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Imagine a tour through Great Britain focusing on chavs, gypsies, and soccer hooligans and you more or less get the sense of how this series approaches the United States. The English have a weird fascination with the extremities of American culture. This brand of voyeurism is, I suspect, born from post-imperial insecurities, and the wry pretension Fry oozes during his tour though the 50 states fits squarely into that mold. Fry begins by telling us that he was very nearly born an American, and that the goal of his journey is to better understand the life he might have had. Instead, we see a man trying desperately to convince himself that he was lucky to be born an Englishman. That would explain the pejorative slant that marks his dismissive plodding through urban blight, gawking at rural squalor, and dilettantish dabbling in local trades and customs. Focusing on the downside of a subject isn't bad on its own, but Fry does so without any motivating theme to justify it. The result is a snide, mean-spirited little series that does not offer any particularly useful insights into the places Fry visits.
Another deep inadequacy comes from the superficial treatment Fry gives the places he visits and people who show him hospitality. In many of the states he supposedly visits we never see evidence that he ever leaves his quaint London-style cab. His pass through Delaware, for instance, exhibits all the depth that state received in Wayne's World ("Hi... we're in Delaware"). Yes, the goal of visiting all 50 states necessarily means that each one gets limited treatment, but some don't even get a perfunctory effort, and when states do get considerable screen time they are defined by their quirks or their shortcomingsvoodoo in New Orleans, witchcraft in Massachusetts, and homelessness in St. Louis, for example.
In the end, the show does not succeed on the terms Fry himself sets for it, and it offers the audience very little else.
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