Stephen Fry in America: Episode Two - Deep South

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First of all, before I push on I'd like to mention (in a related matter) I had a wonderful message from twitter this week. The main of it was "Stephen Fry is now following your updates on Twitter." Now I know that the man himself follows around seven thousand people and I'm just one amongst the masses, but it was nice that he returned my decision to follow him as there was no obligation to do so at all. Needless to say, his tweets are infinitely more interesting than my own. It made my day.

Onto the episode, where Stephen travels through the deep south, visiting the Arlington cemetery in Virginia, a Coal mine in West Virginia, Race Horses and Bourbon in Kentucky, a body farm at Knoxville university in Tennessee, Air ballooning in North Carolina, he experiences Gullah in South Carolina, Thanksgiving in Georgia, some kind of concrete hell in Florida and an American football match in Alabama.

Much like last week there's only so much room in an hour so some states get a far more detailed treatment than others. We get a few shots of the thought provoking ceremony at Arlington and a few more of the cemetery itself before Stephen heads off to find the Mason-Dixon Line. Again during this, I'm amazed as just how beautiful America is during the travelling shots, admittedly autumn is a season that can make even the biggest s**thole look beautiful, but the rolling hills of America are certainly as far from a s**thole as they could possibly be.

In West Virginia Stephen explores an absolutely massive mine, some ten square miles in size, and we get a glimpse into the lives of people who risk everything to bring us one of the foundation resources of our current society - coal. In Kentucky we get to see race horses and of course bourbon whiskey, two of the three things the state is famous for, it seems Stephen samples a little too much of the drink, but who can blame him for that?

In Tennessee we have the most thought provoking and disturbing moments of the episode, first of all we're entertained by the wonderful tones of bluegrass music and then in Knoxville Stephen visits a body farm. Now I've seen plenty of death both in my life and on television, but this section remained the most unsettling part of the show by a huge margin. While it's all part of a noble pursuit that helps capture criminals and identify the deceased it's still a grim sight. While a fully exposed skeleton laying in the dirt isn't too hard to stomach it's a little tougher when you're looking at ant covered feet under a black plastic tarpaulin and realising that they're not some actor or fake prosthetic. Likewise with a hugely decomposed torso in a plastic bin. While it's understandable that places like this exist, it's not something I care to dwell on for too long. Life is too short to get upset about death.

Next we skip through North Carolina with the sight of a black bear up a tree and then a balloon ride that skims the treetops close enough to collect leaves before moving onto South Carolina where Stephen (and the viewers) learn about Gullah, which is a culture based on a mixture of the African cultures that came over during the times of slavery. The lady he talks to shows a great deal of wisdom and tolerance during her conversation with him, a sign of how times change but history should not be forgotten.

Stephen then spends thanksgiving with a wonderful family in Georgia, charming them in his almost effortless manner and (attempting) some horse riding. Stephen's charms do not extend to those of the equine persuasion and the horse acts up slightly, surprising the family somewhat. He then travels on to Florida and experiences Miami and Miami Beach, a pair of cities that comes across as a form of concrete hell to him. Lacking soul and beauty in it's artificial nature, I especially enjoyed his wise and accurate remarks about the ugliness of the beautiful located there.

After a trip through the Everglades Stephen travels back up north into Alabama and experiences the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles before watching the spectacle that is a college American football match. A dizzying mix of sights, actions and sounds that was capped with planes travelling low overheard at the climax. Stephen's face was much like my own when I experienced a similar thing out there, it's amazing the sheer showcase that happens in something that's really just a match between university teams. The level of enthusiasm, grandeur and overall silliness of it is just breathtaking. You feel simultaneously amazed and bemused by it all.

Despite having travelled through several of these States myself I enjoyed the first episode more than this one, there are moments that will not be easily forgotten but nothing that quite moved me as much as the beautiful architecture located in the New York cabin and Rhode Island. Still, it is a documentary that was filled with wonderful shots, conversations and just a great experience. Stephen both educates and entertains at the same time. Brilliant stuff.


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