Camaraderie captivates Levy’s vexed voyager


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Here’s the novel premise of a new travel series starring Eugene Levy: Eugene Levy doesn’t really like to travel.

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Here’s the novel premise of a new travel series starring Eugene Levy: Eugene Levy doesn’t really like to travel.

This is not because he’s cranky, cantankerous and fault-finding, but because he’s anxious. Frankly, the 76-year-old Canadian comedian and actor (known most recently for Schitt’s Creek) would prefer to stay home, which gives The Reluctant Traveler (now streaming on Apple TV+) a sweetly paradoxical vibe. Yes, Levy is going to go ice-floating in the Arctic circle, takes a horseback ride in the desert and visit a rhino conservancy. But you’re going to see those big eyebrows rising and falling in comic consternation as he does so.

Travel makes Levy nervous. He doesn’t like to try new things. We see a lot of footage of him with his old-school suitcase, looking a little hapless as he prepares to venture into a wider world he freely admits he’s spent his whole life avoiding. (Episodes include trips to Finland, Costa Rica, South Africa, Venice, Tokyo, Lisbon, Maldives and Utah).


Now, it could be potentially irritating to watch a man surrounded by luxe accommodations, incredible food and gorgeous scenery talking about how alarmed he feels. But thanks to Levy’s self-deprecating shtick, deadpan comic timing and — in the end — his genuine, unaffected enjoyment of all these places, The Reluctant Traveler works. Mostly.

Levy’s tentative approach is also a refreshing contrast to so many contemporary travel narratives, with their aggressive flaunting of extreme experiences. That often repeated mantra — “I’m a traveller, not a tourist” — can get a bit smug. Nobody will admit to going on holiday anymore. In a show of competitive authenticity, they need to tell you they lived “exactly like the locals.”

Levy has no pretensions to any of that. He freely confesses to all his anti-travel trepidation. He doesn’t like hot or cold weather. He doesn’t even like to go outside, really. (He’s more of a “Great Indoors” kind of guy, he says.) He doesn’t have an adventurous palate. Offered reindeer meat in Lapland, he politely tells his host, “I’m anxious to try it,” adding in a quiet voice-over that at least the “anxious” part is true.

Of course, the reindeer filet is fabulous, as are almost all the things that initially make Levy hesitate. He might be reluctant, as the title suggests, but he’s basically a good sport. Whenever he strays outside his comfort zone, whether that involves wrangling sheep or crossing a swaying suspension bridge or trying a monsoon simulator, he predictably has a swell time.

In Finland, he tries dog-sledding and ice fishing, where he is bested by an extremely unimpressed six-year-old boy. (“My nemesis,” Levy calls him, with a sideways look.)

In Costa Rica, his accommodations are a deluxe “tent” that looks out onto rainforest (“full of things that could kill you”) and a nearby volcano that is not as definitively dormant as Levy would like. A guide shows up after dark to take him on a jungle night hike. Levy’s feelings about this, he tells us, “can be summed up in three words: Jungle. Night. Hike.” He doesn’t really like any of those things, and coming across a venomous eyelash viper does not help.

The eight episodes, around 30 minutes each, can be a bit formulaic: One soon figures out that Levy will be daunted by some new adventure, but in the end, he’ll come round. And sometimes the premise feels a little strained: How nervous can one be about staying at the Gritti Palace Hotel in Venice — once the haunt of Hemingway, Liberace and Princess Margaret — even if, like Levy, one frets about rising seawater levels?

In the end, what generally changes Levy’s mind about this whole travel thing is the people, and some of the loveliest scenes involve him just hanging out, whether he’s sitting around a fire with a young family from the Navajo Nation, joining a man’s 85th birthday party in La Fortuna, or tasting vodka with his Finnish host. Levy may not like travelling, but he does like people, and in these encounters, he’s curious, engaged and open.

These are the moments when this accidental tourist looks the happiest.

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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