these people with an attitude: He thinks they may be a little too dull and regimented. He doesn't necessarily change his mind; that gives his show a sharp edge. But Vernon also holds affection for this land and its people; that's what makes his show so charming. And he has what every good adventurer should have: curiosity. A delight.
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